Do I need a visa?
You need a UK Visa to enter the UK if you are a national from a country outside the European Economic Area (EEA). A visa grants you ‘entry clearance’, which means you can come to Britain for a specific activity or purpose. Different UK Visas have different forms of entry clearance that allow you to do various things. You may need a visa for the UK if you want to visit, join family, study, work, or conduct business, and all these circumstances have different visa requirements, processing times, costs, and lengths of stay.
Different types of visas require different documents and evidence, and in some categories (like Work, Study, and Partner Visas), you need to have a UK sponsor to support your application.
To find out more about the different visa options available, get in touch with our team of London and UK-based immigration lawyers on 020 3883 6530.
Joining family in the UK
If you want to join a partner or relative in the UK for longer than a visit, you can apply for a visa under the ‘family’ category.
There are several different visa options for those looking to join a relative in the UK. Family Visas include the following categories:
- Dependent Child Visas. These visas are used when a child has to accompany their visa-holding parent(s) to the UK. This is possible with various visas for the UK, including Spouse Visas, Work Visas, and Study Visas.
- Adult Dependant Visas. These are used by a person who needs necessary and serious care from their British/settled child. In this case, the British child is the sponsor.
- Ancestry Visas. These visa types are for Commonwealth citizens, who have one or two grandparents who are/were a UK national.
- EEA Family Permits. This isn’t strictly a visa; it is used by people who live outside of the EEA who have a European family member living in the UK.
Joining a partner in the UK
There are three main types of UK Partner Visa. These are:
- Spouse Visa. For people married to British citizens who want to live with them in the UK.
- Unmarried Partner Visa. For people in long-term relationships with British citizens who want to live with them in the UK.
- Fiancé Visa. For people who want to marry a British citizen in the UK before settling with them there.
These types of visas typically require several different forms of evidence to be submitted in relation to the applicant and the British sponsor. This revolves around proving that your relationship to them is “genuine and subsisting”. To do this, you need to submit evidence to show that you know your partner well, that you are married (if applying for a UK Spouse Visa) and that you intend to genuinely continue with the relationship once you are both living in the UK together.
If you want to work, study, or conduct business in the UK, you will need a specific category of visa, called a Points-Based Visa. This category is based on a tier system, which goes as follows.
Tier 1 Visas
Tier 1 Visas are for ‘high-skilled’ or ‘highly-sought-after’ people, including workers and businesspeople. The Tier 1 Visa types include:
- Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa. To be eligible, you must be an endorsed leader in your field.
- Tier 1 Exceptional Promise Visa. To be eligible, you must be an emerging leader in your field.
- Tier 1 Innovator Visa (formerly the Entrepreneur Visa). To be eligible, you must have a solid business plan, endorsement, and at least £50,000 in savings.
- Tier 1 Start-up Visa (formerly the Graduate Entrepreneur Visa). To be eligible, you must be endorsed by an approved body, and have enough money to support yourself while in the UK.
- Tier 1 Investor Visa. To be eligible, you must have £2 million in investment funds.
Tier 2 Visas
Tier 2 Visas are for skilled workers who want to work in the UK for long periods. The Tier 2 Visa types include:
- Tier 2 General. This is the most commonly used Work Visa. To be eligible, you must have an offer from a UK employer (who is registered as a Sponsor).
- Tier 2 Religious Worker. This is used by people who want to do religious work in the UK, such as working in a religious order or preaching.
- Tier 2 Sportsperson. This is for elite sportspeople and qualified coaches who are recognised as being at the highest level of their fields internationally.
- Intra-Company Transfer Visa. This type of visa is used by people who want to transfer from a role in a business to a UK branch.
Tier 4 Visas
Tier 4 Visas are used by international students who want to study in the UK for longer than six months.
For a Tier 4 Student Visa, the applicant must prove the following:
- They have enough funds to support themselves during their studies, as well as pay their tuition fees in full
- They have an official offer of study from a registered UK institution (like a University)
- They have been assigned a CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies) by this institution
- They meet the English language requirements of their particular course
There is also a Tier 4 Child Study Visa, which functions in the same way. To be eligible for this, a child must have a position at a British fee-paying school, as well as enough money provided to them to support them and ensure their full course can be afforded.
Tier 5 Visas
Tier 5 Visas are used by temporary workers. There are six main types of UK Visa under the Tier 5 category. These include:
- Tier 5 General. This type of visa is for people who want to take on temporary (up to 24 months), skilled positions in the UK.
- Tier 5 Creative and Sporting. This category is for people who want to work in the creative or sports sectors on temporary placements.
- Tier 5 Government Exchange. For those who want to come to the UK temporarily for work experience, for a fellowship, or for research.
- Tier 5 International Agreement. For those who are contracted to do work that is covered by international law, like serving a diplomatic household, or working as a civil representative.
- Tier 5 Religious Worker. For those who want to do temporary religious work in the UK, like preaching or working in a religious order.
- Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme. For people between the ages of 18 and 30 who are from Commonwealth countries and want to work for up to two years in the UK.
*It is worth noting that Tier 3 of the Points-Based System, which was initially for low-skilled workers, is not in use.
UK Visa advice
We offer advice packages for a range of visa-based enquiries. Whether you need advice on a particular visa application that you’re ready to start, or you just want to know your general visa options, we can help. Our team of immigration lawyers are positioned around London and the UK. As part of our Visa Advice Package, we will pair you with a caseworker who suits your needs. They will advise you on each step of your visa application process, outline your visa options, and tell you which documents you need for your relevant visa category/categories.
UK Visa application help
As part of our visa application service, an immigration lawyer will work with you closely to take you through each step of the application process for your specific type of UK Visa. They will oversee the entire application process for you, helping you to source and organise all your supporting documents. They will complete and submit your application forms to UKVI on your behalf. They will also write a detailed cover letter to accompany your visa application. As well as this, they will correspond with them and follow-up on your behalf.
Visiting the UK
If you are from outside the EEA and you need to visit the UK for any reason, then you will need a UK Visitor Visa.
You can visit the UK for a holiday; medical treatment; to see family; to attend business meetings; or to study for short periods. A Visit Visa can be used for any reason, and you must prove for any application that this reason is genuine and that you will return once your visit is complete.
The three main types of Visit Visa are:
- Standard Visitor Visa. This visa is the most commonly used form of Visit Visa. It covers most of the reasons for visiting the UK, including visiting family, tourism, and medical visits.
- Visitors in Transit. This type of visa is used by visitors who pass through the UK on their way to catch another flight. This is necessary when they want to leave the airport for a layover.
- Permitted Paid Engagement Visa. This UK Visa category is for individuals who are invited to the UK on the basis that they are experts of their profession. This includes academics, performers, and journalists.
Other types of Visitor Visa
There are a few other variants of the Standard Visitor Visa which are worth mentioning. These are subcategories of this visa type, but the requirements for people who want to make visits for these reasons are slightly different.
- Marriage Visitor Visa. The requirements for this category are that you can prove you will get married during your visit and that you will return after this. Please note, this is not a Fiancé Visa or Spouse Visa – it simply lets someone visit the UK for the specific purpose of marriage.
- Business Visitor Visa. This visa allows a person to attend meetings and conduct certain business-related tasks during their time in the UK. Please note, this is not a Work or Entrepreneur Visa – the holder cannot undertake any work in or running of a business while they are in the UK.
- Short-Term Study Visa. To be eligible for this Visit Visa, the applicant must have a temporary place at a registered institution. For example, if they are undertaking a term abroad as part of their course.
There are many different post-visa options for people who have migrated to the UK. These vary depending on the type of visa you have.
Extending a UK Visa
Your extension options depend on your visa category; some are eligible for extending and others are not.
- Family Visas:
Most visas under this category can be extended and can lead to settled status. Family Visas (including partner visas) last for two and a half years. After this, they can be extended for a further two and a half years. All this time can be used as a qualifying period for Indefinite Leave to Remain.
- Points-based Visas:
Only some tier-based visas can be extended or progressed into settled status. Tier 1 and Tier 2 Visas can be extended when they expire and also used as qualifying time for Indefinite Leave to Remain. Tier 4 and Tier 5 Visas cannot be extended. However, you can switch from these visas to another category, if you are eligible.
- Visitor Visas:
These visas cannot be extended unless you are in the UK for less than six months and you want to extend your time slightly while you were there. In this case, you can extend the visa for up to six months. After this period, however, you must return home. A Visitor Visa cannot be used for settlement, and you cannot switch onto another category from it.
Settling in the UK
You can switch from several different types of UK Visa to Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). This is an immigration route that grants you settled status in the UK.
To be eligible for ILR you need to meet several requirements. These include:
- Living in the UK for a ‘continuous period’ of at least five years
- Absences from the UK which don’t exceed 180 days per each 12 months
- Meeting English language requirements
- Passing the Life in the UK test
If you hold ILR, you have extended leave, and you are no longer restricted by your visa category. This means you can work, study, or start a business without having a visa.
Once you have held ILR for at least one year, you are eligible to apply for British naturalisation. This process means that you become a British citizen. As a citizen of the UK, you are afforded full legal rights.
To become naturalised as a British citizen, you must:
- Have held ILR status for at least 12 months; or
- Have held EU Settled Status for the same period; or
- Have held EEA Permanent Residence for the same period.
You also need to have passed a Life in the UK Test and have met the Naturalisation English language requirements.
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With our Application Package, your dedicated immigration lawyer will advise you on your application process and eligibility. Your caseworker will then complete and submit your forms to the Home Office on your behalf.
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It can take anywhere between six weeks and six months for a UK Visa application to be processed and for your decision to be sent back to you.
This depends on the type of visa you are applying for, as some are more complex that others. For example, an application for a Standard Visitor Visa is likely to have a much shorter processing time than a complex Adult Dependent Relative application.
Each application for a visa is reviewed by various immigration officials at UKVI. If there is something unusual or especially complex about your case, this review process can take longer.
The 2019 UK Visa costs are:
Tier 1 Investor: £1,623
Tier 1 Innovator: £1,021 – £1,277
Tier 1 Start-up Visa: £363 – £493
Tier 1 Exceptional Talent/Promise: £608
Tier 2 Work Visa: £610 – £704
Tier 4 Student Visa: £348
Tier 5 Temporary Work Visa: £244
Spouse/Partner Visa: £1,033- £1,523
Fiancé Visa: £1,033- £1,523
Ancestry Visa: £516
Adult Dependent: £3,250
Child Dependent: Generally equal to the cost of sponsoring visa
Visit Visa: £361 – £822
You only need a visa for the UK if you are not from a country that is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA). If you are an EEA national, you can visit, work in, study in, or conduct business in the UK freely under current Free Movement laws.
After Brexit, this is set to change. Following any implementation period, all new arrivals to the UK from in and outside of the EEA will be subject to immigration regulations.
For those already here, or arriving during an implementation period, the free movement rules will still apply, and rights will be protected.
Brexit day is currently set at January 31st, 2020.
Visa applications can be made online directly to UKVI or posted. To apply for a UK visa, you will need to pay the appropriate fee, complete the relevant application form, and submit supporting documents.
Your application will then be processed by immigration officials, who will come to a decision based on your eligibility and supporting evidence.
Applications for UK visas are often rejected for a number of reasons, with certain categories being more prone to denial than others. When this happens, fees will not be refunded. The most common reasons to have an application rejected are:
- Ineligibility for the visa category. It is often difficult to know if you are or aren’t eligible for a visa before applying without some knowledge of immigration law. Each visa category has several requirements that need to be met and which aren’t always entirely clear when first looking. Because of this, it is always worth gaining legal insight before submitting any application.
- Mistakes on the forms/documents. This is one of the most common causes of a failed visa application. The Home Office has a very high standard, and they are trained to spot mistakes and gaps.
- Insufficient evidence. If you do not submit enough evidence to support your case it is highly likely that you will have your application rejected. There are various proofs needed to support any kind of visa application.
- Too much evidence. In the same way as submitting an application with insufficient evidence, submitting something with too much documentation raises alarm bells with UKVI. This is particularly common in Spouse Visa applications; Home Office officials perceive too much evidence about the relationship to be manipulative.
The length of a visa for the UK varies depending on which visa you have. Generally, Family Visas last between two and a half and five years.
Permanent Points-based Visas usually last around five years, and temporary visas last 24 months.
Visitor Visas last six months per visit, although if frequent visits are necessary, they can be extended for two, five, or 10 years (provided each visit lasts no longer than six months).
If you make an application from outside the UK, you can only be refunded if you withdraw an application before it has been processed.
If you withdraw an application that you made from within the UK, you cannot get a refund.
All visa fees are non-refundable once an application has been processed. This means that, if you have your application rejected by UKVI, you will not be eligible for your money back.
Americans are non-visa nationals in the UK, which means that they don’t need a visa if they are coming to the UK for a short visit. They can stay in the UK without a visa for up to six months, and after this, they must apply.
If they are coming to the UK to work, take up full-time education, or start/run a business, they will need to apply for a relevant visa.
There is no cooling-off period if you have made a visa application that was rejected, so you can make a fresh application right away.
You can also choose to make an appeal if you feel the decision was unfair or that a mistake was made by your legal representative.
Before your visa expires, you will need to choose whether you want to extend your stay or return home.
If you want to extend your stay, you will need to apply for a visa extension no more than 28 days before your visa is due to expire.
Once your visa expires, if you haven’t applied for an extension, you will (usually) have 30 days during which you can stay in the UK after the official expiry date of your visa. You must either apply for an extension or visa switch (if eligible) or leave the UK.
If you continue to stay in the UK after this period without extending or applying for another visa, you will be in breach of immigration regulations. In this scenario, you would become an overstayer.
Different visas take different amounts of time to process. This depends on the complexity of the case and the visa category in question.
Whether you applied from inside or outside of the UK is also a factor.
Visas can take anywhere between three weeks and six months to process. You will then be able to check your result once a decision has been reached. You will receive this in the mail or, if you work with a lawyer, they will let you know once a decision has been reached by UKVI.
You can apply for a Work Visa under either the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent/Promise, Tier 2 Skilled Permanent Worker, or Tier 5 Temporary Worker Visa category.
If you qualify for the Tier 1 route, you do not need a job offer before coming to the UK. This is because it is assumed that you will find a position quickly on account of your expertise and talent. You do, however, need to be endorsed by a registered body, like the Arts Council.
If you apply via either the Tier 2 or Tier 5 routes, you need:
- A job offer from a UK employer (who holds a Sponsor Licence)
- A certificate of sponsorship (assigned by your sponsoring employer)
- Enough money to support yourself on arrival in the UK
The supporting documents for visas vary greatly. For all visas, you are required to show proof of your identity, and criminal and immigration history. If you are applying for a visa with dependants, then you will need to provide the same information for them.
If your visa requires you to have a UK sponsor, which is the case for Spouse Visas, Tier 2, Tier 4, and Tier 5 Visas, then you will also be required to provide documents that prove your relationship to them is genuine.
This could be any of the following:
- Proof of correspondence
- Marriage licences
- Proof of meetings/events attended together
- An official job offer
- An official offer for a place at a university
- Proof of an interview
- Proof of gifts bought, or money exchanged
UK Visas and Immigration – or UKVI – is an arm of the Home Office. It is responsible for processing visa applications for the UK, made from inside and outside the country.
When you make an application for a visa, the UKVI will review your application, process it, and come to a decision on whether or not to grant it. Once this has been made, it will send you a decision letter.
If you want to set up a business in the UK, you will need a specific type of Tier 1 Visa. The Innovator Visa, which was formerly known as the Entrepreneur Visa, allows you to set up or take over an existing business in the UK.
To be eligible for this kind of visa, you need:
- An endorsement
- £50,000 in investment funds
- Enough money to support yourself in the UK without accessing public funds (this must be at least £945)
- A credible business plan
- To attend an interview with a UKVI official (in some cases)
This form of visa has a particularly high refusal rate, with the business plan being assessed very rigorously. To make sure that you have the best chance of success, your business plan should cover costs, aims, recruitment, staff structures, projections, market analysis, and competitor analysis.
If you want to join your partner in the UK, you first-and-foremost need to prove that your relationship with them is “genuine and subsisting”.
To do this, you can provide evidence such as:
- Past correspondence (phone records, text messages, emails, etc)
- Photographs of you together
- Tickets from events you have attended together
- Evidence of gifts bought for each other
- Evidence of travel to/with each other
- Marriage certificates
As well as proving your relationship with your partner is genuine, you must also meet the Spouse Visa financial requirements. The financial requirement (without dependent children) is a gross annual income of £18,600 or more.
When you receive a visa refusal letter from UKVI, this will tell you whether you have grounds for an appeal or not.
If you lodge an appeal, you can either re-submit your application for administrative review, or for judicial review.
Administrative review allows your application to be reviewed by a different member of staff at the Home Office and is usually the best option for those who feel there was a genuine error in the first decision-making process.
Judicial review is the next step to this. This involves the appeal being heard by an independent judge, who reviews the case and decides on whether to keep or overturn the original decision.
Generally, appeals can be lodged and heard on paper or in-person. In the latter, an appeal hearing in front of the Upper Tribunal will be held, and your case will be heard by a judge and team of deciders. These officials are entirely separate from the Home Office.
When it comes to making appeals, it is highly recommended that you enlist the help of an immigration solicitor. A legal professional will know exactly how to proceed and whether an appeal or a fresh application is the best course of action to pursue. A lawyer will also offer full legal representation, including physical representation in a Tribunal hearing.