Visas for the United Kingdom

Whether one plans to travel, take up a job offer in the short-term or make a more permanent move to the country, it is best that expats familiarise themselves with the types of visas for the UK that are available to them and apply accordingly.

General visitor visa for the United Kingdom

Foreigners visiting the UK for a holiday may need a visa depending on their nationality. Those from a country outside the European Union and Switzerland will need a general visitor visa for the UK. Tourist visas are usually valid for six months.
To get a general visitor visa for the UK, applicants will need to prove that they intend to leave the UK at the end of their visit. Examples of documents used to support such an application include proof of onward travel, a return ticket, or a letter from an employer stating that the applicant has a job in their home country and is expected to return by a given date. Applicants will also need proof of sufficient funds to support their travels without working or proof that they will be staying with friends or relatives in the UK. 
Foreign nationals who enter the UK on a tourist visa are not entitled to take up any paid employment, enrol in any course of study, get married, register a civil partnership or receive private medical treatment. This type of visa is strictly for those who wish to visit friends and family or travel the country as a tourist.

Work visas for the United Kingdom

People moving to the UK from outside the EU will need to possess some sort of work visa if they wish to legally be employed in Britain.

Those who wish to move to the UK to work should note that there are a number of work visas to choose from. It is recommended that expats take the time to investigate exactly which type of visa applies to their individual circumstances.

Tier 1 general visas which allowed investors, entrepreneurs and people with specialist skills to enter the UK to work without being tied to a particular employer were discontinued in 2011. Those that hold a valid Tier 1 visa can apply for an extension, but only until 2015.

Tier 2 Work Visas

These visas are granted to non-EU nationals who have a job offer in the UK from a licensed sponsor and a certificate of sponsorship. Applicants must meet the necessary criteria on the points based system to be granted this type of visa. This visa is only granted to people with specialist skills and a confirmed job offer.

The British Home Office has recently implement measures to confirm that a genuine vacancy exists in a sponsoring company. This evaluation does not apply to all Tier 2 visa application but will just target those cases when the Home Office has doubts about a particular vacancy. 
There are four different categories of skilled worker visas under the Tier 2 points system including General, Minister of Religion, Sports Person and Intra-company Transfer. The last category is designed to accommodate those who are employed by multinational companies and are being transferred by their employer to a United Kingdom branch of an overseas organisation.

Tier 5 Temporary Worker Visas

Expats who are interested in moving to the UK to work for a short period might be able to apply under the Tier 5 Temporary Worker visas. 
Those from one of the countries permitted under the Youth Mobility Scheme will be able to gain entry to the UK without a job offer and use this working holiday visa to work and travel throughout the country. The scheme is designed to give young people the opportunity to live and work within the UK for up to two years, and is a great way to see what living and working in the UK is actually like.
The Youth Mobility Scheme working holiday visa is available for nationals of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Monaco, Taiwan and Japan. Every year, the UK government allots a certain number of places within this scheme for each county and territory and the young workers on the scheme are considered to be sponsored by their national government. Workers must be between the ages of 18 and 30 to apply.
Expats who are not citizens of one of the countries involved in the Youth Mobility Scheme will need to have a job offer from a licensed sponsor in order to receive a Tier 5 Temporary Worker Visa. There are several different categories, including Creative and Sporting Workers, Charity Workers, Government Authorised Exchange Programs or an International Agreement for those doing work which is covered by international law.

Other work-based immigration options

There are a number of other visa categories which allow people to live and work the UK. These include visas for domestic workers in private households, representatives of overseas business, contract seamen, and much more.

It is worth performing a search on the Home Office website for one’s particular field and nationality to determine which work visa for the UK serves each individuals situation. 

Applying for a visa for the United Kingdom

Before moving to the UK, one must determine the appropriate visa for their situation and undergo the relevant application process. Application forms can be obtained from any UK embassy or online. Alternatively, many people seek the assistance of a professional visa processing agency to ensure that everything is handled properly.
It is best to apply for a UK visa well before the intended date of travel, because it is difficult to predict how long processing times will be and whether delays might arise during the process. Furthermore, the visa application process in each expat's home country is likely to be different, so it is important for applicants to research the appropriate process for their particular country of origin. 
Application forms are only available in English and must be completed in English. If supporting documents are in another language, certified translations of the documents must also be submitted.  
It is also important to note that while a third party can assist an individual in completing the visa application, the expat must apply for the visa themselves rather than have someone do it on their behalf.
Those applying for work visa for the UK will also need to provide biometric information (fingerprints and facial image). This will be collected at the visa application centre. Depending on an individual’s country of origin, they may need to provide proof that they have been screened for TB. 

Visa extensions for the United Kingdom

The option to extend a visa is possible under a number of different types of UK visa schemes.
Those on a short-term work permit will normally be granted an extension as needed by their employer. However, expats who arrived in the UK on a visitor’s visa will not be able to extend beyond the initial six month period. Although, they might be able to switch to a different immigration category depending on their circumstances. 
Expats wishing to extend their stay in the UK should always apply well before their existing visa ends to ensure there is adequate process time before the current visa runs out. If a visa expires, the holder will be required to leave the country and those that do not do so risk being deported.
Expatriates who have extended a work visa for more than five years are usually eligible for permanent residence in the UK.

Permanent residence in the United Kingdom 

Expats who want to remain in the United Kingdom in the longer term may be eligible to apply for permanent residence. Those who have lived legally in the UK for a certain length of time, generally between two to five years can apply, depending on the category of visa they are currently in possession of.
Being a permanent resident means that the individual has indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK and are free from immigration control. It also means that that these expats have the freedom to live and work in the UK without restrictions. Permanent residents have the right to claim Job Seeker's Allowance and the benefits available to British citizens. Those with indefinite leave to remain have a visa status known as ‘settled status’, which is the route toward naturalisation as a British citizen. 
There are a number of ways an expat can qualify for ILR including the following:
  • Living in the UK for five years continuously as a work visa holder
  • Being the newborn child of someone with settled status
  • Living in the UK for two years as the spouse of a British citizen or a person with settled status
  • Being the holder of a British ancestral visa and having lived within the UK for five years
  • Living in the UK lawfully for 10 years
  • Living in the UK unlawfully for 14 years

Those who apply for ILR status cannot have been outside the UK for a period longer than six months at any time during the relevant period. It is also beneficial for applicants to demonstrate that they have strong ties to the UK and consider it home –for example, owning a property or business in the country.
Permanent residents who only spend short periods of time in the UK may risk losing the ILR status. In cases such as this, expats should consider applying for British citizenship as soon as they can, which is usually a year after they are granted ILR status. To obtain citizenship, an expatriate must be able to pass the Life in the UK Test. 
*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

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