If you’re visiting the UK, you may need to apply for a visa before traveling. A visa is a type of temporary immigration document that allows the holder to enter and stay in a foreign country. But understanding the visa process can be challenging.
Additionally, there are several types of UK visas and each is designed for a specific purpose. If you’re considering studying, working, visiting, or living in the UK, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the UK visa application process.
This guide will explore UK visas, the application process, and residency permits. You can use this information to help you choose the right type of visa for your needs. We’ll also discuss the application process so that you know what to expect when applying for a visa.
Do You Need a UK Visa?
Before we delve into the many different types of UK visas, it’s crucial to ask the question: Do you need a UK visa? If you’re only planning to visit the UK for a few months, you might need a visa.
But if you’re traveling to the UK for work, education, or marriage you’ll want to review your visa options and apply for the one that best fits your intentions. Additionally, long-term visits (six months or longer) might require a visitor’s visa or a visa extension.
What Are the Different Types of UK Visas?
There are several dozen types of UK visas. While we could list them all here, it might take you ages to locate and study the right visa for your trip to the UK. Fortunately, nearly all UK visas are grouped into major categories.
These visa categories are:
- Visitor Visas
- Student Visas
- Work Visas
- Spouse Visas
- Business Visas
You can discover which visa is right for you by starting with these categories. For example, if you’re hoping to spend time studying in the UK, you can start with the Student Visas group. Of course, if you’re only hoping to visit, Visitor Visas might be a more helpful category.
Some visitors to the UK won’t need a visa to stay for six months or less. US citizens, for example, don’t need a visa to visit the UK as a tourist. However, individuals from specific countries or long-term visitors may need to apply for a visa.
A Standard Visitor visa grants a person the ability to stay in the UK for up to six months. If you have this type of visa, you can visit family members in the UK, travel for touristic reasons, and seek private medical treatment.
A return flight home is often a useful thing to have when applying for a Standard Visitor visa, as it proves intent to return to your home country. You might also be able to extend your Standard Visitor visa by several months or years under special circumstances.
Have you always dreamed of having a traditional English wedding? Couples hoping to get married in the UK can apply for a Marriage Visitor visa. While this type of visa doesn’t grant long-term stay in the UK, it does allow the holder to stay for up to six months.
This allows plenty of time for you and your future spouse to make plans, invite guests, and finalize marriage documents. Still, wedding guests and dependents may need to apply for a visitor’s visa to enter the UK and attend the ceremony.
Permitted Paid Engagement
Professionals and academics may need a Permitted Paid Engagement visa to participate in paid lectures while visiting the UK. If you’re an expert in a particular field and accept an invitation to enjoy paid fieldwork in the UK, you’ll want to apply for this visa type.
Still, it’s crucial to note that this type of visa is only valid for a one-month period. Individuals with this type of visa cannot ask for an extension or switch to a visitor’s visa to extend their stay.
Parent of a Child Student
If your child has come to the UK to study, you can apply for a Parent of a Child Student visa. This type of visa allows a parent to live in the UK while their child is a student there, providing basic care and housing on behalf of their child.
The Parent of a Child Student visa, once granted, remains valid until the child’s visa expires or they age out of the visa range. Parents cannot work in the UK while under this visa.
If you’re only traveling through the UK, you may need a Visitor in Transit visa. This document allows you to enter the UK and pass through Border Control, so long as you intend to leave the country within 48 hours.
Individuals flying into the UK and changing flights might need to request a Direct Airside Transit visa (DATV). Still, if you’re catching a connecting flight after landing in the UK, there’s a chance you may not need to apply for a DATV.
Studying in the UK can be a wonderful experience, but if you’re planning on staying for longer than six months, you’ll likely need a student visa. Short-term courses might also necessitate a visa.
A Standard Visitor visa allows individuals to study while in the UK, but only if the course of study lasts six months or less. The Short-Term visa has a maximum limit of 11 months, but is specifically designed for students studying English.
Children between the ages of 4 and 11 can study in the UK if they have a Child Student visa. Of course, they’ll first need an offer of enrollment into a course of study within the UK. This visa lasts for the duration of the course or until the child is 12.
Unless the chosen academic institution offers boarding services, a child with a Child Student visa may also require their parent to apply for a UK visa, the Parent of a Child Student visa.
If you’re older than 11 and wish to study in the UK, you may be eligible for a standard Student visa. Still, you’ll need to be at least 16 years old to receive this visa.
Student visas are only eligible to those who’ve been offered enrollment into an approved school or course of study. Students should be able to support themselves financially while in the UK, or prove that they have access to enough funds to successfully afford schooling and accommodation.
Are you looking to work in the UK? If so, you’ll need to satisfy a wide variety of different criteria that’s based on your chosen profession and position. Many applicants may choose the Skilled Worker visa, especially if offered a job within the UK.
The Skilled Worker visa is one of the most accessible routes for those hoping to work in the UK. That’s because most applicants only need to prove an offer of employment (certificate of sponsorship) to meet this visa’s minimum criteria.
However, because this type of visa is one of the most popular among those looking for employment in the UK, applicants are often selected based on a points system that applies to their skill level, education, and potential salary.
Companies with international branches may ask certain employees to temporarily work at forigen branch locations. If your company has a branch within the UK, you may need to apply for the Intra-Company visa before arriving. This type of visa can last from five to ten years.
Health and Care Worker
Individuals with medical background and careers may be eligible for the Health and Care Worker visa. This visa lasts for up to five years and can be extended.
Those who receive this visa are expected to work closely with the NHS (National Health Service) and may be asked to provide medical care or perform medical-based research on behalf of the NHS and its related entities.
Minister of Religion
If you’ve been invited to the UK to work for a ministry or religious organization, the Minister of Religion visa might be the right fit. It allows holders to live and work in the UK in a religious capacity for up to three years and one month.
Professional athletes that are offered positions within the UK can opt for the Sportsperson visa. This is designed explicitly for top athletes and coaches and permits holders to reside in the UK for up to three years.
There are several types of temporary worker visas that you may be eligible to apply for. Many are separated by work type. For example, there’s a temporary worker visa for charity workers, but there’s also a temporary worker visa for those working in creative industries.
Temporary workers are individuals invited to work a short-term position within the UK. They must submit a certificate of sponsorship to prove that a UK employer has offered employment. The maximum length of stay for someone with a temporary worker visa is one year.
Still, some temporary workers may be able to extend their visa. Employers that require their workers for longer than one year may be able to secure longer visa extensions.
Youth Mobility Scheme
The Youth Mobility Scheme is an immigration policy aimed at attracting young international workers to the UK for study and employment. It’s only available to young adults from specific countries and territories. This visa allows holders to stay in the UK for up to two years.
Students that have completed a degree while studying in the UK may want to investigate the Graduate visa. This is a specialized and relatively new type of visa that’s designed to help educated professionals extend their stay in the UK. It lasts for a maximum of two years.
There are two primary types of spouse-focused UK visas. The right option for you depends on your country of origin and intended length of stay. If you’re a citizen of one of the countries belonging to the European Union, the EU Settlement Scheme family permit might be the better choice.
EU Settlement Scheme
This type of family permit is designed to help family members (including spouses) of UK residents enter the country for up to six months at a time. It’s specifically applicable to citizens of the EU, Lichtenstein, Iceland, Norway, or Switzerland.
If you’re the fiance, spouse, or child of a UK resident, you can apply for a UK family visa. Those planning on marrying a UK resident will have six months from the day of their arrival to marry if they arrive on a fiance-based family visa.
In addition to work visas, there are business-based visas. These are designed to help successful business people find work opportunities in the UK. If you’re an investor, entrepreneur, or a well-known talent, this visa category may apply to you.
International investors looking to invest funds into a UK business or company may be eligible to receive the Investor visa. Still, this is one of the most competitive UK visa types. Applicants must have at least £2,000,000 in investment funds to apply for this type of visa.
The Innovator visa is designed to help business people with innovative business ideas establish themselves and their business in the UK. Applicants are expected to seek and earn an endorsement before applying.
Most applicants are also expected to have at least £50,000 in investment funds and be prepared to have a direct role in their business’s upkeep, management, and growth.
Though there are still individuals that hold this type of visa, the UK is no longer accepting applications for the Entrepreneur visa. The Innovator and Start-Up visas have essentially replaced this visa type.
Do you have a brilliant idea for a business? If so, you might be eligible for the UK Start-Up visa. This is awarded to individuals with innovative business ideas who seek to start their business within the UK. It typically requires an endorsement from an endorsing body.
If you’re particularly notable within an academic field or the arts, you may be able to apply for and receive a Global Talent visa. Industry leaders within the digital technology field are also welcome to apply for this visa.
The Global Talent visa allows individuals to work and live in the UK for up to five years. Notably, this visa does allow the holder to bring their family members to live with them in the UK.
What’s the Criteria for Getting a UK Visa?
The criteria for getting a UK visa varies among visa types. For example, being the parent of a child with a Child Student visa is a requirement for applicants seeking a Parent of Child Student visa. But it’s not part of the criteria for receiving a Global Talent visa.
That said, it’s essential that we touch on two major aspects of the UK visa and immigration systems:
- The Points-Based System, and
- The Five Visa Tiers
The Points-Based System
If you’re interested in working in the UK, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the UK’s point-based immigration system. Under this system, all visitors seeking to work in the UK must earn a certain amount of points to receive a work visa.
Often, the basic criteria for receiving a work visa is worth several points. For example, someone applying for a Skilled Worker visa will need a job offer from an approved sponsor. And this is worth 20 points.
Being proficient in English is worth another 10 points. And though it’s not required, having a PhD in a subject that’s relevant to your new job can help you gain yet another 10 points.
For those seeking the Skilled Worker visa route, you’ll need to earn 70 points to become eligible for a visa. Other types of work-related visas employ a slightly different criteria and points list.
Still, their purpose is the same: Allow only the most capable and talented workers to enjoy long-term stays in the UK. In fact, many visas belong to a tier system that divides workers and immigrants based on their skills and value.
The Five Visa Tiers
Those planning or working in the UK may find that their chosen visa or status denotes a specific tier. That’s because long-term visitors (six months or more) are part of the temporary worker system that categorizes workers by skill level and overall value.
These five tiers are:
- High-Value Migrants
- Skilled Workers
- Unskilled Workers
- Adult Students
- Temporary Workers
Individuals that gain Tier 1 or Tier 2 visas may be eligible to take up long-term residency in the UK and apply for settlement there. Typically, you’d need to spend at least ten years living in the UK to apply for settlement.
But if you’re someone with an Investor, Entrepreneur, Minister of Religion, Sportsperson, or Intra-Company visa, you may be able to shorten that timeline by half. Many Tier 1 and Tier 2 visa holders can apply for settlement after only five years.
How to Apply for a UK Visa
Now that you’re more familiar with the many types of UK visas, we can review the application process. Remember, the precise documentation and paperwork you’ll need to submit is bound to vary depending on the type of visa you’re hoping to receive.
Still, there are five basic steps that all applicants will need to complete:
- Determine Your Visa Type
- Gather the Required Documentation
- Complete the Initial Application
- Submit Your Visa Application
- Wait for an Official Response
If you’re not sure where to start with your visa application, these steps may help. Most types of visa applications can be submitted up to three months before your date of travel.
A response to your application could take three to eight weeks. As such, it’s always best to start the application process sooner rather than later. Naturally, the first thing you’ll need to do is discover which visa to apply for.
Determine Your Visa Type
Do you know what type of visa you need to apply for? If not, you might feel unsure about where to start.
Fortunately, there’s a quick and easy way to determine whether or not you need a visa. The official UK government website has a visa checking tool that can help you figure out your visa needs.
This helpful application can also recommend a specific type of UK visa that may fit your needs. Though there are only a handful of major UK visa types, there are quite a few sub-types. As such, using this tool might offer a small headstart to the visa application process.
Gather the Required Documentation
You may be able to complete your visa application online, but that doesn’t mean you won’t want to have relevant paperwork and documentation on hand. Many visas require that you submit a passport.
If you’re applying for a type of work visa, you may also need to submit documentation proving that you have a job offer from an approved sponsor, proof of English fluency, and paperwork detailing your expected starting salary.
Researching your specific UK visa type can help you determine which documentation you’ll need for your application.
Complete the Initial Application
Once you’re certain that you meet visa requirements and have your documents in order, you can go ahead and complete the initial visa application. Nearly all visa applications are digital forms, so you won’t need to download and print a massive amount of paperwork.
Submit Your Visa Application
Once you’ve completed your application and you’re satisfied with your work, you can submit it. Be very careful during this step.
Once you’ve clicked the ‘Submit’ button, there’s no going back. If your application is rejected, you won’t be able to make amendations. You’ll have to start from square one and submit a new application if your initial one fails.
Wait for an Official Response
After submitting your application, you may receive an appointment date, time, and location for biometric information collection. There are more than one hundred approved biometric collection locations in the US, and plenty more spread throughout the world.
This step involves having your fingerprints and image recorded and documented. When you’ve completed this step, you may go ahead and submit your required documents for approval.
After that, it’s simply a matter of waiting. Most applicants can expect to wait about three weeks for either an approval or denial.
There are several types of UK visas. The right visa for you depends on your reason for visiting the UK. If you’re hoping to work, you may want to choose an applicable work visa. But if you’re looking to invest in a business, an Investor visa may be the better choice.
Once you know which visa best represents your intentions, you can begin the application process. Each type of visa has its own criteria and set of requirements. Hopefully, this guide gave you a headstart on everything you need to know about the many types of UK visas.