How frequently can I come to the UK as a visitor and how does the 180-day rule work?
You will find conflicting information on the internet as there is no hard and fast rule. However, if you have asked this question, here is information that may be helpful before you look further.
For visa nationals, a visit visa to the UK is normally granted for six months, 2 years, 5 years or 10 years. As a rule, you are expected to make the applications incrementally – for the first visit you will make an application for 6 months. After that, you can apply for a longer period.
In the visa application you will indicate how long you intend to stay. Independently to the answer to this question, the visa will normally be granted for 6 months. Although technically it means you can stay for the full 6-month period, in practice it doesn’t work like this. Next time you apply for a visit visa it will be noted that although you indicated on the form you would stay for, say, 3 weeks, you actually stayed for longer – thus last time you gave false information on the form and this can be a reason for refusal of the next application.
Thus, I would recommend that you try to be as accurate as possible on the proposed dates and don’t stay longer than you initially intended.
A visitor visa with 6-month duration may be single entry or multiple entry. Multiple entry visa will allow you to come again. And since you are not asked about any follow-up visits in the application form, you have much more flexibility in your second or third visit – provided you do not overstay the expiry date of the visa.
Visitors are not allowed to stay for more than 180 days on the same visit – unless it is a medical or academic visit.
If your visit has been for less than 180 days but your visit visa comes to an end, you are allowed to apply for extension. In practice, extending the visitor visa in the UK is not a good idea. The cost of the application for a visitor visa extension is £1000 and you can only extend your visa to bring your overall stay to 180 days. You may also have to pay for a priority service to get the application decided in time. Wherever possible, it is much less stressful to leave before the expiry of your visa and apply for a new visa from your country of residence.
All long-term visit visas – 2-year, 5-year or 10-year – are, of course, multiple entry. Again, you will have to indicate in the application form the proposed duration of your first visit. All subsequent visits should also not exceed 180 days.
Here comes the complex part – how frequently can I visit?
Frequency of visits
There is no legal instrument stating that a visitor cannot spend in the UK more than 180 days out of 360. However, if your visits are so frequent that the immigration officer has reasons to believe that you are living the UK and only visiting the country of your “habitual residence” the visa may be revoked. In practice, 180 days out of 360 is the point beyond which the immigration officer may suspect that you spend more time in the UK than in your country of residence.
A few days in excess of 180 do not necessarily command termination of your visa. But it may give the officer reasons to look at the information provided in your visa application form to see if there have been any material changes in your circumstances. For example, if you stated that you are in full time employment visiting the UK during your annual leave but actually spend prolonged periods not consistent with your initial application, it can be a reason to cancel the visa. Normally, less than 180 days a year spent in the UK will not trigger an enquiry, but longer periods may well invite an immigration officer to question your circumstances.
Non-visa nationals do not need a visa and thus a visit up to 180-days is normally routinely allowed without further questions.
Frequent visits, for example to visit a family member or partner, may invite questions. Again, there is no hard and fast rule that you cannot spend in the UK more than 180 days in any 12 months, but questions may be asked at the border to establish that you are not living in the UK.
What is the difference between living in the country and visiting?
Generally, you are expected to spend more time at home than on a visit. But sometimes, and for a limited period of time, it may be the other way round. Here the key phrase is “for a limited period of time”. You may have to explain the reasons for this situation and when, you expect, it will be resolved. For example, if you have a child at school in the UK and you frequently come to visit, or a close relative or friend needs your support due to health issues, bereavement or anything else.
If you are coming to the UK to help with a newly born baby or to help out a working mum, be careful not to make it the primary purpose of your visit so that the immigration officer does not assume that you will “work” for the family. Family visits are perfectly legitimate and, of course, routine help with domestic chores is not a problem, as long as this help is not the main reason for your visit. I know, it sounds unfair, but this is tip from an immigration lawyer and you may find it helpful.