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All About the Visas to Move to the UK

Moving to the UK Visas

With a wealth of employment opportunities, a highly regarded education sector, and excellent transport links to mainland Europe, the United Kingdom is a desirable destination for many immigrants. Like all nations, however, the UK places restrictions on who can live within the country.

If you are a foreign national, you will need a residence permit or visa to remain in the United Kingdom indefinitely. This guide will discuss these documents and how you can obtain the right to permanently live here. Read on to find out how to get your permit to reside and work in Great Britain!

Introduction to the UK Immigration Visas

Before January 2021, immigrants looking to relocate to the United Kingdom could apply for a biometric residence card, also known simply as a residence card. This document is no longer applicable and no new applications will be considered. Instead, any overseas national that wishes to live in the UK will require a visa.

A visa to live here is often connected to employment. The United Kingdom offers residence visas based on a points system designed to encourage highly skilled workers to join the workforce. Of course, you may also remain based on marriage or as a student.

We will discuss each of these options in more detail throughout this guide.

What UK Immigration and Resident Visas Are There?

There are numerous visas and permits available to overseas nationals looking to live and work in the UK. In brief, visas for the United Kingdom fall under the following categories:

  • Work and Business visas, which enable people to enter the country to work for a UK-registered business, start a company that is set to trade in the UK, or to invest in a UK business.
  • Student visas, which enable overseas individuals to enrol in UK-based universities and other adult education facilities.
  • Family visas, issued to dependents of residents who plan to stay in the country for longer than 6 months (again, these dependents cannot work here).
  • Tourist visas, to spend up to 6 months in the United Kingdom (but not to work during this time). Not all nationalities require a tourist visa.
  • Refugee visas, for people forced to flee their home countries due to fears for their safety.

Anybody that spends enough time in the United Kingdom based on their visa can eventually apply for permanent residence. Any time spent outside the country may count against this application, though.

What Visas and Paperwork Do I Need for Moving to the UK?

If you plan to stay for longer than 6 months, you will need a non-tourist visa of some description. You are only eligible for a permanent residence permit after at least 2 years, often longer. Visas to remain in the United Kingdom for a prolonged period and work are divided into 5 tiers:

  • Tier 1 – High-Value Migrants (including entrepreneurs and investors).
  • Tier 2 – Skilled Workers (employees that score 70 or higher on the immigration points system).
  • Tier 3 – Unskilled Workers (employees that score less than 70 on the immigration points system).
  • Tier 4 – Adult Students (anybody with an agreed place on an adult education course and the financial means to support themselves).
  • Tier 5 – Temporary Workers (capped at 12 months of residence).

If you are applying for any of the visas above, provide evidence of why they should be awarded.

For example, to qualify for the ‘Skilled Worker’ tier, you must be trained/employed in your current profession and preferably with a couple of years experience in that particular job. This will greatly assist you in obtaining your visa and quick employment in the UK. You will also need proven qualifications in your profession.

Meanwhile, an application for a Tier 4 permit will require a letter from a university that offers a place on a course and proof that you have paid or will be able to pay for your tuition throughout your education.

You can apply for a visa up to 3 months before you are due to arrive in the United Kingdom. Although the application process is comparatively swift and straightforward, it is always advisable to apply as early as possible to allow for any delays.

Lastly, if you are just visiting the United Kingdom to see if you want to live in the country and will not be working, you may have to apply for a visitor visa that expires after 6 months. See our ‘How Long Can I Stay in the UK Without a Residence Visa?’ section below for more details about this. This may include applying for the upcoming UK ETA visa waiver.

What Does ‘Indefinite Leave to Remain’ Mean and How Does it Affect Me?

Indefinite Leave to Remain, often simply referred to as ‘ILR’, means that somebody can permanently live and work in the United Kingdom. It means that you can come and go as you please – though if you spend more than 2 years outside the UK, your IRL is likely to be revoked.

In addition, ILR is not the same as citizenship. Somebody with ILR does not have the right to vote in elections, run for local or national office, or hold a UK passport. If you have enjoyed ILR for over 12 months, then you can apply to become a citizen. You will not need to revoke your existing citizenship, as fortunately, the law permits residents to hold dual citizenship.

You can apply for ILR after a set time living in the United Kingdom on a visa, either as a worker or a resident dependent. Check the following section for details on how long each visa will permit you to stay in the country before applying for ILR.

About Eligibility for PR (Permanent Residency) In the UK

You will be eligible for permanent residence (Indefinite Leave to Remain, or IRL) in the United Kingdom if you have lived in the country for some time. If you plan to apply for ILR, you must not have spent more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12 months during the last 5 years. How long it takes to apply for permanent residence depends on your circumstances.

  • If you are married to a UK citizen, you will earn permanent residence after 2 years.
  • If you have a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur or Investor) visa or a Tier 2 (Sportsperson or Minister of Religion) visa, you will earn permanent residence after 5 years.
  • If you entered the United Kingdom based on ancestry, you will earn permanent residence after 5 years.
  • If you enter legally without a Tier 1 or 2 visa, you will earn permanent residence after 10 years. This is known as ‘long residence’.

Once you reach these landmarks, you will be entitled to apply for permanent residence. Your application will usually be accepted, provided you have acted legally throughout your stay. This includes paying any tax and National Insurance contributions and generally demonstrating what is considered ‘good character.’

At the time of writing, the application fee for ILR is 2,389 GBP. Be aware that, if you are applying for permanent residence based on marriage, your relationship may be investigated.

Also, you will need to take a language test to prove written and spoken English proficiency and pass the Life in the UK test. The pass mark must be 70% or more in the results. You will notably increase your chances of being granted ILR if you pass these tests.

Can I Get Permanent Residency in the UK?

On paper, anybody can get permanent residence. It is typically much easier to obtain ILR if you have lived in the country for several years already, either working or studying. Equally, if you are married to a British citizen, it will typically be easier to apply too. Proof of certified marriage is essential.

Of course, you must have followed the regulations of your existing visa during this time, as well as Great Britain’s laws. If you previously overstayed for over 90 days or were forcibly deported, for example, this would make acquiring permanent residence trickier.

What Are the UK Resident Visa Requirements?

As discussed previously, you will need to have lived in the United Kingdom under another visa for some time before you can apply for permanent residence in the UK. You will also need to meet the following criteria.

  • Be aged 18 or over.
  • Be proficient in English (or Welsh/Scottish Gaelic if applicable).
  • Have taken, and passed, the Life in the UK test.
  • Plan to remain in the UK, and not spend prolonged periods overseas (spending 2 years outside the UK may result in your residency being revoked).
  • Have obeyed all laws and regulations throughout your time in the UK.

What Is on the UK Resident Visa Application?

A typical application form will comprise the following:

  • Name and address
  • Date and place of birth
  • Biological sex
  • Marital status
  • Nationality
  • Existing passport information
  • Contact details for yourself, your parents and next of kin
  • Financial information
  • History of travel, particularly to and from the UK
  • Any criminal convictions
  • Sponsor information (for those arriving in the UK as dependents)

If you are visiting the United Kingdom for 6 months or less, you might be asked why you are coming to the country and when you plan to return.

Alternatively, if you are applying for residency or a longer-term visa, you may be asked for proof of why you are eligible for this. Such evidence could be a written offer of a job or university placement or evidence that you have legally resided in the UK for a set period.

How and Where Can I Apply for the UK Resident Visa?

You can apply for a United Kingdom residency visa through the UK Home Office website. You can launch an application for any kind of visa 3 months before it is required.

So, if you are living outside the UK, you should apply 3 months before you arrive. If you are already in the country, start the process 3 months before the expiry of any existing permit.

How Long Can I Stay in the UK Without a Residence Visa?

Fortunately, the citizens of most countries can enter the United Kingdom for a holiday, to attend a business function, enjoy entertainment (such as watching a sporting event or a music concert) or visit friends and family for up to 6 months without a visa.

You will likely be asked why you are entering at passport control and may be asked to provide proof of your plans to return home within 6 months (i.e., a return travel ticket) and evidence of financial solvency.

On the other hand, if any of the following countries issued your passport, you will need a tourist visa to enter the United Kingdom:

Democratic Republic of the Congo
Cyprus (North Only)
Eswatini (FKA Swaziland)
The Gambia

Ivory Coast
Myanmar (FKA Burma)
North Macedonia

Palestinian Territories
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Sri Lanka

These visas will expire after 6 months. As this deadline approaches, you will need to apply for a longer-term visa that allows you to stay in the country or make plans to leave voluntarily at your own expense.

I Am Coming to the UK to Study. What Happens When I Graduate?

A student visa will entitle you to live in the country for the duration of your studies, provided you meet the following criteria:

  • A university or equivalent establishment has formally offered you a place on a course.
  • You are financially solvent, being able to pay for your education and support yourself.
  • You are fluent in written and spoken English.

Officially, your student visa expires once you complete your studies, and you will have 30 days to leave the United Kingdom. If you successfully graduate from your course, however, you can apply for a graduate visa.

This entitles you to remain in the UK for at least 2 years, or 3 years if you hold a PhD or master’s degree. During this time, you can apply for a job that will offer a permanent residence visa sponsorship.

What Happens if My Visa Expires While I Am in the UK?

If you remain in the United Kingdom without a valid visa, you will be classed as an ‘overstayer’. Overstaying is a criminal offence under UK law.

Once a visa expires, the holder must voluntarily leave the country within 30 days. If you fail to do so, you risk deportation and/or a ban from returning to the United Kingdom in the future.

One exception to this penalty is taking advantage of the ’14-day with good reason rule’. If you apply for a renewed visa within 14 days of expiry and provide what the Home Office considers ‘good reason’ for overstaying, you may enjoy leniency. Examples of these so-called ‘good reasons’ are:

  • Undergoing hospital treatment due to a medical emergency.
  • Managing bereavement of a close family member.
  • Receiving a delayed response from a business or educational establishment that offered a job or place on a course.
  • A previous request for renewal was declined, and you are waiting for a response to a resubmission.

Simply forgetting to file for renewal in good time, or being too busy to get around to apply, are not considered good reasons. You will need formal evidence to back up any of the situations above to qualify for the 14-day rule.

We hope that you now have a clear overview of the immigration visas to live and work in Great Britain. UK residence can supply you with many opportunities in terms of financial gain, a higher standard of living, a variety of social and cultural activities, plus of course, further education or training. Enjoy your time in the United Kingdom!

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