A UK visa is a provisional authorised document issued by a government to any foreign national allowing them to visit, stay and leave the country after a pre-decided period. It can be either an electronic document or a stamp on the foreign national’s passport which specifies the conditions and rights the person is entitled to while being present in the country.
There could be many reasons to visit the UK. Some of these are:
- To work and/ or visit for business related reasons;
- To study;
- To meet family members who are already in the UK;
- To Transit to another country through the UK;
- To Settle permanently;
- To enter as a person who has been granted refugee status or as someone who seeking asylum;
- To enter as a stateless person or have immigration status issue;
You may need a different visa to enter the UK depending on the purpose of your trip.
Freedom and restrictions with UK visa
If you are a national of European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland and began living in the UK as of 23:00 GMT, 31 December 2020, you may not require a visa to live and/or undertake any of the above listed activities. However, the UK Immigration Rules have changed significantly since we left the European Union and the same requirements will be imposed to all EEA and Swiss Citizens unless they had established residence in the UK before the end of the transition period.
Unless you are a visa free national entering the UK as a visitor, all foreign nationals seeking to enter the UK to visit, live, work or study will need to make an entry clearance application for a visa in order to be admitted to the UK.
How to begin your visa application process?
It is imperative to understand the visa category you need before starting your visa application process as each category has different requirements and specified documents such as evidence of English proficiency, your qualification, and level of income.
The requirements vary depending not only the visa category you are applying under, but also the country you are applying from and your individual immigration history.
An approach that is tailored to your individual circumstances would therefore significantly minimise your visa refusal rate.
What is the new immigration system?
The new immigration system has replaced the previous points-based system and the way applications are assessed is now governed by the individual appendices in the Immigration Rules.
This system is now also streamlined to form a single policy which applies to all foreign nationals.
Work and Business visas in the UK
T5 visas – Temporary worker
This visa is for short-term work in the UK and comprises of the following categories:
- Seasonal Worker
- Youth Mobility Scheme
- Creative or Sporting Worker
- Religious Worker
- Charity Worker
- International Agreement Worker
- Government Authorised Exchange Worker
This route is for workers in edible horticulture undertaking seasonal work in the UK with an approved sponsor.
A Seasonal Worker can only stay in the UK for up to 6 months in any 12-month period. The employer must assign each worker a Certificate of Sponsorship in support of the application and the applicant will also need to satisfy the financial requirement.
Youth Mobility Scheme Visa
This route is designed for young professionals who want to live and work in the UK.
Under this scheme, a person of one of the eligible nationals who is aged between 18 and 30 can work in the UK without sponsorship for 2 years. At the end of 2 years, you will either need to leave the country or switch to another immigration route.
Contrary to the previous immigration system, you can now switch from the Youth Mobility route to the Skilled Worker route within the UK and therefore you can continue to work in the UK whilst your Skilled Worker application is being processed without disruption.
Eligible nationals are: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Monaco, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea and San Marino. You will also be eligible if you hold a form of British nationality such as British National (Overseas).
Please note that unless you are applying as a British National, each of the above countries is subject to a limited number of places they can allocate to their nationals under this scheme. We therefore advise to apply early to avoid disappointment.
Creative and Sporting visa
This route is uniquely designed for creative and sporting workers who can make unique and/or significant contribution in their industry.
Under this route, both the Creative and Sporting worker will need a Certificate of Sponsorship (‘CoS’) from an approved sponsor in the UK.
In order to be eligible as a Creative Worker, you must be sponsored for one of the roles under Appendix T5 Creative Workers Codes of Practice and your UK employer may need to advertise the role.
As a Sporting Worker, your sponsor must have an endorsement from the specified governing body to confirm you are internationally established at the highest level and/or will make a significant contribution to the development of your sport at the highest level in the UK. They must also confirm your role cannot be filled by a settled person in the UK.
You will be granted permission for up to 12 months under this route, and a Creative Worker can apply to extend their stay up to a maximum of 24 months provided the requirements are met.
Religious Worker visa
This visa allows you to do religious work, such as working in a religious order or preaching. Your visa will be valid for up to 24 months.
Charity Worker visa
This visa category is for those looking for unpaid work on a volunteer basis for any charity. You will need a certificate of sponsorship from your employer before you go to the UK. You can stay up to 12 months in the UK with this visa.
International Agreement visa
This visa allows you to work in an international law for a foreign government or a diplomatic residence or consulate.
Government Authorised Exchange Visa
This visa is for those who want to come to the UK on an approved scheme for no more than 12 or 24 months. If you are looking to participate in any government linguistic programmes or complete any training, work experience, this visa would be beneficial. Before you apply, you must have a valid sponsor from a government department or agency, an organisation approved for an exchange scheme or a higher education institute. Once your visa is approved, you can stay in the UK for up to 12 to 24 months depending on the individual scheme.
Long-term work Visa
This visa allows you to stay for a more extended period in the UK. There are four significant categories of work visa:
- Skilled Worker Visa
- Intra-company transfer Visa
- Sportsperson Visa
- T2 Minister of Religion Visa
Skilled Worker Visa
The Skilled Worker route replaces the former Tier 2 (General) visa. If you have an offer of a skilled occupation in the UK and are looking to relocate to work here on a permanent basis, you will need to apply for a Skilled Worker visa.
Before you apply for this visa, your UK employer must be a Skilled Worker licensed sponsor and assign a CoS to you no earlier than 3 months before your visa application.
The length of your visa granted will be the dates of employment on your CoS plus 14 days. You will be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK after residing in the UK for 5 years under this route.
Intra-company Transfer Visa
The Intra-company Transfer visa allows employees to relocate from an overseas office to the UK office on a temporary basis. This route does not lead to settlement in the UK.
This route is subdivided into two further categories:
- Long-Term Staff – In order to be eligible under this route, the applicant must have been employed by the overseas office for a minimum period of 12 months unless they qualify as a high earner (£73,900 per annum).
For most long-term staff under this route, the maximum length of visa being granted cannot be more than 5 years in any 6-year period. However, as a high earner, the applicant can remain in the UK for up to 9 years in any 10-year period.
- Graduate Trainee – Applicants under this route must have worked at the overseas office for a continuous period of at least 3 months and be a part of a structured training programme leading towards a managerial or specialist role within the organisation.
T2 Minister of Religion Visa
If you are a person who has a leading role within a faith-based organisation or a religious order in the UK, you can apply for a T2 Minister of Religion visa to work for your organisation. Your employer must have a valid sponsor licence and assign a CoS to you in support of your application.
T2 Sportsperson Visa
Similar to the T5 Sporting Worker visa, this route is for an elite sportsperson or qualified coach to work in the UK.
However, this is designed for those who is being sponsored on a long-term contract (i.e. more than 12 months) which ultimate leads to settlement in the UK. As with the Sporting Worker visa, the person must be internationally established at the highest leve and will make a significant contribution to the development of their sport in the UK.
The specified governing body of your sport must endorse this application in order to succeed.
English Language requirement
Apart from the Intra-company Transfer route, all other visa routes are subject to the English language requirement unless you are aged 65 or over, under the age of 18 or have a disability which prevents you from meeting the requirement.
Each application is subject to different level of proficiency which can be met by: i) completing a specified English language test; or ii) submitting evidence having a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree or PhD from a UK university, or a degree that was taught in English; or iii) being the national of a majority English speaking country.
Sole Representative Visa
If you are currently working for an overseas company which intend to establish a presence in the UK, you may consider the sole representative of an overseas business visa.
In order to be eligible for this, the parent company outside the UK must not have any active branches, subsidiaries, agents or representatives who are already trading in the UK. You must also be a senior employee of the organisation who is familiar with the operation of the company.
In addition to this, you must not be a majority shareholder or otherwise in control or in receipt of the majority profit of the parent company. This means that your shareholding must not exceed 51% and in other cases, your business partner must not be a silent partner who has been appointed for the sole purpose of complying with the local requirements.
If at the time of application, you hold a significant number of shares within the parent company, additional documents will be required.
Your initial visa will be granted for up to 3 years. Provided the requirements are met, you can extend for a further two years and eventually apply for settlement after five years in the UK. You can also bring your spouse and children to the UK as your dependants.
Innovators, Start-ups and Tier 1 Investors
These visa categories were created to allow foreign nationals to set up their own businesses in the UK. The Innovators and Start-Up visas replaced the former Tier 1 Entrepreneur route.
This route is suitable for individuals who have a business idea that is innovative, scalable and viable and want to set up the business in the UK.
The application is a 2-stage process. Your idea will first need to be assessed by a specified government approved endorsing body which can be a venture capital firm or a business coaching company. If your application with the endorsing body is successful, you will be issued with an endorsement letter which you will need for your visa application.
Depending on the terms of your endorsement and whether you are setting up a new business or relying on an existing business in the UK, you may need to also show at least £50,000 in your personal account for investment purposes.
Your initial grant will be valid for 3 years, during which the endorsing body must continue to endorse your business. Subject to meeting the requirements for settlement, you and your family member may be eligible for indefinite leave to remain after 3 years.
The Start-up visa is similar to the Innovator visa but has broader eligibility. The endorsement or approval organisation list extends to UK higher education institutions, and you need not have any start-up funds.
You can stay in the UK for 2 years to either undertake employment or set up your own business. After the 2 years, you will need to switch to another immigration route in order to stay in the UK.
Tier 1 (Investor) Visa
Applicants under the Tier 1 (Investor) route will need to show either they have control of a minimum of £2 million which is held in a regulated financial institution and disposable in the UK or have invested not less than £2 million in the UK by way of share capital or loan capital in one or more active and trading UK registered companies in the immediate 12-month period before their application.
You will also need to open an account with a UK regulated bank for the purposes of investing a minimum of £2 million.
Additional documents to demonstrate the source of your funds will be required if you have not held the funds for 2 consecutive years before your application. This includes gifts, deeds of sale, evidence from a business, will, divorce settlement or award.
Once you are in the UK, you will need to invest the £2 million in full within 3 months. As of March 2019, government bonds are no longer recognised as a qualifying investment for the purposes of this application. Additional restrictions also apply to the type of businesses you can invest in to score point for your application.
Your initial grant of leave is valid for 3 years and 4 months, provided the requirements are met and your level of investment remains as £2 million, you can extend for another 2 years and apply for indefinite leave to remain after 5 years.
Alternatively, you may be eligible for settlement earlier if you invest a total of £5 or £10 million.
Global Talent Visa
Global Talent visa is for people with exceptional talent or emerging talent in their industries. The categories include:
- Digital technology
- The arts
- Film and television
There are two stages to the application – application for endorsement from a Home Office approved endorsing body with expertise in your field and application for the visa. Upon the grant of your application, your status in the UK will be valid for 5 years after which you can apply for indefinite leave to remain. You will then be eligible to naturalise as a British Citizen after holding indefinite leave to remain for 12 months.
If you are only passing through the United Kingdom in order to travel to another country, you may need to apply for a transit visa. To succeed in this application, you will need to submit evidence of your travel arrangements to your ultimate destination and that you have sufficient funds to do so. You will also need to prove that you are only in the UK for transit.
There are two types of transit visas:
- Direct Airside Transit Visa (DATV) – not going through border control
- Visitor in Transit visa – browsing border control but leaving within 48 hours
If you do not fall under one of the above categories, you will need to apply for a standard visit visa.
Child Student Visa
Child student visa has replaced the Tier 4 (Child) student visa. This visa is for children between the age of 4 and 17 who wish to attend an independent school in the UK. The school must hold a valid Child Student sponsor licence and assign a Certificate of Acceptance (‘CAS’) to the applicant. Unless the applicant is a national of a country under the differential arrangement, they will need to submit evidence that they have sufficient financial support to cover their education and living expenses in the UK.
During their residence in the UK, they must also have a UK guardian who will be responsible for their welfare.
The student visa has replaced the Tier 4(General) Student visa.
If you are aged 16 or above and have been offered a place at an educational institution, you will need to apply for a visa under the Student route. Your sponsor must hold a valid Student sponsor licence throughout the period of your enrolment and they must assign a CAS to you for your visa application.
You will need to satisfy the English language requirement unless your sponsor has certified this as being met in your CAS. You must also submit financial evidence to demonstrate you have sufficient funds to pay for your tuition fees and your living expenses unless you are a national under the differential agreement.
The duration of your visa varies depending on the length of your course.
Short-term Study Visa
If you are only interested in coming to the UK to study English for a short period of time, you may apply for a Short-term study visa instead. This visa is for all English language courses lasting between 6 and 11 months.
Standard Visitor visa
If you want to visit the UK for tourism, visiting family or friends who are in the UK, you will need to apply for a visit visa unless you are a visa free national.
A standard visitor visa does not allow you to do any work, be it paid or unpaid, marry anyone, or live in the UK for an extended period of time. However, attending business conferences or meetings and delivering training sessions at a company that forms part of the group of your employer are permitted under this visa.
You must intend to leave the country post your visit.
You can submit your application as early as 3 months before your planned travel date, and you can be present in the UK for up to 6 months during any 12-month period.
In cases where you are travelling to the UK for private clinical treatments or undertake scholarly research, you can remain in the UK for up to 11 months in a 12-month period.
Marriage and Civil Partnership Visitor Visa
You can apply for a Marriage Visitor visa if you want to get married or register in a civil partnership in the UK but do not intend to stay or settle in the UK after your marriage or civil partnership.
Settlement: Humanitarian Protection or Refugee
The Secretary of State will issue a person a residence permit if they have been granted status under humanitarian protection or refugee. The residence permit is valid for 5 years and can be renewed unless there are compelling reasons of national security or public order that render the person as a danger to the security of the UK or the community of the UK.
You can apply to settle in the UK if you have held a residence permit card under either of the following category for a continuous period of 5 years:
- A refugee
- A person with humanitarian protection within the UK
Conclusion: There are various routes for foreign nationals to visit, live and work in the UK depending on your individual circumstances. This blog covers most areas under the Immigration Rules to give you insight on the different types of visa routes and requirements. With this knowledge, the planning becomes more accessible and a more realistic expectation can be set on your timeframe.
We can plan your journey from entry clearance to naturalisation as a British Citizen with you on the outset to minimise any future surprises.