International academic visitors play a critical role in UK education, bringing world-leading knowledge and perspective and contributing to a broad and enriching learning experience for students at UK institutions.
Before travelling to the UK, foreign academics will need to ensure they have permission to enter the UK and to carry out their intended activities, whether that is under an academic visitor visa, or applying to be sponsored to work in the UK.
But if you’re coming to the UK for a short stay, the academic visitor visa is likely to be more appropriate.
The following article provides guidance on various different aspects of applying as a visitor, from eligibility requirements and what activities you will be permitted to undertake in the UK, to how to submit your visa application and what documents you will need in support.
What is the academic visitor visa?
The academic visitor visa is a sub-category of the UK’s standard Visitor Visa. It allows an international academic to come to the UK, usually for up to 12 months, for a temporary, academic-related purpose.
The permitted activities for visitors to the UK are set out under the Visitor Rules. The rules provide that an academic visitor may:
- Take part in formal exchange arrangements with UK counterparts
- Carry out research for their own purposes if they are on sabbatical leave from their home institution
- If they are an eminent senior doctor or dentist, take part in research, teaching or clinical practice, provided this does not amount to filling a permanent teaching post
- Share knowledge and experience or take part in conferences or seminars providing they are non-profit ventures
In addition, a professor from a non-UK academic institution that is accompanying students to the UK as part of a study abroad programme, may provide a small amount of teaching to the students at the host organisation. However, this must not amount to filling a permanent teaching role.
To research certain subjects at postgraduate level or above, you may need to get an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate before you start your research.
As an academic visitor, you can also undertake activities relating to your overseas job under the business sub-category of the Standard Visitor Visa for a period of up to 6 months. This can include attending meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews, or giving a one-off or short series of talks and speeches, provided these are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser.
If, on the other hand, you are being paid by a UK company or organisation to visit the UK as an expert in your profession, such as a visiting examiner or assessor, or as a visiting lecturer, a more appropriate route may be the Permitted Paid Engagement (PPE) Visa, valid for a period of up to one month. The following are permitted paid engagements under the rules for academic visitors:
- An academic who is highly qualified within his or her field of expertise may examine students and/or participate in or chair selection panels, if they have been invited by a UK Higher Education Institution or a UK based research or arts organisation as part of that institution or organisation’s quality assurance processes.
- An expert may give lectures in their subject area, if they have been invited by a UK Higher Education Institution, or a UK based research or arts organisation, provided this does not amount to filling a teaching position for the host organisation.
Academic Visitor Visa eligibility
There are various eligibility criteria for all visitors coming to the UK, together with certain additional criteria where you are applying as either an academic seeking a 12 month visit visa or applying for a one month PPE Visa.
The standard criteria require all visitors to satisfy the UK Home Office that they are a genuine visitor. This means that you must show that:
- You will leave the UK at the end of your visit
- You will not live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits, or make the UK your main home
- You are genuinely seeking entry for a purpose that is permitted by the visitor routes
- You will not undertake any prohibited activities set out under the rules
- You have sufficient funds to cover all reasonable costs in relation to your visit without working or accessing public funds, including the cost of your return or onward journey.
Where the cost of your travel, maintenance and accommodation in the UK is to be provided by a third party, the Home Office must be satisfied that a genuine professional or personal relationship exists with that person, and that they are not, or will not be, in breach of UK immigration laws at the time of decision or your entry to the UK. The third party must also be able to show that they can, and will, provide you with support for the duration of your stay.
Additional criteria for academic visitors
In addition to the standard eligibility criteria, if you are an academic visitor applying for a 12 month visit visa, you must intend to do one or more of the permitted activities for academic visitors. You must also be able to satisfy the Home Office that you are:
- Highly qualified within your own field of expertise, and
- Currently working in that field at an academic institution or institution of higher education overseas.
Where required, you may also need to provide a valid medical certificate issued by a medical practitioner confirming that you do not have active pulmonary tuberculosis.
If you are a PPE visitor applying for permission to come to the UK to undertake a specific paid engagement, you must intend to do one or more of the permitted paid engagements. Further, any such engagement must:
- Be arranged before you travel to the UK
- Be declared as part of your application for a visit visa or leave to enter
- Be evidenced by a formal invitation by a UK Higher Education Institution or a UK based research or arts organisation, and
- Relate to your area of expertise and occupation overseas.
How to apply for an Academic Visitor Visa UK
An application for an Academic Visitor Visa UK can be made online from outside the UK. As part of your online application you will need to pay your visa fee and book an appointment at a visa application centre in the country from which you are applying.
You will have your fingerprints and photograph taken at this appointment. This is know as enrolling your biometric information. You will also be required to provide your supporting documents to prove your eligibility for this type of visa.
Academic visitor visa supporting documents
When applying for an academic visitor visa UK, in addition to a current passport or other valid travel identification, you will need to provide a number of documents in support of your application. You will need to satisfy the Home Office that you meet all of the standard and additional eligibility criteria relevant to this route and any sub-category.
This should include a letter from your current overseas employer on official headed paper, detailing the period of your sabbatical, exchange or outlining the research to be undertaken, as well as a letter from the UK host organisation confirming the arrangements for your research or exchange.
If you are applying for a 12 month visit visa, you should include evidence that you are highly qualified within your field of expertise and currently working in that field at an academic institution or institution of higher education overseas. If you are applying for a PPE visa, you must include a formal invitation by a UK Higher Education Institution or a UK based research or arts organisation.
In respect of your ability to fund your travel and support yourself during your stay in the UK, you will need to provide clear and credible evidence of your financial resources, such as bank statements or wage slips, as well as details of where you intend to stay and your travel plans. If your trip is being funded by a third party, that party should provide a written undertaking to be responsible for your maintenance and accommodation for the period of your visit.
Where there is anything left unexplained about your trip, to avoid any adverse inference being drawn against you as to the true purpose or length of your stay, you should always provide additional information and evidence in support. This could include evidence that you are a genuine visitor and fully intend to return home after your UK visit, for example, proof that you have family commitments to return to or that you own or rent property in your home country.
What are the processing times for an Academic Visitor Visa UK?
The earliest you can apply for an Academic Visitor Visa is 3 months before you travel. Having submitted your application, under standard processing times you should get a decision on your visa within 3 weeks of attending your appointment at the visa application centre, where 1 week is 5 working days; however, UKVI continue to operate with processing delays ad applicants are advised to check service standards when making their application.
You may be able to pay to get a faster decision on your visa by using either a priority or super priority service depending on what country you are in. You will need to check with your visa application centre in the country where you are making your application.
Application costs for an Academic Visitor Visa
The cost of applying for an Academic Visitor Visa UK is £200 for 12 months.
Can you apply for an extension of an Academic Visitor Visa UK?
It may be possible to apply for an extension of stay for an Academic Visitor Visa UK, although you must apply before your existing visa expires. You must also satisfy the Home Office that you continue to meet all the suitability and eligibility requirements for your visa type.
An academic visitor who was granted a visa for less than 6 months may be granted an extension of stay so that the total period they can remain in the UK, including both the original grant and the extension of stay, does not exceed 6 months.
If you are an academic on sabbatical leave and in the UK undertaking your own research, you can be granted an extension of stay for a period of up to 12 months in total.
It is not possible to switch to become a visitor while in the UK if you are in breach of any immigration laws or have entry clearance or leave to enter or remain for another purpose. Visitors for permitted paid engagements may not apply for an extension of stay as a visitor.
When you apply for a visa extension, you will be asked to make an appointment at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point to provide your biometric information and documentation in support.
It costs £993 to extend this visa, plus an additional £19.20 to have your fingerprints and photo taken. A decision will usually be made within 8 weeks, unless you pay for a faster service.
What are the longer term stay visa options?
Under an Academic Visitor Visa UK you can usually stay in the UK for up to 6 months, although in some cases you may be able to apply for a 12 month visa or seek to extend your stay for up to a period of 12 months. A visitor may usually enter the UK multiple times during the permitted period, but they may not live in the UK by means of repeat or continuous visits.
If you need to visit the UK regularly over a longer period, you can apply for a long-term Standard Visitor Visa that lasts 2, 5 or 10 years, where you can stay for a maximum of 6 months on each visit. The fee for a long-term visit visa will depends on its length, where 2 years costs £361; 5 years £655; and 10 years £822.
For those who are looking to live and work in the UK, you would need to consider your options under the UK points-based system for a work visa.
If you are looking for longer term visa options, or if you would like to maximise the chances of a successful application for a short term visitor visa, take expert advice.
DavidsonMorris are specialist UK immigration advisers. We are on hand to help you explore all possible immigration routes that may be available to you and to prepare your application.
If you have a question about business travel visa options, contact us.
Academic visitor visa FAQs
What is an academic visitor visa?
An academic visitor is typically someone who is coming to the UK to undertake research or to accompany students participating in a study abroad programme. International academics will require a standard visitor visa to come to the UK, if they do not already hold permission through, for example, EU settled status.
How long is a visitor visa to the UK?
A UK visitor visa is typically valid for up to 6 months, although this can vary depending on the purpose of the trip. For example, an academic visitor may obtain a 12 month visa where they are taking part in formal exchange arrangements with UK counterparts or carrying out research for their own purposes if they are on sabbatical leave from their home institution.
How much bank balance is required for UK tourist visa?
To apply for a UK tourist visa you will need to show that you can fund your travel, including your return journey. You will also need to show that you can support yourself, and any dependants, during your stay in the UK. There is no requirement to show your bank balance with a specific level of funds for a tourist visa, although there must be enough money to fund your whole trip.
Can you do unpaid work on a tourist visa UK?
When visiting the UK on a tourist visa you will be prohibited from undertaking certain activities. This includes doing either paid or unpaid work. You will also be prohibited from living in the UK for long periods of time through frequent visits, accessing public funds or getting married or entering into a civil partnership.
Last updated: 28 December 2022