Under the current UK immigration rules, nationals of non-European Economic Area countries are required to make a UK visa application to visit, work, study or live in Britain.
While many immigration routes exist, including visas and specific immigration schemes, the eligibility and application criteria as a whole are vast and complex.
As such, if you are a non-EEA national, before travelling to the UK, you will need to check what your immigration options are. We consider the main types of UK visa application you may be considering.
Work and study visas
The work or study visa you will need depends upon your skills and qualifications, whether you have a job offer and sponsorship, what you will be doing and whether you want to bring your family with you. You can also invest money in the UK or set up business here.
The 5-tier points based system is the main immigration route for non-EEA migrants to work, train or study in the UK. These are as follows:
Tier 1 UK visa application – Tier 1 is intended for investors and individuals with exceptional talent. The previous entrepreneur visa and grduate entrepreneur visas have now been replaced by the new Innovator and Start up routes respectively.
Tier 2 UK visa application – Tier 2 is intended for skilled workers with a job offer in the UK. This route includes priority for skilled workers where there is a proven shortage in the UK, workers who are transferred to the UK by an international company, as well as elite sportspeople and ministers of religion.
Tier 4 UK visa application – Tier 4 is for two categories of student, ie; the Tier 4 (General) student for applicants over 16 and the Tier 4 (Child) student for those aged between 4 and 17 years old wanting to study at an independent school.
Tier 5 UK visa application – Tier 5 is a temporary worker route. This includes creative and sporting workers, charity workers, religious workers, workers under international agreements and workers on government authorised exchange schemes.
If you are granted a points-based work or study visa, the length of time that you can come to the UK will depend upon the tier and category of visa. By way of example, the maximum period of time that you can come to the UK under a Tier 2 (Genera) visa is 5 years, although often this will be less.
To be eligible for a points-based visa, you must accrue a minimum number of points determined by your particular type of UK visa application.
For each UK visa application under the points-based system, the necessary attributes and minimum points threshold will depend upon the tier and category under which you are applying, although there is often overlap. You will also be required to prove your knowledge of English when you apply.
By way of example, a Tier 4 student will need a total of 40 points comprising a valid Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies from a fully licensed Tier 4 sponsor (30 points), together with sufficient funds to cover course fees and monthly living costs (10 points).
Please note, you can undertake a short course of study for up to 30 days on a Standard Visitor visa (see below) so long as this is not the main reason for your visit to the UK.
You can also apply for a short-term study visa that will let you study for up to 6 months, or 11 months if you’re over 16 and studying an English language course.
UK Visitor Visa
You will need to apply for a Standard Visitor visa if you are a non-EEA national and you would like to visit the UK for the following reasons:
- For leisure, for example, on holiday or to see your family and friends
- For a business trip, or to take part in sports or creative events
- For another reason, for example, to receive private medical treatment.
If you are granted a Standard Visitor visa, you can usually stay in the UK for up to 6 months. However, you might be able to stay for longer if you are coming to the UK for private medical treatment.
If you need to visit the UK regularly over a longer period, you can apply for a long-term Standard Visitor visa that lasts for either 2, 5 or 10 years. You can stay for a maximum of 6 months on each visit.
To be eligible for a Standard Visitor visa you must satisfy the following criteria:
- You will leave the UK at the end of your visit
- You have enough money without help from public funds to support and accommodate yourself
- You can pay for your return or onward journey.
You will also need to provide proof of the reason for your visit, for example, your business activities, and that you are genuinely seeking entry for a purpose that is permitted by the visitor routes.
Under a Standard Visitor visa there are various activities that are prohibited. In particular, if you have a visitor visa you cannot take a job in the UK. If you are being paid by a UK company to visit as an expert in your profession, for example, to give lectures at a higher education institution, you should apply instead for what’s known as a Permitted Paid Engagement visa.
UK Family Visa
If you are a foreign national outside the EEA or Switzerland looking to join a family member living in the UK, you may need to apply for a Family visa.
Under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights you can apply to enter or remain in the UK on the basis of family life as the partner, child, parent or dependent adult relative of a person who is either:
- a British citizen
- present and settled in the UK, ie; with indefinite leave to remain
- in the UK with refugee status or humanitarian protection.
A partner includes a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner, a spouse or civil partner, as well as an unmarried or same-sex partner.
An unmarried partner includes anyone who has been living in a relationship akin to a marriage or civil partnership for at least 2 years prior to the date of application for a Family visa.
If you are granted a Family visa, typically you can stay in the UK for up to 2.5 years, after which time you would need to apply to extend your stay.
The eligibility criteria relating to leave to enter or remain in the UK can vary depending on your relationship to the family relative in question. By way of example, if you are applying for a Family visa as the partner of a person living in the UK, you must satisfy the following criteria:
- You and your partner must both be aged over 18
- Your relationship must be genuine and subsisting
- You must intend to live together permanently in the UK.
Where you choose to establish or continue your family life in the UK as someone’s partner, in most cases you must also meet a financial and English language requirement.
In addition, if you are applying for indefinite leave to remain, you must satisfy what’s known as the KoLL requirement, ie; knowledge of the English language and about life in the UK.
If you do not meet the eligibility requirements for a Family visa, there are exceptional circumstances that may still be taken into account, not least where it would be a breach of your human rights to stop you from coming to the UK or forcing you to leave.
You may also be granted a Family visa in the following circumstances:
- There would be significant difficulties for you and your partner if you lived together as a couple outside the UK that could not be overcome.
- You have a child who has lived in the UK continuously for 7 years immediately preceding the date of the application and it would not be reasonable to expect them to leave.
How to make a UK visa application
The nature of your UK visa application will depend upon the type of visa that you are seeking and from where you are applying, for example, from within or outside the UK. However, you can apply and pay for most visas online.
If you have dependants who want to come to the UK with you, each person will need to apply and pay separately.
The processing times for UK visa applications can vary dramatically and specific guidance should be sought from the Home Office for your specific visa category.
In all cases you will need to provide documentation in support. Unless exempt, you will also be required to pay an application fee. You may also be required to provide your biometric information, ie; your fingerprints and a digital photo, as well as attend an interview, either in person or by telephone.
The purpose of the interview may be to request further information, verify facts or documentation, or check that your application is genuine. Where requested, if you do not attend an interview without reasonable explanation being given, your UK visa application will be refused.
Do you need help making a UK Visa Application?
The rules relating to UK visa applications can be extremely complex and subject to constant change. Moreover, where you are planning on working, studying or setting up a new family life in the UK, the consequences of having your application rejected can be significant.
An expert in immigration law can advise you on which UK visa application you will need to make, how to submit your application, what documentation is needed in support and, where relevant, help you prepare for any interview.
DavidsonMorris’ team of immigration legal advisers can support with advice on your immigration options and guidance with your application to the Home Office. For advice on making a UK visa application, contact us.