If you are currently living in the UK but have family overseas, naturally you may want them to join you, although this is not as simple as paying for their airfare. There are lots of rules and requirements that must be met to obtain any necessary visa. Fortunately, if you are a British citizen or resident looking to bring family from abroad, there are various visa options available. The following guidance sets out the rules relating to UK visas, both for short and long-term stays, from who will be entitled to join you in the UK to how long any visa will last.
What are the visa options to bring family to the UK?
There are various UK visa options available to overseas family members, although much will depend on the nature of your relationship with the relative in question, your own citizenship or immigration status in the UK and how long your relative is planning to stay.
For family members visiting the UK for a short stay, whether or not they will need a visa will depend on their nationality. If your relative is a national of one of over 100 countries that appear on the visa national list, they will usually need to apply for entry clearance in advance of travel to the UK. In contrast, for non-visa nationals, they will not be required to obtain a visit visa prior to travel, although they will still need to satisfy Border Force officials on their arrival that they are coming to the UK to visit a relative, one of the various permissible activities under the visitor rules, and that they meet the other relevant entry requirements.
For more long-term options, an overseas relative would need to apply for a different type of visa. To be able, for example, to live with a family member in the UK for more than 6 months, they would need to obtain a family visa. Overseas nationals may also be eligible to apply for a visa as the immediate relative of a primary visa-holder currently living in the UK, for example, as the spouse or dependent child of someone on a skilled worker or student visa.
Which family members can join you in the UK?
For short-term visit visas the applicant does not need to have a relative in the UK to sponsor their application, although visiting a UK citizen or resident falls within one of a number of permissible activities under the visitor rules. This means that any relative, even a distant family member, can apply for a visa to visit you in the UK for a period of up to 6 months. They may even be able to apply for entry clearance at a UK port of entry without a visit visa.
In contrast, if your family member is looking to join you in the UK for longer than 6 months, or if they will be looking to undertake any activities not permitted under the visitor rules, such as paid employment, they will need to apply for a family or dependant visa. In these cases, there are strict rules as to who will be eligible to apply, limited to immediate family members only.
For a family visa, an overseas relative may be able to apply if they are either your spouse or civil partner; fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner; an unmarried partner that you have lived with for at least 2 years prior to the date of application; your child under the age of 18; your parent and you are aged under 18, or an adult coming to the UK to be cared for by you as their parent, child, grandchild or sibling. For a dependant visa, the applicant must be either your spouse or civil partner, or unmarried partner, or a dependent child under the age of 18.
What are the eligibility requirements for family members?
There are various strict eligibility requirements that must be met for both family and dependant visas, and even for visit visas, where it is often best to seek expert advice from an immigration specialist before applying to bring over a family member from abroad. In this way, you can feel confident that the right route has been selected, providing your loved one with the best possible chance of being granted a visa to come to the UK. If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen who was living in the UK by 31 December 2020, your dependants may also still be eligible to apply for immigration status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
Below we set out a brief overview of the basic criteria that overseas family members will need to satisfy for the successful grant of a UK visa, where needed.
For your spouse or partner to apply for a family visa, you must be living in the UK with British or Irish citizenship, indefinite leave to remain or right of abode, refugee status or humanitarian protection, or status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
Your spouse or partner must be able to show that any previous relationships have permanently broken down; you are not so closely related that you would not be permitted to get married or form a civil partnership in the UK; your relationship is genuine and subsisting; and that you intend to live together in the UK if the application is successful. In addition to these various relationship requirements, your spouse or partner may also need to satisfy both an English language and a financial requirement, based on your combined income or savings.
Similarly, other immediate relatives may be able to apply to join you in the UK on the basis of family life as either the child of a person with limited leave as a partner or parent, as the parent of a child in the UK, or as a dependant adult. However, specific relationship requirements must again be met and, in some instances, a language and financial requirement.
An overseas relative will not be able to apply for a family visa if you are in the UK temporarily on either a work or student visa, where they would need to apply for a dependant visa instead. However, as with a family visa, a relative can apply for a dependant visa if they are either your spouse or partner, including unmarried partners, or a child under the age of 18.
The eligibility criteria can vary here, depending on the route under which you hold leave. However, as with a family visa, they must be able to satisfy certain relationship requirements. They may also need to meet a financial requirement, but not an English language requirement.
For a visit visa, even though there is no relationship requirement, your relative will still need to show that they are coming to the UK for the purpose of visiting you. They will need to prove that they have sufficient funds to be able to support themselves, either independently or with your help, and can afford to pay for their return or onward journey. They must also show that they do not intend to live in the UK for lengthy periods through either frequent or successive visits, or to make the UK their main home, and intend to leave at the end of their stay.
What is the application process to bring family to the UK?
Whether an overseas family member is planning to come to the UK on either a short or long-term basis, they will need make an online application for their visa and pay the relevant fee. In many cases, they will also need to attend an overseas visa application centre to provide their biometric information and submit their documentation in support, including a valid passport or other travel document proving their nationality and identity.
The nature of any additional documentation required will depend on the immigration route and the eligibility requirements under that route. For example, for a family or dependant visa there will need to be proof of the various relationship requirements and, where applicable, the English language and financial requirements. In contrast, when applying for a visit visa, your relative will need to provide evidence of where they will be staying in the UK and any travel itinerary, together with proof of earnings or savings to show that they can support themselves, or that you have sufficient funds to support them during their stay.
How much is a visa to bring family to the UK?
The cost for an overseas relative to apply for a UK visa will depend on the category of visa and the length of leave sought. For a standard visit visa the application fee is £100. However, when applying for an extended visit visa to cover any additional trips to the UK, provided each trip does not exceed the maximum permitted length of stay of up to 6 months, the fee to apply for a visit visa with a validity period of either 2, 5 or 10 years is £376, £670 and £837 respectively.
Given that either a family or dependant visa will allow your relative to come to the UK to live, even if only on a temporary basis, the fees are much higher here than for a short-term visit visa. The cost of applying for a family visa from outside the UK as a partner, parent or child is £1,538, while the cost of a dependent adult relative coming to the UK is £3,250.
For a dependant visa, the costs can again vary depending on the category and length of visa sought. For example, for the dependant of a skilled worker with leave in the UK for less than 3 years, the fee will be £625, increasing to £1,235 for leave for more than 3 years. In contrast, the fee for the dependant of a student in the UK, when applying from overseas, the fee will be just £363. However, in all scenarios, there may be an additional immigration healthcare surcharge for family members coming to live in the UK, calculated on a yearly basis.
Visa processing times for family members
If applying for either a visit visa or a dependant visa from outside the UK, once your relative has proved their identity and provided the necessary documentation, a decision should usually be made within 3 weeks. However, at the time of writing, the Home Office is advising of delays in visa processing due to prioritising applications under the new Ukraine emergency schemes. UK visit visas are now taking, on average, 6 weeks to process.
The process for a family visa is much more complex, and therefore can take anything up to 24 weeks although, for an additional fee, they may be able to get a faster decision using the priority or super priority services.
How long will a visa last for family members?
A standard visit visa will usually be granted for a maximum period of 6 months, although your overseas family member can apply for a visit visa with a longer validity period of either 2, 5 or 10 years to cover any additional trips to the UK.
The family and dependant visas are still temporary visas, but can be granted for several years at a time. For example, when applying outside the UK, the family visa will usually be granted for a period of 2 years and 9 months — unless applying as a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner, in which case the visa will be for 6 months to allow you both to marry or enter into a civil partnership in the UK — while a dependant visa will typically reflect the length of leave granted to you as the primary visa-holder, for example, as a skilled worker or a student.
The family visa and, in some cases, a dependant visa, will also provide a path to settlement, where your loved one can apply for indefinite leave to remain after living in the UK for a minimum period of time. This will allow them to settle in the UK on a permanent basis.
In cases where you are currently living in the UK on a route that does not provide a path to settlement, for example, on the student route, you and any dependants may be eligible to switch to a different route from within the UK, such as the skilled worker route. Having satisfied the continuous lawful residence requirement, and provided you meet all the other requirements for indefinite leave, you may then be eligible to apply to stay in the UK on a permanent basis. Ultimately, you and any dependants may also go on to apply for citizenship.
DavidsonMorris’s immigration specialists are on hand to provide expert guidance on UK immigration routes and visa applications. Contact us for advice.
Bringing family members to the UK FAQs
Can I bring my family to UK permanently?
It is possible to bring family to the UK permanently, provided they come to the UK under a route which provides a path to settlement and they go on to meet the eligibility requirements for indefinite leave to remain.
Can I sponsor my family to UK?
There are various immigration routes which will allow you to bring family members to the UK, for example, under a family visa or a dependant visa, provided they meet the relevant relationship requirements under that route.
How much do I need to earn to bring my family to UK?
There may be a financial requirement to bring family to the UK, depending on the immigration route, for example, when applying for a spouse visa, you and your partner must have a combined income of at least £18,600 a year.
Last updated: 13 July 2022