Nobody who is entering the UK as a visitor should need to pay for help with a tourist visa. Nationals or permanent residents of the USA, Canada and Australia do not generally need a visa to enter the UK. Upon arrival with a valid passport they should be granted a visa permitting them to stay in the UK for up to 6 months. However, an immigration officer will have to be satisfied that the purpose of the visit is tourism. Similar rules apply to citizens of many South American and Caribbean countries as well as Japan. There is no charge for visas granted on entry to the UK.
Members of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland do not generally need a visa to visit or live in the UK – although special rules apply to workers from some European countries. Different rules apply to students and to workers arriving from outside of the EEA.
Before travelling, the latest rules on visa requirements should be checked to find out whether a visa is needed – this may be determined by both the country of origin and the purpose of the visit to the UK. The UK’s immigration rules and a list of the countries whose nationals do require a visa can be found on the comprehensive website of the UK Border Agency (UKBA).
Applying for a UK Visa
Most travellers who do need a visa, or who are applying for a work permit and / or residency, should find the application process relatively straightforward. From 2008 onwards the UK has been revamping their previously complex immigration system.
The UK now has a consolidated points-based visa system consisting of five tiers – each representing different types of visas. Applicants must score a certain number of points depending on the visa they are applying for. The UKBA website sets out the requirements for each tier and contains guidance on how the points-based system works. The necessary forms and guidance notes can also be downloaded from the site together with information about the fees which may be payable.
All the information required to complete a visa application is available at no charge on the UKBA website and it may be possible to manage some of the process online. Up-to-date information about any current restrictions or caps on immigration should also be available from the UKBA website or from regular news sources.
The free UK Ancestry Visa (valid for 5 years, renewable and not part of the tier structure) may be used by some Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and other nationalities to gain a UK work visa. Lawyers and advisory services often charge a fee to reveal this “secret” visa.
Who Might Need to Pay for Help with a UK Visa?
The individuals who are most likely to pay for professional help with the UK visa application process may be the wealthy who are time poor but cash rich. In addition, some workers may find that their employer pays for professional help with their visa to ensure that the application is processed as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The second category of those who may be tempted to pay for help are those who fear that they may have a problem with their application or whose personal circumstances are difficult or complicated. Completing visa applications can be stressful for everyone but free information is widely available and the system should be manageable for most ordinary people.
Paid immigration advisers should be chosen with care. An adviser used by multinational companies for their employers will usually be a safe bet. The best services are staffed by a team of qualified immigration lawyers and former immigration officers who can provide an effective mix of legal, practical and commercial advice. However, this level of service costs thousands of pounds and may only make sense for busy executives or those with plenty of money. The majority of visa applicants are unlikely to be able to afford this level of service.
A Note of Caution Before Paying for Help with a Visa
There are many lower-cost ‘visa services’ available. However, the fees they charge may still be substantial. Further, the service they provide may amount to no more than accessing the same information which is freely available to all via the internet. Paying for a visa advisory service does not guarantee that an application will be successful. It is even possible that careless mistakes could be made by those churning out applications which would not be made by an individual completing their own form.
Unless one has the money and inclination to pay the fees for the best advisers, most visa applicants can – and probably should – manage the visa process themselves.