UK Leave to Enter Explained

uk leave to enter


In the UK, there are various technical terms used to refer to the different types of immigration permission. Common terms include leave to enter, leave to remain, entry clearance, further leave to remain and indefinite leave to remain.

The following guide looks specifically at leave to enter; what this means, what it allows, how long it lasts and how to apply. We also look at how leave to enter compares with other types of UK immigration status.


What is leave to enter for the UK?

In basic terms, leave to enter is the permission granted to an individual at the border to enter and remain in the UK, where the individual is neither a British citizen, an Irish citizen, nor has UK right of abode.

Under Part 1 of the UK”s Immigration Rules, provision is made for “Leave to enter the United Kingdom” where a person who is neither a British nor Commonwealth citizen with the right of abode, nor a person who is entitled to enter or remain in the UK by virtue of section 3ZA of the Immigration Act 1971 (most Irish citizens), requires leave to enter.

The provisions under the Immigration Rules go on to provide that when admitting to the UK a person subject to immigration control under that 1971 Act, an immigration officer may give leave to enter for a limited period and may impose a number of conditions. The phrase “leave to enter” is therefore typically associated with the permission granted at a UK port-of-entry by a Border Force officer, although it can also be used to describe permission granted following an application for entry clearance made in advance of travel to the Home Office department responsible for the issuance of visas, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

For example, where a person is granted a visit visa by UKVI, they may be treated as having been granted leave to enter the UK on an unlimited number of occasions, provided certain conditions are met. These conditions include that the entry clearance must specify the purpose for which the holder wishes to enter the UK, and be endorsed with the conditions to which it is subject or a statement that it is to have effect as indefinite leave to enter.


What does leave to enter allow?

The provisions under Part 1 of the Rules go on to provide that when admitting to the UK a person subject to immigration control under the 1971 Act, an immigration officer may give leave to enter for a limited period and may impose a number of conditions including:

  • a condition restricting employment or occupation in the UK
  • a condition requiring the person to maintain and accommodate themselves, and any dependants accompanying them, without recourse to public funds
  • a condition requiring the person to register with the police
  • a condition restricting the person’s studies in the UK
  • a condition to report to the appropriate Medical Officer of Environmental Health.

The time limit and any conditions attached will usually be made known to the person granted leave to enter by either written notice given to them or endorsed in the person’s passport or travel document. Importantly, under the 1971 Act, it is an offence knowingly to remain beyond the time limit or fail to comply with any condition or requirement imposed.


How long is leave to enter valid for?

If someone has been granted leave to enter as a visitor in advance of travel to the UK, on each occasion the visa-holder arrives in the UK, they should usually be treated by immigration officials as having been granted, before arrival, leave to enter for a limited period beginning on the date of arrival. This will be 6 months (if at least 6 months remains of the visa’s validity) or the visa’s remaining validity period (if less than 6 months is left).

However, if a person is applying for leave to enter on arrival at a UK port-of-entry, the period of leave will depend on the reason given for that person’s visit and will be at the discretion of Border Force officials making this decision. In order to determine whether or not to give leave to enter and, if so, for what period and subject to what conditions, an immigration officer may seek such information, and the production of such documents or copy documents, to demonstrate the purpose of the person’s visit. An immigration officer may also require the person seeking leave to supply an up-to-date medical report.

Importantly, immigration officers at the border have the power to refuse leave to enter, where failure by a person seeking leave to supply any information, (copy) documents or medical report requested by an immigration officer shall be a ground, of itself, for refusal of leave. Immigration officials also have the power to cancel leave to enter granted in advance of travel. This could be where, for example, it is suspected that a visa-holder is seeking to enter the UK for a purpose other than the purpose specified in the entry clearance.


When can leave to enter be granted?

Not all overseas nationals subject to immigration control will require a visa in advance of travel to visit the UK, where most non-visa nationals can currently travel visa-free, although they will still need to apply for leave to enter on arrival at a UK port-of-entry. Leave to enter the UK as a visitor means leave to enter under the visitor rules for a period not exceeding 6 months, subject to conditions prohibiting employment and recourse to public funds. However, a non-visa national who wants to come to the UK for any purpose other than as a visitor seeking entry for 6 months or less will need to apply for a visa in advance.

It is also worth noting that the position as regards no prior permission to travel to the UK for persons who require leave to enter is changing with the staged introduction of the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) regime in the UK. Citizens of Qatar travelling to the UK must already have an ETA, with other nationalities being added in early 2024, including nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The plan is for all non-visa nationalities to be added to the ETA scheme by the end of 2024 as part of the government’s plans to fully digitalise UK borders and improve border security by 2025, providing more information about non-visa visitors, although there is currently no date for when this will take effect for nationals of other countries potentially within scope.

Once in force for any given nationality, the ETA scheme will create a requirement for those who need leave to enter, but do not have it, and who did not previously require an entry clearance, to obtain an electronic authorisation in advance of travel. It will apply to visitors, including transit visitors, as well as to persons coming for a short stay in the UK as a Creative Worker. Importantly, however, a person will not need an ETA if they have either:

  • a British or Irish passport
  • permission to live, work and/or study in the UK
  • a valid visa to be able to enter the UK.

For anyone legally resident in Ireland but who are not Irish citizens, they will also not need an ETA, provided they will be entering the UK from Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man. These individuals will be able to prove they live in Ireland using a number of different documents, including an Irish Residence Permit or an Irish driving licence, so long as the document is an original, issued by the Irish government and valid at the time of travel.


Is leave to enter different to leave to remain?

Indefinite leave to enter is the permission granted to an individual to come to the UK for the purposes of living in the UK on an indefinite basis. In contrast, indefinite leave to remain is the permission granted to an individual applying to settle from within the UK.

In most cases, an applicant can apply to UKVI from overseas for permission to come to the UK for a limited period of time, but on a route to settlement. However, it is only having satisfied the requirements of their relevant immigration route, typically including a continuous residence requirement, that they can then apply for indefinite leave to remain.


Is leave to enter the same as a visa?

Leave to enter is not usually the term used to describe a visa, although this phrase can be used to describe the permission granted by UKVI following an application for entry clearance, so on an application for a visa. However, the expression leave to enter is typically used to describe where permission is given by immigration officials to those currently entitled to travel visa-free on their arrival at a UK port-of-entry. Soon, these individuals will need to apply for a UK ETA, rather than travelling to the UK without advance authorisation.


How do you apply for UK leave to enter?

To apply for leave to enter, an eligible overseas national will simply travel to the UK and present at a UK port-of-entry, although they will need a valid passport or other travel document to prove their identity and nationality both prior to travel and on arrival. A decision will then be made by immigration officials whether to grant leave to enter.

However, even if a person is eligible to travel visa-free, this does not guarantee entry to the UK, where they may still be refused permission to enter if Border Force officials are not satisfied that their intentions are genuine or that they meet the relevant requirements under the visitor rules. It is therefore important for travellers to carry with them sufficient documentation to be able to satisfy officials of the purpose of the trip. Additionally, they should have proof of where they will be staying in the UK, the funds available to them to support themselves, as well as evidence of their return flight or onward journey.


How do you apply for a UK ETA?

Once the ETA system comes into force for those coming to visit the UK for the purposes of business or pleasure, or for other permissible reasons, these individuals will need to apply in advance for an ETA using either the UK ETA app or the online application link on the official ETA UK website. Each traveller must get their own ETA, including children and babies, at a cost of £10 per person, although adults can apply on behalf of family members.

Once an ETA application has been submitted, a decision should be made within 48 to 72 hours although, in some cases, it may take longer if further background and other checks are needed. As such, in cases where the ETA requirements apply to an individual, they are advised not to book any travel to the UK before they have been granted authorisation.

If an application is approved, email confirmation will be sent to the applicant. The successful ETA will then be linked electronically to the passport that the person applied with, where Border Force officials will be able to check their valid authorisation on arrival in the UK. If an ETA application is denied, the individual will not be entitled to travel to the UK without first applying and being approved by UKVI for a suitable visa in advance.

For approved applicants, an ETA will last for up to 2 years or upon expiry of that person’s passport, whichever is sooner. During this time, the ETA-holder will be able to travel to the UK multiple times, although immigration officials can still refuse permission on arrival if it is suspected that a person is seeking to enter the UK for a purpose other than the purpose permitted under the rules. An ETA will also not replace the requirement for a visa where one is needed, for example, for the purposes of paid employment or long-term study.


Need assistance?

DavidsonMorris are UK immigration specialists. For expert guidance on your options to travel to, or remain in, the UK, contact us.


Leave to enter FAQs

Can I work with leave to enter the UK?

If you have applied for entry clearance and have been granted leave to enter the UK by the Home Office, you may be able to work, provided there are no conditions attached to your visa prohibiting paid employment.

Can I claim benefits if I have leave to enter?

If someone is granted leave to enter at a UK port-of-entry under the visitor rules, this will typically be limited to a maximum period of 6 months, with a prohibition against undertaking paid employment and without recourse to public funds.

What is the difference between indefinite leave to remain and indefinite leave to enter?

Indefinite leave to remain is where a person is granted permission to stay in the UK on an indefinite basis, while indefinite leave to enter is where someone is granted permission to come to the UK, again to settle indefinitely.

What does exceptional leave to enter or remain mean?

Exceptional leave to enter or remain refers to where UK Visas and Immigration grant permission to come to or stay in the UK on the basis of exceptional and compassionate circumstances, commonly referred to as leave outside the rules (LOTR).

Last updated: 15 December 2023


Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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