There are various different types of UK visa, depending on the purpose of your stay, from visiting the UK for a holiday to undertaking a course of study or starting a new job, or even starting a whole new life with loved ones.
UK visitor visas
If you are a citizen of a country that does not qualify for visa-free travel to the UK, known as a visa national, you will need to obtain a visit visa to obtain entry clearance prior to arriving at a UK port-of-entry. A visit visa is the permission given by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), the division of the Home Office responsible for the UK’s visa system, to be able to visit the UK for a short period of time. This could be for the purposes of tourism and leisure, or for business purposes, such as attending meetings or conferences.
There are two main types of visit visa: the Standard Visitor and Long-Term Visitor visas.
The standard visa will allow visitors to come to the UK for up to 6 months and allows visitors 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.
In contrast, the long-term visa is for those looking to visit the UK on a regular basis, allowing multiple entries over a validity period of 2, 5 or 10 years, limited to a maximum of 6 months per stay. However, visit visas can only be used to undertake activities permitted under the visitor rules, which exclude paid employment or anything more than a short course of study.
To be eligible for a visit visa you must be able to support yourself and any dependants during your trip, and pay for your return or onward journey. You must also intend to leave the UK at the end of your stay, where a visa must not be used to live in the UK for extended periods through either frequent or successive visits, or to make the UK your main home.
UK ETA permit
The UK is launching its Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme in 2023, granting permission to certain non-visa nationals and Creative Workers to come to the UK. Under the scheme, travellers to the United Kingdom (other than British and Irish residents) who are visiting the UK or transiting through the UK and who do not currently require a visa for short stays (known as “non-visa nationals”) or who do not have a pre-existing immigration status, will need to apply for, and be granted, permission in advance.
Individuals who qualify will receive a digital travel authorisation to enter the UK.
UK Work Visas
When applying for a UK work visa, you will need to apply for the right type of visa based on your circumstances, meeting a number of various different route-specific requirements. The main immigration routes when it comes to working in the UK include:
Skilled worker visa
This is a sponsored work visa requiring the offer of a job within an eligible skilled occupation from a UK licensed sponsor that meets the applicable salary threshold. You must also meet an English language and financial requirement. If your application for a Skilled Worker visa is successful, you will be permitted to stay in the UK for up to 5 years. You can also extend your stay once you are in the UK as many times as you like, provided you continue to meet the relevant requirements, with the possibility of applying to permanently settle after meeting a 5-year continuous residence requirement.
Health & care worker visa
The Health & Care Worker visa is open to individuals applying under the skilled worker route for entry clearance or leave to remain who and will be taking up a job offer in one of the occupations specified within a prescribed list of Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes, which currently include qualified doctors, nurses, health professionals and adult social care professionals, among other healthcare professions.
As well as the role coming under one of the above SOC categories, to qualify for the visa an applicant must also have been offered employment from a licenced sponsor.The sponsoring organisation must also either be an NHS body or trust, a medical services provider to the NHS, an organisation providing adult social care, or one of several other medical and social care organisations listed in the official guidance.
High Potential Individual visa
The High Potential Individual visa allows recent graduates of top global universities to come to the UK to work or look for work. This means that the high potential individual does not need the offer of a job before applying, with no need for a Home-Office approved sponsor in the UK.
High Potential Individual visa-holders are permitted to work full time at any skill level and in any type of job. This includes self-employment and voluntary work, although work as either a professional sportsperson or sports coach will not be allowed. The applicant is also able to undertake a course of study which meets the requirements of the Student route, subject to the Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) condition. This is a requirement to obtain an ATAS certificate before studying certain sensitive subjects at postgraduate level.
This is an unsponsored immigration route that will allow recent overseas graduates, having successfully completed a UK course of study at bachelor’s degree level or above, to undertake work in the UK for either 2 or 3 years. This will provide the flexibility to work at any skill or salary level. Equally, if you secure a suitably skilled and well-salaried job role prior to expiry of this visa, you can apply to switch to the Skilled Worker visa, providing you with a potential path to settlement in the UK.
Scale up visa
The Scale up visa is a hybrid route, allowing workers to come to the UK to do an eligible job for a fast-growing UK business, provided that role meets the minimum salary requirement. You must also meet an English language and financial requirement. Your prospective employer must be an eligible scale-up business and licensed to sponsor this category of worker, although your sponsorship will only last for 6 months. The Scale-up visa will run for a period of 2 years, enabling you to switch to an unsponsored role for someone else, although you must continue to meet the minimum earnings requirement. You can also apply to extend this visa as many times as you like by 3 years and, after continuously living in the UK after 5 years, you can apply to settle on a permanent basis.
Global Business Mobility routes
The GBM routes are for specific types of workers undertaking work in the UK for overseas organisations:
- Senior or Specialist Worker route for senior managers and specialist employees being assigned to a UK business that’s linked to their employer overseas and who wish to undertake a temporary assignment in the UK.
- Graduate Trainee route for overseas workers on a graduate training course leading to either a senior management or specialist position and required by their employer to do a UK work placement.
- UK Expansion Worker route for overseas workers looking to undertake temporary assignments in the UK, where the worker is either a senior manager or specialist employee being assigned to the UK to assist with the expansion of the business.
- Service Supplier route is for contractual service suppliers employed by overseas service providers, or self-employed independent professionals based overseas, looking to undertake temporary assignments in the UK to provide services covered by a UK international trade agreement.
- Secondment Worker route is for overseas workers looking to undertake temporary assignments in the UK, where the worker is being seconded to the UK as part of a high value contract or investment by their overseas employer.
UK Temporary worker visas
The UK also offers a number of immigration routes for workers looking to undertake short-term employment. These Temporary Worker visa include:
- Creative Workers: overseas nationals who have been offered short-term work within the creative sector in the UK for up to 12 months, who can make a unique contribution to UK culture as either an entertainer or artist, or other type of Creative Worker;
- Charity Workers: overseas nationals who want to undertake voluntary work for a recognised charitable organisation in the UK for a period of up to 12 months;
- Government Authorised Exchange Workers: overseas nationals who want to come to the UK to take part in an approved internship, training, work experience or research programme for a period of up to 2 years;
- International Agreement Workers: overseas nationals who want to provide a service in the UK covered under international law, such as employees of international organisations or private servants in diplomatic households, in most cases, for a period up to 2 years;
- Religious Workers: overseas nationals who want to support the activities of a UK religious institution by undertaking religious work, such as working in a religious order or doing non-pastoral work, for a period of up to 2 years;
- Seasonal Workers: overseas nationals who want to come to the UK to do seasonal horticulture work with an approved scheme operator for a period of up to 6 months.
UK Business Visas
Following recent changes in the UK immigration rules, including the closure of the Tier 1 investor and entrepreneur visas and the Start up route for new businesses, the UK visa route for business owners is now the Innovator Founder route.
The innovator founder visa effectively replaces the Innovator route, with the following key features:
- No £50,000 minimum investment requirement
- Reduced ‘check in’ requirement with endorsing body – only two, down from 3 under the start up rules
- Secondary employment permitted in certain conditions
- Path to UK settlement – time spent in the UK under this route can count towards indefinite leave to remain residence requirement
The innovator founder route will allow the successful applicant to come to the UK to put their business plans into practice. They will be permitted to work for the business that they have established, as well as other employment, provided that employment is in a role that requires a skill level of not less than RQF Level 3, equivalent to UK A Levels. They will also be allowed to undertake a course of studies alongside running their business.
An innovator founder will initially be granted permission to live and work in the UK for a maximum period of 3 years, at which stage, provided they meet the relevant requirements, they can apply for indefinite leave to remain, otherwise known as settlement.
The immediate relatives of an innovative founder can accompany or follow to join them in the UK. This includes the partner and any dependent children of the principal applicant or primary visa-holder. As dependants of the innovative founder, any partner or children will be permitted to undertake any type of work during their stay, including self-employment and voluntary work, except as a sportsperson or coach. They can also pursue any studies.
UK Student Visa
You can apply for a UK Student visa if you are aged 16 or over, have been offered a place on a course by a UK licensed sponsor, and can support yourself and pay for that course. In addition to the financial requirement, you must also meet an English language requirement.
The length of time that you will be permitted to stay in the UK on a Student visa will all depend on the length of your course. For example, if you are aged 18+ and your intended course of study is at degree level, you can typically stay in the UK for up to 5 years, but if your course is below degree level, you can usually only stay for up to 2 years.
UK Family Visas
If you are not just coming to the UK to visit friends and family, but to start a whole new life with a loved one already living in the UK, you will need to apply for a category of family visa. There are various different types of family visa, including for the spouse or partner of someone settled in the UK, for children joining a parent living in the UK or for parents of children living in the UK, as well as for adult dependant relatives in need of long-term care.
When applying for any one of these types of visa, whether you are eligible is primarily about whether your UK sponsor falls into one of the accepted categories. For example, the Partner visa is for the spouse or partner of either a British citizen or someone settled in the UK, or someone with refugee status or humanitarian protection. You must also meet the requisite relationship requirement, such as being married to or in a relationship akin to a marriage with your UK sponsor. However, even if you do not meet the requirements for any one of the family visas, you may still be granted a visa on the basis of your right to private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
If you are applying for a family visa from outside the UK, you will be granted a visa for 2 years 9 months as either a partner or parent, or 2 years and 6 months from inside the UK. After this you will need to apply to extend your stay. However, you can also apply to settle in the UK on a permanent basis after meeting a 5-year continuous residence requirement. In other cases, the length of your visa will depend on the status of your family member.
If your spouse, partner or parent is in the UK temporarily on either a work or study visa, you can instead apply as their dependant. For example, if you are the husband or wife of someone applying or already in the UK on the Skilled Worker route, you can apply to join or accompany your spouse under the same immigration route. This does not mean that you will also need a qualifying job meeting the minimum skill and salary requirements on this route, but you will need to satisfy other criteria, including a relationship requirement. The length of your dependant visa will typically match that of the primary visa-holder.
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.
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 under a dependant visa, 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 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.
What is the UK visa application process?
You can apply and pay for most visas online. When making an online UK visa application, you will need to visit the GOV.UK website and select the correct visa type. You will then need to complete your application and pay the fee. You will also need to prove your identity, provide documents to show your eligibility and enrol your biometric information. The way in which you do this will depend on your nationality and passport type.
You may have to attend an appointment at an overseas visa application centre (VAC) if you are applying from outside the UK, or at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point if you are applying from in the UK. In some cases, you may be able to use the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ smartphone app, where you will find out if you need to attend an appointment or use the smartphone app when you start your visa application.
If you need to attend a VAC or UKVCAS service point, as these are run by third party providers, you will get a link to their website where you can schedule an appointment to provide your biometrics, ie; your fingerprints and photograph. You can also use this appointment to provide your evidence in support of your visa application, unless you have already uploaded this online. For example, if you are applying for a Skilled Worker visa, in addition to having a valid CoS number as proof of a genuine job offer with a licensed UK sponsor, you may also need to provide evidence of your ability to speak English. If, on the other hand, you are applying for a Partner visa, amongst other things, you may need to provide your marriage certificate or proof of your relationship with your UK sponsor.
What are the costs of UK visa applications?
When it comes to the costs of a UK visa application, there is a fee for each visa. This fee will depend on which visa you apply for, ranging from just £100 for a Standard Visitor visa to £3,250 for an Adult Dependant visa. The fees will also vary depending on whether you are either applying from overseas, to extend your stay in the UK or to switch to another visa.
If you have dependants who would like to come to the UK with you, each individual will need to apply and pay separately, where the fees are the same for each person. You may also each be liable to pay the healthcare surcharge. This surcharge is to grant you access to the UK’s National Health Service and is currently set at £624 per year of stay. This must be paid upfront, although for students and children the charge is reduced to £470 per year.
What are the processing times for UK visa applications?
The length of time it takes to obtain a visa will depend on the visa type and whether you are applying from overseas or within the UK. For example, a family visa application made overseas can take up to 6 months, compared with 8 weeks from within the UK. In contrast, a work visa will take 3 weeks when applying from overseas and 3 weeks from the UK.
In some cases, you may be able to pay for a faster decision on your UK visa application depending on the type of visa sought, how you apply and where you apply from. However, this does not necessarily guarantee a faster decision on your visa if your application is not straightforward, nor any guarantee that your application is more likely to be successful.
It is always best to seek expert advice before making a UK visa application, not only to ensure that you select the right visa type, but that you meet the relevant requirements and provide the right documentation, so as to maximise the prospects of a successful outcome.
DavidsonMorris are specialists in UK immigration. We can help you understand your UK visa options and guide and support you through the Home Office application process.
You will need to ensure you are applying for the most appropriate category and that your application is complete with full supporting evidence of your eligibility. All Home Office applications are 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.
UK visa FAQs
How to apply online for UK visa?
When applying online for a UK visa, you will need to visit the GOV.UK website and select the correct visa. You will need to complete your application, pay the fee, provide evidence in support and enrol your biometric information.
How much is UK visa fee?
The fee for a UK visa can vary depending on the visa sought and length of stay, from £100 for a visit visa for up to 6 months to £3,250 to live in the UK as a dependant relative.
How long does it take to get a UK visa?
The processing times for UK visas vary depending on the visa type and where the application is made, for example, a family visa application made overseas can take up to 6 months compared with 8 weeks from within the UK.
What are the requirements for UK visa application?
The requirements for UK visa applications vary, although how you apply not only depends on your visa type but whether you are overseas, or instead inside the UK and extending your current visa or switching from a different visa.
Last updated: 16 March 2023