Visiting the UK – who can, who can’t and what can go wrong?

22 August 2017

We’re in the middle of school holidays, with millions of Britons seeking sun abroad and millions more visitors wanting to come to the UK.  However, the rules governing UK visits are not always straightforward, and many individuals who wish to travel find that they are simply not permitted to.  In this article, we consider some of the key points about visitor immigration rules, and how you can try to maximise your chances of securing a visa if you need one.    

1.      Not everyone needs a visit visa

There are 111 countries on the visa national list, and nationals of those countries require prior permission (a visit visa) before travelling to the UK.  Countries which are not included on the list have a separate arrangement with the UK, and their nationals are permitted to visit for a short period (up to 6 months) without applying for a visa in advance.  Common examples are nationals of the USA and Australia, whereas persons from China or India are included on the list and will need to hold a visit visa before travel. 

EU Member States are not included on the visa national list, but their nationals do not currently enter the UK as visitors; instead, they have free movement under EU law.  This will come to an end once the UK leaves the EU, but the government has already indicated that it is unlikely that there will then be a requirement for EU nationals to apply for visit visas (so the EU 27 countries are unlikely to be added to the visa national list from March 2019). 

2.      People visit the UK for different reasons, but the basic requirements are the same

The visit visa provisions recognise that in addition to tourism, visitors travel to the UK for many different reasons, such as business or to receive private medical treatment.  Across these different categories, there are some common themes:

  • Individuals will only be permitted to stay in the UK for up to 6 months at a time
  • They must intend to leave the UK at the end of their visit
  • They must be able to fund their trip to the UK, and their return home

In addition – unless the specific type of visit permits it – some activities are forbidden:

  • Visitors cannot carry out paid work in the UK
  • Study not permitted for all but the shortest courses of study (a short-term student visa is usually required, which is a different type of application)

3.      Extensions and (not) switching category

In the absence of special circumstances, visitors are only permitted to be present in the UK for maximum 6 months, and it is very difficult for that period to be extended.  In addition, visitors are not able to switch into another immigration category whilst present in the UK, and a different type of visa cannot be converted to become a visit visa.  This is therefore a deliberately restrictive route which is only suitable for short-term travel.   

4.      Some exceptions to the normal rules

Standard visitors are subject to many limitations, but there are 2 non-standard types of visitor who have a little more flexibility in their UK activities.  An example is a marriage visitor, who is a person admitted to the UK specifically to marry here (which is otherwise prohibited).  The second category is a Permitted Paid Engagement visitor, who is admitted to the UK in the knowledge that they will work and receive payment here.  The instances where this is acceptable are restricted, and include visiting academics or professional artists/entertainers who are sponsored to perform in the UK.  This exemption also extends into the standard visitor option but only for certain permit free festivals.  This means that international visitors performing at the current Edinburgh festival can be paid for their performances, for example.    

5.      What else can go wrong?

Many individuals who have been refused a visit visa have struggled to persuade the visa officer that they intend to leave the UK at the end of their trip.  As a result, we can offer the following tips to those considering making an application for a visit visa:

  • Be clear about the activity you will carry out in the UK, and check that this is permitted
  • Provide evidence of your connections to your home – family ties, employment and ownership of assets are all good evidence of an intention to return after your UK visit
  • Supply clear proof of how your trip will be funded – bank statements showing available money is not always enough; you should always seek to evidence the source of income (the same applies if relying on somebody else’s money), whether it is your own, or your trip is being funded by a UK sponsor

Some categories of applicants are at higher risk of refusal than others.  If you have visited the UK previously and you have a poor immigration history, it can cause problems with new applications.  Frequent trips to the UK in quick succession can also become problematic, so seek advice if this is your intention.  As you might expect, if you have criminal convictions in the UK or abroad, you can expect resistance to an application for a UK visa, but only the most serious offenders are automatically barred from entry.  If any of these issues are relevant to you, it is important to understand how they might affect your visa application. 

Unfortunately, even the best prepared applications can sometimes fail.  If you require a visa to visit the UK, to minimise the chance of refusal (against which there is no right of appeal), the best advice is to make sure you apply in good time and with the strongest evidence. 

If you would like to speak to an expert at Latitude Law about applying for a UK visit visa, you can do so on 0161 234 6800 (Manchester) or 0151 305 9600 (Liverpool).