Obtaining a Visa to Live, Study and Work: the United Kingdom

Published 2012-03-21 11:11:16

This is the first in a series of articles concerning visa options. We will cover the different types of visas and how to apply. The next in the series will cover the visa process in Australia, Canada, the Schengen area, and the United States. Get ready to go abroad!

immigration control © TMAX - Fotolia.comIf you've ever wanted to live or work (legally) in the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, or Wales), you've come to the right place. Below you will find information on visa regulations for long-term visitors, students, and individuals moving to the UK to work or to join spouses, partners or other family members. This is the second in a series of five articles: in the coming weeks there will be installments that investigate visa requirements for permanent residents, students, workers and certain other visitors to the United States, Australia and the Schengen Area of western Europe. Each article will focus on how to meet the requirements for obtaining a visa and/or work permit for the country or region.

Every effort has been made to provide accurate information; however, you should consult with the appropriate consulate or embassy to obtain the most recent information and to discuss your specific circumstances. In addition, fees have been deliberately omitted because this information often becomes outdated very quickly.

Do You Need a Visa?

Are you planning to relocate temporarily to the UK? Holders of passports or individuals who have permanent resident status of many countries worldwide do not need a visa to visit the UK for short visits. In some cases, passports must contain biometric chips that store personal information about the passport holder such as name, photograph, date of birth and fingerprint images. The length of time you may stay in the UK without a visa varies according to your country of origin and other factors, however, in most cases you may stay for up to six months. You may not work or pursue academic study during your stay. For questions regarding your personal circumstances, consult the UK Border Agency (UKBA) website: Do you need a visa?

Obtaining a Visa to Visit the UK

If you are a Visa National -- a citizen or resident of a country that does not have visa-exempt status -- you must obtain a visa to enter the UK or remain for any length of time. In addition, if you do not hold a passport or travel document recognized by the UK as official, you will also need a visa to visit the UK for any length of time. Depending on your circumstances, you may apply as a General Visitor, a Child Visitor (minors under age 18 ) or apply for an Approved Destination Status (ADS) visa (nationals from mainland China traveling as part of a group). If you travel to the UK as a General Visitor or as an ADS Visitor, you may not work, study, or pursue government assistance for medical treatment during your stay. General Visitors may remain in the UK for up to 6 months; Child Visitors may remain in the UK for up to 6 months if traveling alone, or up to 12 months if traveling with an academic visitor. ADS Visitors may remain in the UK for up to 30 days.

You may find it easier to obtain permission to travel to the UK if you have a sponsor willing to accept financial responsibility for you during your stay. Your sponsor must present documentation of his or her citizenship or residency status, along with a letter explaining his or her relationship to you and evidence of his or her financial circumstances. Having a sponsor does not eliminate the need to obtain a visa if you otherwise require one to enter the UK.

Allow sufficient lead time for processing your visa application. Lead times vary according to your country of citizenship and other factors. The self-imposed standard by the UKBA is to process 90% of visa applications within 3 weeks after submission, 98% of applications within 6 weeks after submission and all applications within 12 weeks after submission. Depending on your circumstances, the UKBA may request or require you to submit additional documents along with your visa application.

Document Requirements for a Visa Application:

Obtaining a Study Permit

Each year, thousands of students choose to enroll in university studies at educational institutions throughout the UK. If you want to be one of these students, you may apply for a Tier 4 (points system) adult (age 18 or over) or child (between ages 4 and 17) visa to enroll in a degree program or other long-term course of study.

A Tier 4 visa is a multiple-entry document, which means you are allowed to leave the UK for short periods, for instance, to visit family members, without the need to re-apply for a visa. You may apply for a Tier 4 study permit either within the UK or before you arrive. Depending on your country of origin or residence, you may need to apply for a Tier 4 visa online or by submitting paper documents.

As a Tier 4 adult visa holder, you may also work part-time while pursuing your studies. Minors who are 16 or 17 years old and coming to the UK alone for their studies must present a letter from one or both parents or guardians granting their permission. If you are a British national or a resident of one of any of the countries listed below, and sponsored by a Highly Trusted Sponsor, the UKBA considers you a Low-Risk Applicant, with relaxed requirements for submission of some necessary documents for a Tier 4 study permit.

Countries Whose Residents May Be Considered Low-Risk Applicants:

  • Argentina
  • Australia
  • Brunei
  • Canada
  • Chile
  • Croatia
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan (passports issued by Taiwan including identification card ONLY)
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • United States of America

Document Requirements for a Tier 4 Study Permit:

  • Tier 4 application form (PDF)
  • Tier 4 Appendix 8 (if you were accepted for study in the UK prior to 21 April 2011 -- PDF)
  • Tier 4 Appendix 8 (if you were accepted for study in the UK on or after 21 April 2011 -- PDF)
  • Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS)
  • Proof of financial support
  • Original passport or travel document
  • Two (2) recent passport photos (see requirement -- PDF)

Documents that are not in English or Welsh must be accompanied by a translation into English or Welsh, along with documentation of the accuracy of the translation and the credentials and contact information for information or company that executed the translation.

Student Visitor Visa

If you wish to pursue a short program of study instead, you may apply for a Student Visitor visa (adult) or Child Visitor visa. You must often present supporting documentation along with your visa application. As a Student Visitor, you may remain in the UK for up to 6 months if you are pursuing general studies, or up to 11 months if you are enrolled in a program to learn English. You must be accepted an institution that is registered, licensed or recognized within the UK to qualify for student visitor visa.

Prospective Student Visa

If you intend to begin studies within the UK but have not finalized your study arrangements, you may travel to the UK as a Prospective Student. You may or may not need to apply for a visa to enter the UK depending on your visa status, how long you intend to stay or other factors. You must apply for a student visitor, child visitor or prospective student visa before entering the UK. As an adult or child Student Visitor or Prospective Student, you may not work or seek government assistance for medical care while you are in the UK.

Visas and Permits for Spouses, Civil Partners, Fiancé(e)s, and Family Members

If your spouse, partner, parent, grandparent or other eligible family member is a citizen or permanent resident of the UK, EEA or Switzerland, you may be eligible to apply for an EEA Family Permit to travel to the UK for no charge. You may submit your application for the EEA Family Permit to enter the UK along with your family member or you may apply to join a family member who is already in the UK.

Depending on your country of origin or residence, you may need to apply for the family permit online or submit a paper application form.

Family Members

If your eligible family member is your parent or grandparent, you must be under 21 years old and dependent on your parent or grandparent for support. Siblings and other relatives must be financially dependent on the UK citizen or resident sponsoring the visa application to be eligible to apply for a family permit. Students attending university in the UK may also apply for family permits for their spouses, partners or dependent children.

Spouses, Civil Partners, Fiancé

If your fiancé or civil partner has UK citizenship or legal resident status, you may apply for a visa to enter the UK with him or her, or to join your partner or fiancé(e) if he or she is already in the UK. Your dependent children may accompany you as well. You must apply for the visa before attempting to enter the UK.

To apply for fiancé(e) or civil partner visa status, you and your partner or fiancé(e) must:

  • Both be at least 18 years old
  • Declare that you intend to marry or form a civil partnership within a reasonable period of time
  • Demonstrate that you able to support yourselves financially
  • Demonstrate proficiency in English (or present evidence that you qualify for an exemption from the language requirement)

Residence Card

Once you have obtained a family permit, fiancé or civil partner visa, you may also wish to obtain a Residence Card that will allow you to travel outside the UK and return without re-applying for a visa. A residence card also makes it easier for you to obtain work in the UK. There is no fee to apply for a residence card and you may submit your application by mail.

Document Requirements for a Residence Card:

  • Form EEA2 (Application for a Residence Card -- PDF)
  • Valid passport
  • Passport or national identity card of your UK, EEA or Swiss national sponsor
  • Evidence of your relationship to the UK, EEA or Swiss national (e.g. marriage license or birth certificate)
  • Two (2) recent passport photos (see requirement -- PDF)

Obtaining a Visa to Work in the UK

If you do not qualify for a Tier 4 visa or EEA Family permit, you must apply for a visa to work within the UK. Visas are assigned by a points assessment system designated into tiers. Each tier includes several categories of workers; each category within a tier has specific visa requirements, and supporting documentation you must submit along with your visa application varies. Depending on the category under which you apply, you may be required to apply for a visa before you enter the UK, or you may be allowed to apply if you are legally present in the UK.

Under most points-based visa categories, you must have a job offer or work assignment in hand to be eligible to apply for a visa. Your job offer must comply with government regulations, including minimum wages where applicable.

However, if you qualify as a Tier 1 High-Value Migrant or can claim UK Ancestry, you may apply for a visa without having a job offer in hand. The Highly-Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) has been closed to new residents. If you previously received a HSMP visa, you must re-apply for a points-based work permit if you wish to remain in the UK after your visa expires.

Once you have been granted Tier 1 visa status, you may remain in the UK for 3 years and 4 months after your first date of entry. You may apply for a two-year extension of your Tier 1 visa status before your initial visa expires. After you have spent 5 years in the UK under the Tier 1 visa category, you may apply to remain in the UK permanently.

UK Ancestory

To qualify to apply for a work visa under the UK Ancestry category, you must be:

  • Commonwealth citizen
  • At least 17 years old
  • Able to demonstrate financial independence while you seek work in the UK

In addition, one or more of your grandparents must have been born in the UK, the Channel Islands or on a ship or aircraft registered in Britain. If you are claiming UK ancestry through a grandparent born in the Republic of Ireland, your grandparent must have been born before March 31, 1922. You may be a legitimate or illegitimate descendent to qualify for a visa under the UK ancestry category.

High-Value Migrant

To be considered for Tier 1 High-Value Migrant status, you must qualify under one of the following categories:

  • Exceptional talent in science or the arts
  • Entrepreneur
  • Investor or post-study work for recent graduates of a university within the UK

Tier 2 Skilled Worker

If you do not qualify for Tier 1 visa status, you may also apply to work in the UK permanently as a Tier 2 Skilled Worker.

    Categories include:
  • General
  • Minister of religion
  • Athletes
  • Inter-company transfer workers

Tier 5 Temporary Worker

You may also apply to work in the UK for periods ranging from 12 to 24 months as a Tier 5 Temporary Workers.
    Categories include:
  • Creative and sporting
  • Charity workers
  • Religious workers
  • Authorized government exchange workers
  • Workers assigned under international agreement

Young people from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Monaco may apply to work temporarily in the UK under relaxed regulations established for the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme. Each country has a fixed number of allotments assigned each year for workers to qualify under the scheme. Young people located outside the UK who are British nationals or citizens of British territories may also qualify in unlimited numbers under the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme. You may remain for up to 24 months under the Youth Mobility Scheme, but you may not renew your visa after the expiration date.

    Document Requirements for Points Assessment Visas
  • Relevant visa application form and applicable fee
  • Original passport
  • Recent passport photo(s) (see requirement -- PDF)
  • Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)(Tier 2 and Tier 5 applicants)
  • Printout of Unique Reference Number (Tier 1 Exceptional Talent applicants)
  • Police registration certificate
  • Written job offer (if applicable)
  • Evidence of English language competency
  • Evidence of financial support or assets (e.g. bank statements or pay slips)
  • Additional supporting documents, if necessary (PDF)

To calculate your potential points, use the Points-Based Assessment Calculator.

Regulations for Business Visitors

If you are not a Visa National, and you qualify for Business Visitor status, you may be able to enter the UK without applying for a visa. To qualify, you must be at least 18 years old and able to support yourself without government assistance while you are in the UK. You must have established your base of operations outside the UK and receive no salary while you are in the UK. You may remain in the UK for up to 6 months as a general Business Visitor, or up to 12 months as a academic Business Visitor. You may not marry, register a civil partnership or receive private medical treatment while you are in the UK as a Business Visitor.

As a Business Visitor, you may attend board meetings, site visits, product demonstrations, speak at a conference or conduct similar business-related functions. The Business Visitor category also includes motion picture film crew members, representatives of foreign media, academics or physicians on leave or participating in exchange programs, clergy, consultants and related categories. Medical school graduates traveling to the UK to take the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) examination may also qualify as Business Visitors.

Regulations for Citizens and Residents of the European Economic Area and Switzerland

If you are a citizen or legal permanent resident of the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, you only need to show your passport or National Identity Card to enter the UK. You may also work, study or live in the UK indefinitely, as long as you retain your Swiss or EEA citizenship or resident status. Family members who hold citizenship or legal resident status in the EEA or Switzerland may also accompany you or join you in the UK to live and work without obtaining a visa, even if they are natives of a different country than you are. The Worker Registration Scheme for citizens and residents of Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia was discontinued in the UK as of 30 April 2011, and citizens and residents of these countries no longer need a visa to work legally in the UK.

If you or any of your family members are citizens or residents of Bulgaria and Romania, you may enter the UK and remain without a visa or residence permit. However, you or your family member will probably need a specific Work Permit to work in the UK. In most cases you will also need to apply for an Accession Worker Card. If you are seeking low-wage work, you may apply for a work permit under the Sectors Based Scheme or under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS). The Sectors Based Scheme employs workers in fish processing, meat processing or mushroom processing. SAWS employs workers to plant, harvest and process crops for shipping and to handle livestock. Once you or your family member have completed 12 months of continuous employment, you no longer need a Work Permit or Accession Worker Card to work legally within the UK.. You or your family member may obtain a Registration Certificate confirming your right to work and free movement within the UK, but it is not required.

Regulations for Citizens and Residents of Turkey

If you are a citizen or legal resident of Turkey, you may also apply to live, work or establish a business in the UK for 12 months or longer somewhat more liberal terms established by the European Community Association Agreement (ECAA) for no fee. You may also sponsor visa applications for your spouse or civil partner and dependent children who are not Turkish nationals to live with you in the UK for no fee. You may apply for a visa either before traveling to the UK or from inside the UK (if you are legally present). Depending on your present location outside the UK, you may be required to apply online or submit paper documents. If you are a Turkish national employed legally within the UK, you may change employers within the same line of work after working with your original employer for three years. After four years of being legally employed in the UK, you may legally work for any employer in the UK, in any line of work you choose.

    Document Requirements for Citizens and Residents of Turkey
  • Form ECAA-3 (for dependents of Turkish nationals -- PDF)
  • Form VAF2 (for ECAA Business Person applicants -- PDF)
  • Documentation to support your business proposal (for ECAA Business Person applicants)
  • Proof of present employment (for workers)
  • Original passport or travel document
  • Police registration certificate
  • Two (2) passport photos (see requirement -- PDF)
  • Documentation of financial situation

Researched by Audrey Henderson
--freelance writer based in Chicago

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