The rules on UK visas are complex and it is not always easy to work out what sort of visa is needed for entry to the UK. In addition, the immigration rules are currently in the process of a radical overhaul. Applicants should ensure that they check the latest requirements before lodging an application.
How Long Will You Be in the UK?
Foreign nationals who will be in the UK for less than six months will usually apply under one of the visitor categories. The correct category will depend on the purpose of the visit. In addition to the general visitor category for tourists, there are specific categories including those for business visitors, students, academic visitors and entertainers.
Are You Joining Family in the UK?
Family members of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals who are not themselves EEA nationals may join their family in the UK but will require an EEA family permit. Family members who are from the EEA will need an EEA family permit if they intend to settle in the UK.
Spouses, civil partners, finacé(e)s, children and other dependent family members of non-EEA nationals may be able to join them in the UK but will require a visa to do so. The type of visa will depend on the relationship.
Will You be Studying in the UK?
Students who will spend more than six months studying in the UK need a visa unless they are nationals of the EEA. Foreign nationals taking courses lasting less than six months may be able to apply as a student visitor.
From March 2009 student visas will be covered by Tier 4 of the new points-based immigration system. From that date any college or university taking foreign students will have to be licensed by the UK Border Agency and all foreign students will have to be sponsored by a licensed college or university to obtain a visa.
Will You be Working Whilst you are in the UK?
Most EEA nationals are free to work in the UK under EU law and do not require a visa. However, special rules apply to the nationals of some countries that have recently joined the EU and of Bulgaria and Romania.
Other foreign nationals who wish to work in the UK will generally require a visa. Most categories of worker will now apply under the new points-based system. The category under which foreign nationals should apply largely depends on the type of work they do. To be eligible for a visa, applicants must score the number of points required for that category. The work-related tiers break down, briefly, as follows:
- Tier 1 – Highly skilled workers, investors and entrepreneurs. This tier opened on 30 June 2008. Applicants do not require a job offer to be eligible but are expected to make a substantial contribution to the UK either through their skills or their ability to invest.
- Tier 2 – Sponsored, skilled workers. This tier opened on 27 November 2008 and applies to a wide range of workers many of whom would previously have required a work permit. This tier also includes ministers of religion and sports people. Applicants need a sponsor.
- Tier 5 – This tier opened on 27 November 2008 and applies to applicants coming to the UK as sponsored temporary workers. It also contains special immigration provisions which apply only to people between the ages of 18 and 30.
Foreign nationals who have recently graduated from a UK university may be eligible to apply to work in the UK for up to two years under the Post-Study Work category of Tier 1 of the points-based immigration system.
Are You Coming to the UK to Get Married?
Foreign nationals may come to the UK to marry or enter into a civil partnership but will require a visa to do so if either party is not an EEA or Swiss national. Depending on the nature of the proposed union, they will need either a “visit for marriage” or a “visit for civil partnership” visa. The couple will have to provide evidence that they will marry or enter into a civil partnership whilst in the UK. The visa will allow them to remain in the UK for six months.
Are You Coming to the UK for Private Medical Treatment?
Foreign nationals who wish to come to the UK to undergo private medical treatment should apply under the special visitor visa category relevant to them. They will need to prove that they have arranged medical treatment, and that they can afford to pay for that treatment and support themselves financially whilst they are in the UK.
If it becomes necessary to stay in the UK for longer than six months to complete the treatment an application to extend the visa may be made from within the UK.