Guide to Visas in the UK

Amar Ali, founder and supervising solicitor at immigration law specialists, Reiss Edwards, explains the different types of visas available in the UK for 2021 and 2022.

UK visa application
The UK, like many other countries around the world, has developed an immigration system to meet its economic, cultural, and societal needs. The range of visa routes available in the UK has evolved over the past few decades, with new schemes being introduced and old ones being retired. The main visa types remain broadly the same, however, allowing immigration for visitors, family members, for study, for work, to invest, and to set up business in the UK. In this article, we will explain the different types of visas available in the UK for 2021 and 2022.

Importance of checking if you need a visa

Not everyone needs a visa to come to the UK. This will depend on a mixture of factors, including your nationality, the type of visa, and how long you intend to spend in the UK. Furthermore, some visas, such as the Working Holiday Visa, are only available to nationals of certain countries. The best way to check if you need a visa to come to the UK is to use the Home Office’s ‘check if you need a visa’ webpage.If you are still unsure if you need a visa, which route to use, or how or when to apply, speak to an immigration Solicitor based in the UK who will be able to explain the options available to you.

What are the main types of visas available in the UK?

There are several visa categories in the UK, some with a number of subtypes (e.g., family visas have several variants); these are as follows (please note this Iist is not exhaustive):

Standard Visitor visa

Depending on your nationality, you may need a visitor visa to visit the UK for any length of time. Nationals of some countries intending to come to the UK as a visitor only need a visa if spending more than six months here. The standard visitor visa is extremely flexible and will enable you to come to the UK:
  • as a tourist
  • to see your family or friends
  • to volunteer for up to 30 days with a registered charity
  • to pass through the UK to another country (‘in transit’)
  • for certain business activities, for example, attending a meeting or interview
  • to take part in a school exchange programme
  • to do a recreational course of up to 30 days, for example, a dance course
  • to study, do a placement or take an exam
  • as an academic, senior doctor or dentist
  • for private medical treatment.
If you are planning to come to the UK to get married (but not to live here), you will need to apply for a Marriage Visitor Visa.

Work visas

There are several sub-categories of work visa in the UK; the main ones being:
  • Skilled Worker visa – this is the most common work visa, which also provides a route to permanent residency after five continuous years. Applicants require a job with a sufficient skill level and salary with a licensed sponsoring employer.
  • Health and Care Worker visa – a fast-tracked visa for those with an eligible job in a health or care role in the UK with the NHS, an NHS supplier, or in adult social care. Applicants also need to meet the minimum salary requirements and meet the English language requirements. This route also provides a route to permanent residence.
  • Intra-company visas – this is designed to enable multi-national businesses to relocate staff based in one country to work in a branch office or subsidiary in the UK.
  • Minister of Religion visa (T2) – for those who have been offered a job within a faith community (for example, as a minister of religion, missionary, or member of a religious order) in the UK.
  • International Sportsperson visa – for elite sportspeople or qualified coaches who are endorsed by their sport’s governing body as being at the highest level of their profession internationally. Visas are granted for up to three years but can be extended further – after five years, it is possible to apply to settle in the UK permanently.
  • Temporary work visas – there are several temporary work visa types, including the Charity Worker visa, Creative Worker visa, Government Authorised Exchange visa, International Agreement visa, Religious Worker visa, Seasonal Worker visa, Youth Mobility Scheme visa, and the new Graduate visa. The Graduate visa is for international students who have recently graduated from a university in the UK and enables them to stay for a further two years to find work.

Investor visas

The UK remains an extremely attractive destination for international investors of all types. The investor visas available in the UK include:
  • Innovator visa – enables those with an innovative business plan to come to the UK to establish their business. Applicants must have a new, innovative, and viable business idea. In addition, they must be experienced in business and have at least £50,000 to invest in their venture.
  • Start-up visa – this is similar to the innovator visa, but it is geared towards those with strong potential rather than large amounts of experience. In addition, applicants under this route do not require investment funds.
  • Investor visa – for investors with more than £2m to invest in the UK. Successful applicants can apply for early settlement depending on the amount they invest, as follows:
    • apply to settle after two years if you invest £10 million
    • apply to settle after three years if you invest £5 million
    • apply to settle after five years if you invest £2 million

Study visas

Each year, educational establishments in the UK welcome thousands of international students at all levels, including schools (for those under 16), colleges, and universities. The main study visas are as follows:
  • Standard study visa - For those aged over 16 years who have been offered a place on an eligible course of study by a licensed student sponsor.
Applicants also require enough funds to support themselves while in the UK, and they need to be able to speak English to a sufficient standard. The English language requirement can be met by either passing a Secure English Language Test (SELT) from an approved provider or having a GCSE, A level, Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5, Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher in English, gained through study at a UK school that you began when you were under 18. Those on a course which is at degree level or above must read, write, speak and understand English to CEFR level B2 or above; for those, a course which is below degree level required CEFR level B1.
  • Child study visa - The Child Student visa is for international students aged between 4 and 17 years old and who wish to study at an independent school in the UK. To make a successful application, students must have an unconditional offer of a place on a course at an independent school, be able to show they have access to sufficient money to support themselves in the UK and pay for their course and have evidence of the consent of their parent or guardian to study in the UK.
  • Short-term study visa - This visa is for international students who wish to study in the UK for between six and 11 months. Applicants must have an offer of a place on a course that is taught in the English language and is either an accredited institution or an eligible overseas provider (this only applies if you are studying in the UK as part of an overseas course).

Family visas

The family visa scheme in the UK is for those with family links to the UK. The main family visa types are as follows:
  • Spouse/Partner visa – this visa is for foreign nationals with a partner who is a British national or who has settled in the UK from another country. Applicants must either be married, in a civil partnership, or have been living together in a relationship for at least two years before applying. It is also possible to apply as a partner of an EU/EEA/Swiss national who started living in the UK before the 1st January 2021, or if your partner has a Turkish Businessperson visa or Turkish Worker visa, or they have refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK. The eligibility criteria state that applicants must meet the English language requirement (at least CEFR level 1), have an income of at least £18,600 per year, and have adequate accommodation.
  • Parent visa – you can apply for a family parent visa for the UK if you are the parent of a child who is a British citizen, has settled in the UK, is from the EU/EEA/Switzerland and started living here before the end of 2020, or they have lived in the UK for seven years continuously, and it would not be reasonable for them to leave.
  • Child visa - for children with parents living in the UK who do not have indefinite leave to remain (ILR). Where parents already have ILR, the child may be able to apply for immediate settlement in the UK rather than apply for a child visa. This is a complex area of immigration law, and it is advisable that you speak to an immigration Solicitor before you apply for a child visa. In many cases, it may be that the child can be added to their parent’s visa application and do not need to apply separately.
  • Adult dependant relative visa – if you live outside the UK and you need to come to the UK to be cared for by a relative in the UK, you may be able to apply for an adult dependant relative visa. Applicants must require long-term care from a parent, grandchild, brother, sister, son or daughter who is living permanently in the UK. The UK based family member must be a UK citizen, have settled in the UK from another country, be an EU/EEA/Swiss national who was living in the UK before the end of 2020, or have refugee or humanitarian status in the UK. They must also be 18 years or over and prove:
    • they need long-term care to do every day personal and household tasks because of illness, disability or age,
    • not have access to the care required in their home country (either because it is not available or affordable),
    • the person with whom they will be staying is able to provide the support, accommodation and care needed without the applicant needing to seek public funds for at least five years
  • Family visa on the basis of private life – the last family visa type is for those who are already living in the UK and should be able to stay in the UK on the basis of their private life here. There are several ways to apply under this route, including for those who are:
    • under 18 and have resided lived in the UK continuously for at least seven years, and it would be unreasonable to expect them to leave the UK.
    • between 18 and 24 and have resided lived continuously in the UK for more than half of their life
    • 18 or over, have spent less than 20 years in the UK and would have very significant problems living in the country they would have to go to
    • 25 or over and have been residing in the UK continuously for 20 years.

Other visa types

There are other visa types available in the UK, including:
  • British National (Overseas) visa – for nationals of Hong Kong who are classed as a British national (overseas) and their family members. Successful applicants can live, work and study in the UK for up to five years and then apply for permanent settlement (ILR).
  • Ancestry visa – the ancestry visa is for Commonwealth citizens, British overseas citizens, British Overseas Territories citizens, British nationals (overseas), and citizens of Zimbabwe who have at least one grandparent who was born in the UK the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. This visa is granted for up to five years, after which it is possible to apply for permanent settlement (ILR).

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