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How to Switch Visa (UK): Switching Immigration Category From Within the UK

How to Switch Visa (UK): Switching Immigration Category From Within the UK

Switching immigration categories from inside the UK is not always straightforward. Certain routes allow you to stay in the UK under the Immigration Rules by switching visa categories, while others do not. The updated Points-Based System (PBS), introduced at the end of 2020, has opened more visa categories to in-country switching.

Switching visas within the UK can be a complicated process, often more complex than an initial application, and it is important to get this right. While restrictions in many categories have been eased with the new system, others continue to be strict on who is permitted to switch.

Applying to switch your visa under a category where switching is not permitted from inside the UK leads to mandatory refusal. In cases where you cannot switch from your current visa status to another from inside the UK, you will be required to leave the UK and apply for UK Entry Clearance from your country of nationality or usual residence.

In this blog post, we will explore the rules and scenarios in which you can and cannot switch visas in the UK, and into which categories. If you would like to speak to an expert about your specific circumstances, call the specialist immigration lawyers at Latitude Law on 0044 161 234 68007 (Manchester) or 0044 207 046 7185 (London).

How to switch a visa within the UK: the basic process

Switching your visa, or changing immigration categories, within the UK can be a complex process and requires careful planning and preparation. However, the following general steps will need to be followed in most cases:

  1. Understanding eligibility - before you can switch your visa, you need to check whether you are eligible to do so. Each visa category has specific eligibility requirements, such as your current visa type, your reason for wanting to stay in the UK, your ability to meet financial requirements, and your level of English language skills. You should familiarise yourself with the relevant immigration rules and guidance related to the visa category you want to switch to.
  2. Gathering documentation - you will need to gather all the necessary documents to support your application. This might include proof of identity, evidence of finances, documents that demonstrate your eligibility (such as a job offer for a work visa, or marriage certificate for a spouse or civil partner visa), and any other documents specified in the application guidance.
  3. Application submission - once you have all your documents ready, you can apply to switch your visa online through the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) website. The online application will guide you through the process, asking you for the necessary details and allowing you to upload your supporting documents.
  4. Pay the application fee and immigration health surcharge - after you have submitted your application, you will need to pay the application fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). The cost will depend on the type of visa you are applying for.
  5. Biometric information - as part of the application process, you will need to provide your biometric information (fingerprints and photo) at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) centre. You will receive an email telling you how to book an appointment. At your appointment, you will also submit your original documents, if needed.
  6. Wait for the decision - once you have submitted all of the necessary information, your application will be processed by UKVI. The time it takes to get a decision can vary depending on the type of application, but you can usually expect a decision within eight weeks. In some cases, you may be eligible to pay for a faster decision through the Priority or Super Priority services.
  7. Receive the decision - you will receive your decision via email or post. If your application is successful, you will receive a new Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) showing your new status.

Keep in mind that the specific process may vary depending on the type of visa you are applying for, and it is always recommended to seek legal advice if you are unsure about any part of the process.

Which visa categories can't you switch from?

Before applying for a visa switch within the UK, it is important to understand the restrictions that may be applied under UK immigration rules. These include:

  • Certain forms of visa cannot be switched
  • Your immigration status may affect whether or not you are able to switch
  • Any dependant family members will need to apply for their dependant visa separately
  • Travel restrictions may apply when you switch visa

For many visa categories, it is simply not possible to switch in-country. These include:

  • Visit visa
  • Short-term student visa
  • Parent of a child student visa
  • Seasonal worker visa
  • Domestic worker in a private household visa

It is also worth noting that you are unlikely to be able to switch to a different visa type in the UK if specific conditions apply to your visa status. For example, switching visas will not be possible for those on immigration bail, or if you have been granted leave to remain under exceptional circumstances, such as on compassionate grounds.

Once you have submitted a visa switch application, you will be required to remain within the UK, Ireland and the common travel area (including the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) until a final decision has been issued.

Which visa categories can you switch to or from?

The updated PBS immigration rules have made switching in-country easier in many cases. Here, we will break down the main areas in which visa switching will be an option for you.

Economic visas (highly skilled, global business mobility routes, workers, and students)

For most economic visa routes, it is possible to switch from any visa, other than those listed above, as long as you are able to meet all other requirements for the particular visa you want. However, some categories are stricter:

  • Skilled worker visa - to switch into this category, you need to have been offered a skilled job from a licensed sponsor in the UK, meet the English language requirement and meet the minimum salary threshold.
  • Innovator Founder visas - these visas replaced the start-up and innovator routes. To be eligible to switch into this category, you must have a business idea that is new, innovative and scalable, and that has been endorsed by an approved body.
  • Senior or Specialist Worker visa - this category replaced the Intra-company transfer visa, and is designed for employees of multinational companies who are being transferred to an eligible job for their organisation’s UK branch. The company needs to be approved by the Home Office as a sponsor, and you must be earning at least £45,800 per year.

Rules also allow senior or specialist workers (formerly intra-company transferees) to switch into the skilled worker visa route from inside the UK, as the cooling-off period has now been abolished for this category. This could give individuals a possible route to settlement if they wished to remain in the UK.

Individuals here on a student visa are permitted to switch to other economic categories, e.g. skilled worker. The new graduate route, which was introduced in July 2021, also offers students the opportunity to continue their stay in the UK and to work post-study. You are only able to apply to this route from inside the UK; however, it does not lead to settlement, so consider switching to a sponsored skilled worker visa in-country at the end of your graduate stay.

Family visas (partners, children, parents, adult dependant relatives)

It is possible to switch between the various different family visa routes. For example, an applicant who enters on a spouse or civil partner visa could secure an extension as a parent if the marriage breaks down, but there is an ongoing relationship with a child. It is also possible to secure permission to stay in the UK based on your private life rather than your family life, where the specific private life requirements are met. Note that a switch means you must restart your five-year qualifying period of residence when moving towards settlement.

Applicants in these categories are now also able to switch to economic categories (e.g. skilled worker or innovator founder) from inside the UK. Only individuals who are currently living in the UK as a parent of a child student are not permitted to switch to these categories; a fresh overseas application would be required instead.

Religious visas (minister of religion, religious worker)

Under the new system, it is easier for individuals to switch into the minister of religion category. Inexperienced religious workers could potentially secure entry clearance as religious workers, and then switch into the minister of religion category from inside the UK.

This may be possible once the individual undertakes a leading role within their faith-based organisation or religious order, and once their English language skills have reached the required level.

Frequently asked questions

My spouse lives in the UK. How can I acquire a visa to live with them?

If you are married to a UK citizen, currently holding a UK visa for work, education or other purposes, and are worried about what to do when it runs out, you can apply for a switch to a spouse visa.

To switch to a spouse visa, you must be in the UK and meet certain eligibility requirements. These include being married to, or in a civil partnership with, a person who is a British citizen, settled in the UK or has refugee status or humanitarian protection in the UK. You must prove that your relationship is genuine and that you are able to financially support yourselves without access to public funds. You also need to meet the English language requirement. You should apply before your current visa expires.

Can you switch from a visitor visa to a spouse visa (UK)?

No. If you currently hold a visitor visa, you will not be able to switch to any other type of visa and must leave the UK to apply for a new one.
For more information about how to handle this process, contact our expert immigration solicitors.

Can a dependant switch to a student visa?

Yes, a dependant can switch to a student visa if they meet the criteria set out for the student visa category. They must have been offered a place on a course with an eligible educational institution, be able to prove their English language proficiency (unless exempt), and have enough funds to support themselves and pay for the course. The application should be made from within the UK before the current visa expires.

Can I switch from a student visa to a work visa before my course ends?

Yes, it is possible to switch from a student visa to a work visa before your course ends, provided you meet the requirements for the work visa you're applying for. This could include the skilled worker visa, which requires a job offer from an employer who is a licensed sponsor, at an appropriate skill level and meeting the minimum salary requirement.
However, it is important to consider that visa switching may have implications for your studies, as your new visa might have different conditions regarding course attendance or completion.

I can't make my arrival window. How can I change this?

When you apply for a visa, you will have a window in which you must arrive in the country - called an entry vignette - and it lasts for 90 days at present (previously it was 30 days).

If you cannot make the necessary travel within this window, you can postpone it by filing for a transfer of conditions, or reapplying for your visa another time. However, you should bear in mind that there will be costs associated with doing so.

For information on exactly what you will need to provide to apply for a vignette change, contact our expert immigration solicitors today.

Find out more

If you have any further questions in relation to switching immigration categories, or need assistance regarding your current immigration status, please contact our specialist immigration team today.
Call us on 0300 131 6767, or complete our online contact form below.

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