Which UK Visa Should You Apply For?
Before entering the UK, you will need to ensure you have the relevant permission to enter and carry out your intended activity for the duration of your stay.
Your UK visa options will be determined by a number factors, including your nationality, your reason(s) for travel and length of stay.
Once you have identified the most appropriate entry route, you will be required to ascertain your eligibility under the specific category, and make an application to the UK Home Office.
We summarise below some of the more commonly used UK visas for non-EEA nationals and immigration options and rights for EEA nationals under the current system.
UK Visas for Non-EEA Nationals
UK Visitor Visa
The Standard Visitor Visa allows non-EEA nationals to come to the UK for a short stay for a number of permissible reasons:
- Tourism & leisure, for example on holiday or to see your family and friends
- Business, or to take part in sports or creative events
- Other reasons, for example to receive private medical treatment
For business, specific visitors provide guidance on what is permitted, but generally, only be business-related activity is allowed on a visitor visa – gainful (ie paid) employment is not and would require a work visa.
You cannot marry or register a civil partnership on a standard visitor visa, or give notice of marriage or civil partnership, but you can convertyour civil partnership to a marriage.
As part of your visa application you will need to demonstrate your visit to the UK will last no more than six months and that you will be leaving the UK at the end of the visit. Academic visitors and parents of children at school in the UK are entitled to stay in the UK for a maximum period of 12 months. You will also have to sufficient finds to maintain and accommodate yourself and any dependants without the support of UK public funds.
UK Work Visas
A number of specific visa categories exist such as the Permitted Paid Engagement Visa for professional performers. Take advice on your circumstances to ensure you are applying for the most appropriate visa for your needs.
Tier 2 (General) visa
The Tier 2 (General) visa is for individuals with a job offer in the UK, and who are coming to fill a gap in the labour force that cannot be filled by someone already in the country.
You are eligible to apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa if you have a confirmed offer of employment from a licensed UK employer (sponsor); you have been issued a valid certificate of sponsorship; and you meet the required points score under the points based system.
Because the Tier 2 (General) visa can lead to Indefinite Leave to Remain, the category also makes provision for the spouses, partners and any dependent children to immigrate to the UK at the same time as the main Tier 2 applicant.
Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfer)
The Tier 2 Intra Company Transfer (ICT) visa is generally used by multinational organisations to transfer skilled employees from an overseas office, subsidiary or sister company to fill a post in the UK which cannot be filled by a locally recruited employee.
As you would perhaps expect with the Tier 2 category, there are a number of requirements attached in order for an individual to qualify, including minimum salary thresholds and prior employment requirements.
The Tier 5 visa extends to a number of specific categories:
- Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Charity Worker) visa
- Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Creative and sporting) visa
- Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange) visa
- Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – International Agreement) visa
- Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Religious Worker) visa
- Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visa
Eligibility will depend on the category of visa you apply for. We can provide full details on request.
Holders can enter and leave the UK at any time while the visa is valid.
Holders are not however permitted to work as a doctor or dentist in training (unless they can show they qualified in the UK) or as a professional sportsperson (for example as a coach). They are not able to get access to public funds and any family members must apply separately to enter the UK.
Importantly, the visa is not open to individuals who have already been to the UK under a Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa, or in the former ‘working holidaymaker’ category.
UK Business Visas
Entrepreneurs & investors
Visas options for those looking to set up or invest in a UK business were overhauled in March 2019. The Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa is now closed to new applications.
Under the new rules, if you are looking to set up your first company in the UK, you would look at the Start Up visa. ‘Experienced’ entrepreneurs and those switching from the Start Up category would look at the Innovator visa.
Both of these routes require endorsement from a Home Office-authorised body before a visa application can be submitted to the Home Office. Endorsement will only be granted where the applicant can evidence the eligibility criteria are met.
Tier 1 (Investor) visa
A Tier 1 investor visa allows you to invest £2,000,000 or more in UK government bonds, share capital or loan capital in active and trading UK registered companies. Investor visa holders are able to work, study or engage in business activities in the UK.
You may be eligible to apply for a Tier 1 Investor visa if you want to invest £2,000,000 or more in the UK; you are from outside the EEA and Switzerland; and are at least 16 years old.
As part of your application you will need to demonstrate the funds for investment belong either to you, your spouse or civil partner; they are held in one or more regulated financial institutions; and the funds are available to be transferred to and invested in the UK.
You are not allowed to invest in companies mainly engaged in property investment, property management or property development, work as a professional sportsperson or sports coach, or claim UK public funds.
Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa
The Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) Visa permits successful applicants to extend their stay in the UK after graduation to establish one or more businesses.
To be eligible to apply for the graduate entrepreneur visa you must be from outside the EEA and Switzerland, hold a UK-recognised higher education qualification such as a Bachelor’s degree, Master’s or PhD, have access and be able to evidence sufficient maintenance funds and meet the English language requirements.
You will, importantly, require endorsement by a UK higher education institution, if it is an authorised endorsing agent, or by the Department for International Trade (DIT).
Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa
The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa, is aimed at non-EEA nationals considered to be exceptionally talented individuals in fields of science, humanities, engineering, the arts and digital technology.
There is a two-stage application process. First, apply to the relevant industry body for endorsement, before making an application to the Home Office for a visa.The Royal Society, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, Arts Council England and Tech City UK are mandated to identify and endorse ‘exceptional talent’ in each of these areas.
On this visa, a person may be employed or self employed, work for any employer and take up employment in any sector at any level. Although, if they wish to extend leave or apply for settlement, they will need to demonstrate that they have worked in their field of speciality.
Dependants can also accompany the applicant if they meet the relevant requirements.
UK Student Visa
Tier 4 visa
The Tier 4 student visa caters for students from outside the UK or EEA who are looking to study a full-time degree level course at a university, college or other eligible educational institution in the UK.
You are eligible to apply for a Tier 4 Student visa if you are 16 years or older; you have been offered a full-time place at an eligible UK educational institution on a course that meets certain requirements (full-time equates to 15 hours of classroom study per week; you have achieved a minimum of 40 points according to the points based assessment criteria; and you will be studying at degree level, you plan to study minimum B2 level of English language course of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). A minimum of B1 is required for below degree level. Exceptions can be made against certain requirements.
As part of your application you will need to demonstrate your ability to maintain yourself and pay for course fees and accommodation, as well as your intention to return to your home country after the course is completed.
How long you can stay depends on the type of course you are studying and any study you have already completed.
Partner & Family Visas
A Spouse visa allows non-EEA nationals to enter or remain in the UK where they are married to a British citizen or a person with UK settled status, ie someone who is living in the UK lawfully with no time limit on their stay.
You are eligible to apply for a spouse visa if you and your spouse are 18 years old or over, are legally married and have met each other and plan to live together permanently.
If you already hold a UK fiancé visa, work visa, or student visa valid for more than six months, you may be eligible to switch to a spouse visa UK.
If you are applying for a spouse visa from outside the UK, you are eligible for an initial visa period of 27 months. If you are already in the UK on a visa, you will be given extension of stay for two years.
You must complete two years as a spouse before being eligible to apply for leave to remain as a spouse.
You can apply for naturalisation after 12 months of indefinite leave to remain.
Children of the marriage who are under 18 years old are allowed entry to the UK as dependants, and can make their application at the same time as the applicant spouse. Your spouse has to earn a minimum of £18,600 per year or has to have enough savings to be able to support you without claiming public funds. If you have dependent children, the minimum financial requirement is higher.
As part of your visa application you will need to demonstrate your spouse is either present and settled in the United Kingdom, or will arrive with you to be admitted for settlement. There must be adequate accommodation for you and any dependants, and that you will be able to maintain yourselves and any dependents without the support of UK public funds.
You must satisfy the English language requirements.
Civil Partnership visa
A Civil partnership visa allows non-EEA nationals to enter or remain in the UK where they are in a civil partnership with a British citizen or a person with UK settled status, ie someone who is living in the UK lawfully with no time limit on their stay. To qualify for entry to the UK, you will need to be granted entry clearance prior to your arrival.
You are eligible to apply for a civil partner visa if you and your civil partner are 18 years old or over, in a legal civil partnership and have met each other and plan to live together permanently.
If you already hold a UK fiance visa, work visa, or student visa valid for more than six months, you may be eligible to switch to a civil partner visa.
You can apply for a civil partner visa from overseas or from within the UK. Once the civil partner visa has been granted, you are eligible to work or study in the UK. After a total period of three years in the UK if you meet the residence requirements you may then apply for UK citizenship.
Children of the partnership who are under 18 years old are allowed entry to the UK as dependants, and can make their application at the same time as the applicant civil partner.
A fiance visa allows a British citizen or a person with UK settled status to bring their non-EEA fiancé to join them in the UK with the intention of getting married within the six months period of the visa.
If you are returning to the UK to settle, your partner can apply for a UK fiancé visa to join you at the same time.
You are eligible to apply for a fiancé visa if you and your fiancé are both over 18 years old, have met each other and plan to live together permanently after your marriage.
Family members and spouses of UK settled individuals can apply to join them in the UK, without work restrictions. The eligibility criteria will change depending on which type of UK visa your ‘sponsor’ previously held.
Where eligible, you will need to show your sponsor has sufficient financial means and willingness to support you.
If your application for a Dependent Visa is successful you will be granted leave to enter the UK and freedom to live in the UK without restriction.
UK Visas & EEA Nationals
The immigration rights of EEA nationals are expected to change under government plans for Brexit reform of the UK immigration rules. Until such changes are passed into law, the rules remain unchanged.
An EEA national with a valid passport or national identity card may live in the UK initially for 3 months.
After this period, EEA nationals gain the right to extend their stay provided they exercise one of the following Treaty rights as either a worker, jobseeker, self-employed person, student, self-sufficient person or as a family member of a qualifying EEA national.
After 5 continuous years in the UK exercising Treay rights, you may become eligible to apply for permanent residence, the prerequisite to British citizenship.
UK settlement visas
Indefinite Leave to Remain
With Indefinite Leave to Remain, you are granted permission to stay in the UK without time restriction. Eligibility is largely based on completion of a qualifying period of time spent in the UK on a qualifying visa route.
For example, Tier 2 (General) visa holders generally become eligible after 5 continuous years in the UK, whereas the Tier 1 investor visa can offer expedited ILR eligibility where specific levels of investment are met.
If you are aged between 18 and 64 then as part of your ILR application you will need to pass the Knowledge of Life in the UK Test and dempnstrate your English language ability.
Naturalising as a British citizen
You may be eligible to apply for British citizenship if you are 18 years old or over; you have held Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK, or as an EEA national have permanent residence in the UK for a minimum of 12 months (unless you are married to a British citizen, in which case you can apply to naturalise as soon as you hold ILR or PR); you do not have a serious or recent criminal record and have not broken any immigration laws or conditions while in the UK. You must satisfy the English language requirements and have passed the ‘Life in the UK’ test.
Do you have a question about a UK visa? DavidsonMorris can help!
DavidsonMorris is a dedicated UK immigration law firm. We can help you understand your UK visa options and guide and support you through the Home Office application process.
Note that any Home Office application will be subject to general grounds for clearance such as the good character requirement. If you are concerned about a past criminal conviction or immigration period of overstay in the UK, take advice prior to making your application to ensure eligibility and that you are correctly representing your circumstances within the application.
We can also assist where you have had a visa application refused, assessing whether you have the right and grounds to appeal or whether a new application will be necessary.
Speak to one of our UK immigration specialists today.