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United Kingdom (UK) - Visas, Residency, Immigration & Documentation
There are several different types of visas for those who want to visit, study or work in the UK. There are some countries whose residents do not require a visa to visit or stay in the UK, but there are also a large number of countries where a visa is mandatory, no matter how short the visit. For complete lists of relevant countries an applicant can consult the website of the UK Border Agency. A visa will also be required if you are considered to be stateless or if you have a passport issued by a state/authority that is not officially recognised by the UK.
Those who do not need a visa for short visits to the UK will usually require a visa for a stay longer than six months. This includes citizens of the United States. The UK does not normally issue visas on arrival, so you need to check in advance to see if you need to apply for a visa before you travel. If you arrive in the country without the relevant visa you may have to return to your home country while you wait for it to be issued.
In order to apply for a visa to visit the UK, you can do so by post, in person at a visa application centre or online. Some centres will only accept online visa applications, so you need to check in advance before you make the trip to the centre. The relevant forms can be requested by post or downloaded from the websites of the visa centres or from the website of the UK Border Agency. It is recommended that the application is made in the country of which you are a national or where you are living, otherwise it may be rejected.
The residents of some countries may have to undergo tests for TB before an application can be accepted. Other information that may be required includes your passport, a passport photograph which conforms to the agency guidelines, the fee for processing the application and supporting documentation such as proof of employment offer, qualifications or proof of income. Fees for visa applications cannot be refunded regardless of the outcome of the application.
Those who are applying for UK visas are now expected to submit biometric information – a digital photograph and digital scans of fingerprints – when they make their application. To provide this information you need to go to your nearest application centre. If there is not one within travelling distance you may be able to provide the information in an alternative way. The nearest UK consulate or embassy will be able to give you the information you need in order to make your application. The application for a visa cannot be processed until this information has been provided.
When the visa application is approved you should careful check all the details that have been added to it. If there are any inaccuracies you may need to have them corrected before you travel as they could prevent your entry into the country. If your visa application is refused you may have the right to appeal the decision and when you are contact you will be informed if you have that right. An appeal must be made within 28 days of the notice you receive rejecting your application. You are entitled to send documentation supporting your appeal. There are several categories in which the right to appeal is automatic, for example if the applicant is seeking the right to settle with family members who are permanently resident within the UK or if you are seeking to visit family members who are living in the UK. There is no charge made for an appeal as the applicant has already made a payment for their visa application.
There are different categories of visas available for those who wish to live and work in the UK. Each one has a different set of requirements for applications and these are detailed in the information guide which comes with the form that you need to complete. There is now a points based system in the UK for immigration to assess eligibility. If you are considered to be a highly skilled worker, an investor, a graduate of a UK university you do not need to have a firm offer of employment before you come to the UK, but you will need to pass the points based assessment. The points system will take into account whether or not you have a job offer, your ability to speak English and if you have money to support yourself if you do not have a job offer. Those investing will also need to prove that they have enough funds to support themselves and invest in their planned field. Visa applications made in this category are normally decided within four weeks.
Those who are skilled workers and have a firm offer of employment can use that as a basis for applying for a visa to live and work in the UK. Those who are offered temporary employment can be sponsored by their prospective employer and can be granted a visa to work in the country for a limited amount of time.
There are several other categories in which an individual might apply for a visa to work in the UK. There is a section for those who work as domestic workers, such as nannies and au-pairs, if you are the only representative of a foreign organisation or if you are the local correspondent for a newspaper or other news agency.
Those who are from a country within the EU or Switzerland have the right to live and work in the UK but if you hail from a country which has only joined the EU in the last few years then you may need to get permission from the authorities before you begin work. In order to be sure you can contact the Border Agency to verify your details and obtain permission.
For natives of Turkey there is a European agreement which allows them to live and work within the UK if they want to establish a business in the country or if they already have the legal right to live in the UK.
Each type of visa has a different application process depending upon the reason for your wanting to move to the country. Each type of visa has a list of documentation that is required before the visa is issued. These lists vary, but will generally ask for similar items. These could include passports, birth certificates, marriage certificates if applicable, driver’s licence, evidence of qualifications and a copy of your contract of employment if you have a job offer. If your documents are not already in English they will need to be translated. If you have translated documents then you need to include the details and signature of the person who has done the translation, the date of the translation and confirmation that the translation is accurate.
Documents that you wish to be considered must be submitted with your visa application. You cannot submit further documentation at a later stage and the Border Agency cannot take any responsibility for a decision made with an incomplete application.
If you submit your application on the wrong type of form then your application may be rejected outright. You will then need to pay for a second application on the correct form. Your fees will not be returned if you make a mistake. The forms must be completed in English and a separate form needs to be completed for each person making the trip.
Before a decision is made you may be asked to attend an interview with a visa officer. This happens if the officer is unable to come to a firm decision on your application and needs further information. If an interview is required it should take place within 15 days of the date of processing of your application.
Most UK visas are valid for multiple entries into the country unless otherwise stated. You may enter and leave the country as you wish until the visa expires.
It is possible to make your application through an agent, although you should be aware before you do so that it is not a guarantee that a visa will be issued and an agent will also charge a fee. There are many agents who will charge you more than the visa application will actually cost and if you are using an agent outside the UK, you should also be aware that they are not regulated by the UK authorities.
It is widely recommended that no applicant purchases a ticket or confirms travel arrangements before the visa application has been processed and all applicants should allow plenty of time for an application to be processed.
A registration certificate is a document which can be given to EU or Swiss nationals which confirms their right to UK residency under European laws. For those from these countries, this certificate is not necessary to enter the country to live and work. Those who are from the newer member states of the EU in Eastern Europe will only be able to apply for a registration certificate when they have completed a work period of 12 continuous months in the UK. When applying for this certificate you need to provide a valid passport or ID card as well as evidence that you are qualified.
Those who travel to the UK who are EU or Swiss nationals with somebody who is not can apply for the residence card, which allows them the same rights, although a residence card is normally only valid for five years and takes the form of an endorsement in the passport. These are not issued automatically and if you are travelling with a member of one of the newer member states of the EU you will have to wait until that person has completed their 12 months continuous employment.
Once a foreign national has lived and worked in the UK for five years legally you can apply to have your residency recognised as permanent. Throughout the five year period you will need to have been in employment or in education continuously. This does allow for absences from the UK but you are not allowed more than six months in any one year, unless you are in military service and if there is a serious personal reason for an absence this will also be taken into consideration. EU nationals and Swiss nationals will be given a document that confirms their status as permanent residents and this does not have an expiry date.
Those who are not EU or Swiss nationals, including residents of countries such as the USA and Australia will not receive the same document, but instead receive an endorsement in their passports which is valid for a period of 10 years. An application can be made after this date to have this extended.
Some people may be entitled to apply for UK residency on the basis of UK ancestry. If you were born in a Commonwealth country and have a grandparent who was born in the UK, an application can be made for residency. A decision can be made on this before your move to the UK, but if you enter the UK using different criteria you cannot then apply for residency on this basis. To qualify in this category you must be aged at least 17 years old and able to work and support family members who travel with you.
The spouses /partners of those with UK residency are entitled to live in the UK, but will be expected to prove that the marriage is genuine. There is no automatic entitlement and they will have to apply and undergo the relevant checks before their own residency is granted. Those who have not yet been married for a period of four years will only be granted a temporary residency status. After two years living with the temporary status they will be able to make an application for permanent residency.
Those who are not yet married but are cohabiting can also apply for a status of temporary residency. There are different rules for those who come to the UK in order to marry a UK resident and the checks are stringent before status of permanent resident is granted.
If a foreign national has permanent resident status in the UK then any children that they have under the age of 18 will be entitled to permanent residency, but will need to apply for entry approval into the country before they travel. Members of the extended family may also be entitled to residency in the UK. Parents or grandparents over the age of 65 are able to move to the country to live with their family members. There are also some circumstances in which children over the age of 18 or other family members can claim residency, for example, if they are financially dependent on the UK resident or if that person is able to afford to support them financially.
Those who have UK residency but have been out of the country may return if their clear intention is to live in the country on a permanent basis. If they have been out of the country for more than two years then they will have to prove that they have spent a long time living and working in the UK in the past or that they have immediate family in the country. It may be necessary in some case for the whole process to begin again, if it is considered that the applicant has spent too long out of the country.
Those who are retired and have a minimum income of £25,000 each year may be able to apply for status as a UK resident. They have to be able to support both themselves and any family members that move with them. There must also be a strong connection to the UK, perhaps in the form of UK ancestry. Residency in this category is normally only granted for five years before an application of permanent residency can be made.
Those who are foreign nationals who have already been granted the status of ‘temporary leave’ to live in the UK, may be able to apply for permanent residency status after living and working in the UK for a number of years. This will also depend on the type of visa granted when the applicant entered the UK in the first place. In this category it will be necessary for the applicant to prove that they have a good working knowledge of the English language.
There are different forms which are required depending upon the type of residency that is being applied for and the country of origin. Documentation that may be needed will include passports, driver’s licences, birth or marriage certificates, proof of employment or proof of income.
There are some circumstances under which a person born outside the UK may already qualify as a citizen. If a person was born prior to the 1st January 1983 they are automatically a citizen of the UK if they already had the right to live in the country. Some people will qualify if a parent was a British citizen.
The process for determining citizenship also takes into consideration what is known as ‘right of abode’. This could be if you have legal right to live in the UK and have done so for five years or more, or through the British birth of one of your parents or grandparents. Those who were born outside the UK after 1st January 1983 may also qualify as a British citizen if one or more of your parents had citizenship of the UK.
All British citizens have the right of abode in the UK and those that have it may live and work here with no restrictions. Some citizens of the Commonwealth also have an automatic right of abode. In order to claim right of abode you need to have either a British passport which describes you as a citizen or subject of the UK, an ID card which states the same or a certificate of entitlement which has been issued to you by the UK government.
When applying for citizenship by naturalisation you will need to prove that you have a good knowledge of life in the UK, as well as being able to prove that you speak English very well. If you can already speak English, Welsh or the Scottish form of Gaelic to a good standard then you will simply need to take the ‘Life in the UK’ test. Those who do not already have a good working knowledge of the language will also need to take the ESOL test in English and Citizenship. Those who have already taken these tests when they applied for settlement will not need to do them again. Those who have not taken the tests already will not be able to apply for an exemption on the grounds that they may have lived in the UK for a long time or have other qualifications. Some exemptions are possible if applicants are over the age of 65 or if the applicant has a physical or mental condition that would stop them from being able to take either test.
Those that can apply to be naturalised as a British citizen include those who have lived and worked in the country for five years or more and those who have been married to a British citizen for three years or more. There are several ways in which a person can make their application. The first is through the NCS (Nationality Checking Service), which will check your application in advance to ensure that it is all in order. Some applicants use an agent, but you need to be sure that they are registered with the Immigration Service Commissioner. The final way is to apply as an individual and take care of the application yourself.
When making the application you need to complete the form available from the website of the Immigration service and send it with proof of your identity. This can be with a birth certificate, passport, Home Office travel documents, driver’s licence or bank/building society statements that you have received within the previous six months. Also included with the application should be your test results from the ESOL and Life in the UK tests. If you are applying after marrying a British citizen you will also need to include your marriage certificate. You may be asked to provide evidence that you are free from immigration restrictions.
All forms and information can be found on the website of the UK Border Agency and forms can also be requested by post.
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