UK Immigration & Nationality Lawyers

An overview of the UK immigration system

An overview of the UK immigration system

“I would like to immigrate to the UK, can you help me with the visa?” – this is one of the most typical questions we hear and this page is to help you understand in general terms how the UK immigration system works.

What type of visa do I need in order to work in the UK?

Before you can come to the UK to work, you need an employer in the UK willing to sponsor you.  You have to be “highly skilled” to be sponsored.

“Highly skilled” does not mean you have to have a University Degree. It refers to the skills required to do the job. If it is a professional job, like a nurse, an engineer, a lawyer, an accountant or a web designer, it is described as highly skilled. If it is a managerial job, like a marketing director or business development manager, it is also highly skilled. But if it is an administrative position like a marketing executive, personal assistant to a director, paralegal or a sales representative, it is not classed as highly skilled.

If you have an offer of employment in a highly skilled position, you will be applying for a Tier 2 General visa.

Your employer will need a licence to sponsor your application. But if they don’t, it’s not the end of the world. We can help them get the licence if they genuinely need you as an employee. So the first step is to find a job.

Who does not need a sponsor?

If you are a Commonwealth citizen and have a UK born grandparent you do not need a sponsor. You can apply for an ancestry visa which will give you the right to take up employment or set up a business. You can also come to the UK to look for a suitable position as long as you have sufficient funds to support yourself during this process. This visa will allow you to settle, or apply for indefinite leave to remain, after five years of residence.

A sole representative of an overseas business can work in the UK for the business that seconded him.  No sponsorship is required. However, the business may eventually apply for a sponsor licence and transfer other employees from abroad or higher non-British workers in the UK.

Some types of temporary work are authorised under the so-called Tier 5 scheme. It may be a 12-month internship on completion of studies (Government Authorised Exchange Scheme) or a two-year work permitting visa for citizens of the Commonwealth under the age of 30 (Youth Mobility Scheme).

Tier 5 visa does not lead to Indefinite Leave to Remain. It counts towards the qualifying time under the long-residence rule, but on its own does not give entitlement to apply for settlement.

Entrepreneurs and Investors

At the present moment, UK immigration rules are not particularly welcoming for entrepreneurs or investors.

Entrepreneurs route was closed to new entrants in March 2019.

The alternative routes of start-up and innovator have serious restrictions. Neither route has properly taken off and we expect that they will be replaced in the near future.

For those who have some extra cash, investor visa is an attractive alternative. The requirement is £2m investment into the British economy. In return, investors enjoy an unrestricted right to work or not to work, to set up a business, to pursue studies, to send the kids to a British school and apply for indefinite leave to remain after five years of residence (or even sooner, depending on the level of investment).

Family immigration

Spouse or unmarried partner visa

Spouse or the unmarried partner of a British citizen (or a person with indefinite leave to remain in the UK) are entitled to apply for settlement in this category (see spouse visa page for a summary of the immigration requirements).

The visa is initially issued for 2.5 years. It is extended for another 2.5 years.  After five years of residence in this immigration category, the spouse of a British citizen is entitled to apply for indefinite leave to remain.

If some circumstances, if the requirements of the immigration rules are not met in full, partner of a British citizen may be given a visa under the so-called “ten-year route”. This means they can only apply for indefinite leave to remain after ten years of residence.

Holders of the Partner visa, both in the 5-year route and the 10-year route categories, have an unrestricted right to work in the UK. If they choose to study, foreign student fees will apply until they have been granted indefinite leave to remain.

Children of British citizens

A non-British child of a British citizen requires a visa to the UK. There is no automatic entitlement to the right of abode in the UK for children of British citizens. However, it is worth checking if the child is entitled to British citizenship.

Other family members of British citizens

Unfortunately, there is no right to family reunion for family members of British citizens other than for the partner and children. Parents and extended family members may only apply to join their family in the UK if they are living abroad in most extreme compassionate circumstances.

The more generous EU rights for dependent parents and extended family members have been swept away with Brexit.

Dependants of non-settled migrants

Points-based system migrants (sponsored workers, entrepreneurs or investors) or of the holders of other work permitting visas are allowed to bring to the UK their partner and children. The immigration rules refer to these family members as “dependants”.

Dependants of PBS migrant can work without restriction. Where a sponsored worker can only work for the registered sponsor, their partner can take up any job, set up a new business or work as a free-lance.

Other types of visa and immigration categories

  • visitor’s visa (usually for visits of up to 6 months);
  • student visa under Tier 4 of the Points Based System for those who wish to study in the UK.

Non-visa nationals visiting the UK do not normally need a visa.

An exception to this is a situation when a non-visa national comes to the UK to work, study, or to settle in the UK with partner, parents or children.  In these scenarios, a valid visa is mandatory.

If you have lived lawfully in the UK for a continuous period of 10 years you can apply for indefinite leave to remain on the basis of long residence independently of the type of visas you have held over this period of time.

We are experts in UK immigration law and will be happy to offer you advice, guidance and representation. This page is a general outline of the UK immigration system, for details, book a consultation with one of our lawyers.

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