If you are an overseas national looking to live in the UK, or to come to the UK for the purposes of undertaking employment or pursuing your studies, you will need a Home Office visa. You may even need a visa to visit the UK, depending on where you are from.
In this guide to UK Home Office visas, we look ay the main types of visa available, as well as how to apply and the costs and processing times involved when making a UK visa application.
Do you need to apply for a Home Office visa?
You may need to apply for a visa to come to the UK to either visit, work, study or live. There are various different visa-types depending on where you are from, the reason for your stay in the UK, the proposed length of your stay and your personal circumstances.
You may be eligible to travel visa-free, depending on your nationality. However, in cases where a visa is required, your application must first be approved by the UK Home Office before you can travel. If you would like to stay longer in the UK as an existing visa-holder, you will also need to apply for an extension of your visa or to switch to a different visa.
Types of UK Home Office visa
Standard visitor visa
The Standard Visitor visa will allow you to visit the UK for up to 6 months for a number of permitted purposes, including for tourism or visiting friends and family, or for business-related reasons, such as attending meetings or conferences, provided you do not undertake any paid employment during your stay.
Permitted Paid Engagements visa
The Permitted Paid Engagements visa will allow you to visit the UK for up to one month to undertake a paid engagement where you have been invited as an expert in your profession by either a UK-based organisation or client.
There are different types of study visa, depending on your age and the length of course that you would like to undertake. The Student visa is for over 16’s and will require the offer of a place from a UK licensed student sponsor, for example, to undertake an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in the UK. In contrast, the Child Student visa is for 4 to 17 year olds who are looking to study at an independent school. You can also undertake a short course of study that lasts no longer than 6 months on a Standard Visitor visa, while a Short-Term Study visa will let you come to the UK to study an English language course that is more than 6 months and up to as much as 11 months.
Skilled Worker visa
The Skilled Worker visa is one of the most popular work visas to come the UK, although you will need the offer of a job that meets the minimum skill and salary requirements from a UK licensed sponsor. The length of time you can stay in the UK on a Skilled Worker visa can vary, depending on the length of your contract with your UK-based employer, although there is no limit on how many times this can be extended once in the UK, provided you continue to meet the relevant route-specific requirements.
Temporary Work visas
A Temporary Work visa will allow you to come to the UK to undertake work for a short period of time, of between 6 to 24 months, in one of a number of different industry sectors. These types of visas include a Government Authorised Exchange visa, a Charity Worker visa, a Creative Worker visa, an International Agreement visa and a Religious Worker visa. In each case you will need to be sponsored by a UK-based employer before you can apply for a Temporary Work visa.
Global Business Mobility visas
A Global Business Mobility visa will allow you to come to the UK to work for an overseas employer. These visas include the Senior or Specialist Worker visa, the Graduate Trainee visa, the UK Expansion Worker visa, the Service Supplier visa and the Secondment Worker visa. In each case, you will need to be sponsored by either a UK-based organisation, such as an affiliated UK office under the Senior or Specialist Worker route, or by your overseas employer where you are setting up a UK branch of an overseas business under the UK Expansion Worker route. There are also limits as to how long you can stay in the UK on this type of visa, for example, 5 years in any 6 year period as a Senior or Specialist Worker earning less then £73,900 a year.
Global Talent visa
The Global Talent visa will allow you to come to the UK for up to 5 years at a time, without the need for a job offer first, provided you are over 18 and are either a leader or potential leader in academia or research, arts and culture, or digital technology. There is no limit on how many times you can renew this visa once in the UK.
High Potential Individual (HPI) visa
The High Potential Individual visa is another work visa for which you do not first need the offer of a job, where you will be allowed to stay in the UK for 2 years if have been awarded a degree qualification by an eligible university in the last 5 years, or for 3 years, if you have a PhD or other doctoral qualification. You cannot renew this visa, but you may be able to switch into a different route, such as the Skilled Worker route.
Innovator Founder visa
The Innovator Founder route is a work visa to start an innovative business in the UK, provided that business is different from anything else on the UK market. You must also secure an endorsement from an endorsing body before you can apply. This visa will usually last for up to 3 years and, provided your business is a success and you continue to meet the relevant requirements, you will be able to renew your visa any number of times.
There are different types of Family visa, where you can apply for a visa to live with your spouse or partner, a child, a parent, or even with a relative who will provide long-term care for you in the UK. The length of your Family visa will vary, depending on the basis on which your visa is sought, for example, 2 years and 9 months for a Partner or Parent visa, although you can apply to extend your stay once in the UK.
A Dependant visa is for the spouse, partner or dependent child of the principal applicant or primary visa-holder on a number of different immigration routes, for example, the Student route or the Skilled Worker route. These visas will allow immediate family to accompany or follow to join their partner or parent to the UK, where their visa will be granted for the same length of time as that of the primary visa-holder.
A Settlement visa is a visa under any one of a number of immigration routes where you can apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK having accrued a period of lawful continuous residence under that route. For example, under a Partner visa, you will usually be eligible for ILR after 5 years. Equally, under one of the relevant work routes, you must usually have lived in the UK for 5 years to apply for ILR, although you may be eligible after just 3 years on either a Global Talent or Innovator Founder visa.
How do you apply for a Home Office visa?
To apply for a Home Office visa, you will need to submit an application to UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI), the department of the Home Office responsible for the visa system.
You can apply for most visas online. As part of your application you will be required to verify your identify and submit any documentation in support. You may be able to upload your documents into the online system and use the UK Immigration: ID Check app to verify your identity. However, you may instead be asked to schedule an appointment at either an overseas visa application centre, if applying from outside the UK, or at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point, if applying from inside the UK.
If you are required to attend an appointment, you will be asked to enrol your biometric information, including a scan of your fingerprints and a photograph of your face. You can also use this appointment to submit your documentation. You will be told when you apply whether or not you will need to schedule a biometric enrolment appointment.
How much does a Home Office visa cost?
The cost of a UK visa can vary, depending on the type of visa sought. For example, the cost of applying for a Standard Visitor visa is £100, while the cost of a Partner or Parent visa when applying from overseas is £1,538. In some cases, for example, for the Skilled Worker visa, the cost can also vary depending on how long you are looking to live and work in the UK. For example, where the job is for 3 years or less, the application fee is £625 when applying from outside the UK, and £1,235 where the job is for more than 3 years.
In addition to the application fee, you may also be liable to pay the immigration healthcare surcharge. This is an annual cost based on the length of your visa to enable you to access the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) during your stay. The cost is £624 per year, or £470 for students and under 18s. This means that if you were coming to the UK on a 3-year Skilled Worker visa, you would be liable to pay the £625 application fee, plus an additional £1872 for the healthcare surcharge. The dependant of a Skilled Worker would need to pay the same application fee, but if they were under 18, the surcharge would be reduced to £1,410.
You and any dependants may also have to meet a financial requirement, showing savings of a certain amount as evidence that you can support yourself on arrival in the UK.
How long are the processing times for Home Office visas?
If you are applying to either come to the UK or stay longer and your visa application is straightforward, where the Home Office can make a decision on your application without asking you for more information, a decision will be made within standard processing times.
For overseas nationals applying for a visa from outside the UK, the majority of applications will be decided within 3 weeks. In contrast, for those applying to remain in the UK, the standard processing time when seeking limited leave is 8 weeks, while for those applying for indefinite leave to remain, the standard processing time is 6 months. These times will run from when you submit your documents online and verify your identity using the ID check app, or having attended an appointment to enrol your biometric information.
Depending on the nature of your visa application and where you are applying from, you may be able to pay for a priority service. Under the priority service, you should receive a decision within 5 working days, or the next working day under the super priority service. These times will again run from when you verify your identity and submit your documentation, or enrol your biometric information, where applicable. For weekend appointments, the appointment will be deemed as attended on the next working day, which will usually be a Monday, unless there is a bank holiday, where it will be a Tuesday.
If there is some sort of problem with your application, for example, if it is incomplete or complex, you will receive a letter from the Home Office to explain why a decision will not be made within the normal standard processing time. The letter will also explain what will happen next. If you have applied for the priority or super priority service, the Home Office will contact you within the service standard timeframe if a decision is likely to be delayed.
Home Office visa FAQs
How do I get in touch with Home Office UK?
To contact the Home Office with a visa query, you will need to get in touch with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), the department responsible for dealing with visa applications. You can can contact UKVI by telephone or email.
What does a UK visa cost?
The cost of a UK visa can vary, depending on the type of visa sought. For example, the cost of a Visitor visa is £100, while the cost of a Partner or Parent visa when applying from overseas is £1,538.
How many types of visa are there in UK?
There are a whole host of different types of UK visa, including visit, work, study and family visas. In some cases, having lived lawfully in the UK under certain visas, overseas nationals can go on to apply for settlement visas.
How long does a UK visa take?
When applying from overseas, most applications for a UK visa will take 3 weeks to process, while applications made from inside the UK can take up to 8 weeks, during which time you will not be allowed to travel overseas.
Last updated: 6 May 2023