UK Visitor Visa
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If you are coming to the UK for a visit – as a tourist, to see friends and family, for academic research or a business meeting, or to receive medical treatment – you may need to apply for a UK visitor visa.
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Who needs entry clearance as a visitor
Non-visa nationals normally don’t need entry clearance (a visa) before travelling to the UK and can get permission to enter at the border.
Non-visa nationals will need a visa if they are coming to the UK as marriage visitor or if they are coming to the UK for more than six months, either as a medical visitor or for one of the permitted activities which allow visits for more than six months.
Visa nationals are required to obtain a visa prior to travelling. A list of visa nationals can be found in Appendix Visitor: Visa National List of the Immigration Rules.
Generally, visitors are allowed to stay in the UK for up to 6 months. There is no specified limit on the frequency of visits or maximum cumulative period visitors are permitted to spend in the UK (such as 6 months out of any 12-month period). However, frequent prolonged visits may lead an immigration officer to question whether you are genuinely visiting the UK.
UK immigration lawyers would recommend spending less than six months in the UK in any 12-month period, if possible. If not, you may have to be prepared to explain that there are exceptional circumstances which are temporary and that your main home remains outside the UK.
Inviting your family to visit you in the UK
Whether you have indefinite leave to remain in the UK or have a temporary status as a student or worker, you may invite your family members to visit you.
You will have to be as precise as possible about the proposed duration of their visit and show how the trip will be funded. If you are providing accommodation and maintenance for your family members, it is recommended that you provide bank statements covering not less than three months to show the funds and confirm in a letter of invitation what kind of accommodation you will offer your visitors.
It is good practice to provide evidence of relationship such as birth certificates if you are closely related.
Your visitors will also need to provide evidence of their social and economic ties to the country of origin and prove as far as possible intention to return home. This may be particularly burdensome for visitors from the so called “high risk” countries or for retired and single people who have stronger family ties with the UK than the country where they live.
It is important that your family visitors are not invited for any specific household chore such as looking after a child or domestic work.
Normally, good immigration history is indicative of intention to comply with the immigration rules and it is very important that your first application for a visitor visa is successful. It will clear the way for the subsequent applications as long as you do not stay in the UK for longer than indicated in the application form and that you fully comply with the conditions of stay.
There is no requirement for family visitors to have travel insurance but it is highly recommended as visitors are not allowed to use the NHS and private treatment in the UK may be very expensive.
Marriage visitor visa
Non-UK residents need a visitor visa if they wish to get married in the UK but will not be living in the UK after marriage. This requirement applies to non-visa nationals who normally get leave to enter at the border, without prior application, if visiting the UK for up to six months.
Marriage visitor visa should not be confused with a fiancé visa which is for those who are planning to get married in the UK and switch to the spouse visa to stay with their British partner.
Marriage visitor visa is also required if you are travelling to the UK to give notice of intention to get married. The visa is granted for six months and would be suitable both for filing notice of intention to marry and for the marriage ceremony and reception.
Ironically, fiancés of British citizens may find it more difficult to get a marriage visitor visa to the UK than people who do not have this connection with the UK. This is because their intention to leave the UK after the wedding may be subjected to more intensive scrutiny than otherwise.
A visitor who is coming to the UK for private medical treatment has to provide a letter from a UK-based consultant detailing the medical condition, estimated costs and the likely duration of any treatment and where the consultation or treatment will take place. Treatment has to have an end date and should not be expected to take more than 11 months.
Business visitors do not need special permission for the following activities:
- Attend meetings, conferences, seminars or interviews;
- Negotiate or sign business contracts;
- Carry out site visits and inspections;
- Be briefed on the requirements of their UK customers, provided the work for the customer is carried out outside the UK;
- Give a one-off or a short series of talks, provided they are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser;
- An employee of a foreign manufacturer or supplier may install, dismantle, repair, service or advise on equipment or software supplied to the UK;
- A client of a UK export company may be seconded to the UK to oversee the requirements for goods and services that are provided under the contract by the UK company, provided that the UK company and the overseas client are not part of the same group of companies.
Employees of international corporations may visit the UK branch of the business but are not allowed to work directly with or for the clients.
If the purpose of the trip to the UK is to provide services or fill a role within the company, the hosting company will have to sponsor the worker either under the Skilled Worker route or as a Senior or Specialist worker under the Global Business Mobility route.
The employee would accordingly need a Skilled Worker or Specialist Worker visa.
Internship or work placement is not permitted for visitors.
A visitor may come to the UK to receive training in work practices and techniques as far as it is necessary for the visitor’s employment overseas and where such training is not available in their home country.
Activities not permitted for visitors
Visitors are not allowed to engage in the following activities in the UK:
- selling goods or providing services;
- taking up employment;
- setting up or running a business;
- doing a work placement or internship;
- doing work for organisation or business in the UK, including providing a short term cover for a role;
- study in the UK unless expressly permitted;
- get married or form a civil partnership in the UK.
Permitted paid engagements for visitors
An academic may be invited to examine students or participate in selection panels, if they have been invited by a UK Higher Education Institution or a UK-based research or arts organisation.
They may also give lectures in their subject area provided this does not amount to filling a teaching position for the host organisation.
A professional artist, entertainer or musician may give performances individually or as part of a group; take part in competitions or auditions and take part in promotional activities.
They can receive remuneration for activities relating to their profession when invited by a creative organisation, agent or broadcaster based in the UK or if they are taking part in one of the approved permit free festivals in the UK.
A qualified lawyer may provide advocacy for a court or tribunal hearing, arbitration or other form of dispute resolution for legal proceedings within the UK, if they have been invited by a client.
Pilot examiners may visit the UK to assess UK based pilots to ensure they meet the national aviation requirements for other countries.
Artists, entertainers and musicians
An artist can be anyone coming to the UK to undertake an activity that is connected to the arts (literature, performing arts, visual arts, culinary arts). There is no restriction on amateur or professional artists doing permitted activities.
An artist, entertainer, or musician may:
(a) give performances as an individual or as part of a group;
(b) take part in competitions or auditions;
(c) make personal appearances and take part in promotional activities;
(d) take part in one or more cultural events or festivals on the list of permit free festivals
Sports persons may visit the UK for the following purposes:
- take part in a sports tournament or sports event as an individual or part of a team;
- take part in promotional activities;
- take part in trials provided they are not in front of a paying audience;
- take part in short periods of training provided they are not being paid by a UK sporting body;
- join an amateur team or club to gain experience in a particular sport if they are an amateur in that sport.
Sports persons may bring with them their personal or technical staff to support their activities in the UK.
Permitted duration and frequency of visits to the UK and period of grant of UK visitor visa
Visit visa can be single entry or multiple entry. This will be stated on the endorsement.
Normally, you can expect a multiple entry visa.
Single entry visa may be issued for specific occasions, such as to conduct a specific business activity, attend a one-off event, visit at the request of the police or a witness for court proceedings. A visa for any of the permitted paid engagements is normally for a single entry and issued for only one month.
A standard visit visa is issued for six months or for a longer term: two, five or ten years.
Long-term visa does not allow to visit the UK for a period longer than six months.
There is no specific maximum period a visitor can spend in the UK in any 12 months but the visa may be curtailed if the visitor’s travel history suggests that they live in the UK rather than visit. If the visitor is spending more time in the UK than in their home country, it may be taken as an indication of their home being in the UK.
Most common grounds for UK visitor visa refusals
By far the most frequent reason for refusal is genuineness of the intention to come to the UK as a visitor or to return home on completion of the visit.
In assessing the applicant’s intention, the Entry Clearance Officer takes into account the following factors:
- previous immigration history of the applicant and duration of previous visits to the UK;
- financial circumstances and social and economic background of the applicant;
- social and economic ties with the country of residence;
- political, economic and security situation in the applicant’s country of nationality;
- information on immigration non-compliance by individuals from the same geographical area as the applicant.
Visit visa can also be refused if the applicant plans to undertake activities not permitted for visitors.
An example can be intention to come to the UK as an au-pair, or as a business visitor planning to provide a service which is not permitted under the rules for visitors or to undertake an internship.
If the visa application or permission to enter is refused on the grounds that the applicant used deception in this or previous application, the applicant is automatically banned from entry to the UK for the next ten years, unless the refusal is challenged.
Challenging UK visitor visa refusals
There is no right of appeal against refusal of a visitor visa and there is no administrative review. The applicant can make a complaint to the Home Office if the decision-maker failed to consider the documents provided or made a mistake in applying the immigration rules or the standard policy. The only legal remedy is judicial review.
It is strongly recommended that you seek legal advice from an immigration specialist before taking any steps yourself.
UK visitor visa frequently asked questions
Visitors who are coming to the UK for private medical treatment may be granted a visa for up to 11 months. This visa can be extended in the UK if necessary for further treatment for up to 6 months at a time.
Academic visitors and their dependants may be granted a visit visa for up to 12 months.
A visitor who has successfully passed PLAB Test may extend visitor visa in the UK for a further 12 months (provided the total duration off stay does not exceed 18 months) to undertake the Objective Structured Clinical Examinations for overseas.
Visitors are allowed to take a recreational course for a maximum of 30 days during their visit provided that the main purpose of the visit is not to study and the course is not state funded.
Visitors are allowed to study a course at an accredited institution for up to 6 months or undertake a study abroad programme.
Visitors may also come to the UK to resit an exam or take an entrance exam or for a PhD viva.
Volunteering is allowed provided it is not the main purpose of the visit, it is for a registered charity and will be for no longer than 30 days in total. It should not be a contractual position.
There is a legal difference between volunteering and doing voluntary work. Voluntary worker is under a contractual obligation to the charity. This is not allowed for visitors. There is a special visa for this type of work – see Tier 5 voluntary worker.
Yes, remote working for an overseas employer is allowed, provided it is not the main purpose of the visit.
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How immigration solicitors can help with UK visitor visa applications
Consultation on the best strategy
We recommend a 30-minute consultation if the visitor does not have any adverse immigration history, but will be travelling to the UK for the first time and wants to make sure that there are no factors that may hinder approval of the application. We will also give you recommendations on the type of documents that will help your application.
If you were previously refused a visa to the UK, we would recommend an in-depth consultation with an immigration lawyer. Ideally, we would want to read the refusal letter. This will allow us to confirm that the refusal does not debar you from applying again. We would recommend to you the best tactics for the application and the documents that would present your case at its strongest.
Full representation in visitor visa applications
We take instructions for UK visitor visa applications where there is a high risk of refusal or where the success of the application is very important and the applicant cannot afford to risk being refused.
We also assist corporate clients and universities with organising attendance at conferences and business meetings, particularly where visitors are invited from “high risk” countries, such as African and Middle East countries or Latin America.
Last updated on 16 May 2023
Last updated on August 27, 2020