Visas & Immigration

Visas and immigration in the UK

Moving to the United Kingdom? Find out everything you need to know about getting a UK visa with our look at the local immigration system.

UK visa
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Updated 27-5-2024

If you are visiting or moving to the United Kingdom, it’s essential to check if you need a visa to enter the country, as well as what type of visa you need to apply for. This will depend on where you are traveling from and the purpose of your visit.

To help you apply with ease, read on to learn about the following topics:

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Immigration in the UK

The UK has always had a sizable migrant population, with many coming over the years to work, study, or join family members in the UK. However, the percentage of foreign-born residents in the UK is lower than in many other European countries.

Around 9% of the UK population is from overseas and almost half of these people originate from EU countries. Most live in the more populated big cities, with around 35% of the UK migrant population living in London.

Empty border control at UK airport
Photo: Peter Powell/PA Images/ Getty Images

Following the Brexit vote in 2016, the UK left the European Union on 31 December 2020. EU/EFTA citizens are now subject to the same visa requirements as third-country nationals.

However, those already living in the UK as of 31 December 2020 could apply for settled or pre-settled status in the UK through the EU Settlement Scheme. The deadline for this was 30 June 2021, although there are some exceptions for late applications.

The UK Home Office is the government department responsible for dealing with visas and immigration in the UK.

Who needs a visa to enter the UK?

Whether you need a UK visa depends on:

  • What country you are traveling from
  • How long you intend to stay
  • The purpose of your visit

Residents of all overseas countries need a UK visa to stay for longer than six months, while nationals from over 100 countries worldwide need a visa to simply enter the UK. Those not included in this list of countries can stay up to six months. However, they are usually not permitted to take up employment.

Countries whose citizens enjoy visa-free short-stay travel to the UK include Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, and the United States.

Citizens of British Overseas Territories and citizens of Commonwealth countries born before 1 January 1983 who qualify for the right of abode (ROA) through a parent being born in the UK have the right to travel and live in the UK without a visa.

You can get an electronic visa waiver (EVW) for just £30 if you are from the following countries:

  • Bahrain
  • Kuwait
  • Oman
  • Qatar
  • Saudi Arabia
  • United Arab Emirates

This allows a visa-free stay of up to six months for tourism, business, study, or medical treatment.

Citizens of all other countries will require a visa to enter the UK. You can check the exact UK visa requirements for your home country on the UK Government website.

EU/EFTA citizens after Brexit

Since Bexit from the EU on 31 December 2020, EU/EFTA nationals no longer have freedom of movement to the UK. If you are from an EU/EFTA country, you can travel visa-free to the UK for up to six months. However, you will need one of the relevant visas in the below sections if you want to stay for longer than six months.

EU/EFTA citizens already living in the UK by 31 December 2020 could apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to obtain either settled or pre-settled status. Those with pre-settled status can now apply for settled status.

What types of UK visas are available?

UK visas can be broken down into three broad categories, which are:

  • Short-stay UK visas
  • Non-immigrant visas
  • Immigrant visas

What is a Short-stay UK visa?

These are visas that can be valid anywhere from 24 hours to six months, including tourist visas, visitor visas, and transit visas. Here are some of the Short-stay UK visas you can apply for:

Standard Visitor visa

The Standard Visitor visa allows you to travel to the UK for leisure, business, study, or private purposes and stay for up to six months. You can extend this to 11 months if you’re receiving private medical treatment or 12 months if you’re doing academic research.

Crowds of people walk down Regent Street in wintertime
Regent Street (Photo: Pietro Recchia/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

This visa costs £100. In some cases, it’s possible to apply to extend this visa if you need to stay in the UK for longer. The cost for this varies between £200–1,000, depending on your reasons for extending your stay.

You can apply for this visa as long as you can prove that you can financially support yourself for the duration of your stay. You will also need to provide a current passport or valid ID. Additional documents may need to be provided, depending on the purpose of your visit.

The visa is also available as a long-term visitor visa, however, you will only be able to stay for a maximum period of six months at a time. You’ll also need to prove that you’re only visiting and not living in the UK on each visit. Costs for long-term visitor visas are:

Duration of time (6 months per visit)Cost
11 months (medical visit) or 12 months (academic visit)£200
Two years£376
Five years£670
10 years£837

Short-term Study visa

A Short-term Study visa is for short-study language courses that last between 6–11 months. You can apply if you are studying an English language course.

The cost is £200. You need to be able to show evidence that you’ve been accepted onto a UK course and prove that you can support yourself financially. You will also need to provide a valid passport/ID and accommodation details.

Marriage Visitor visa

You can apply for a Marriage Visitor visa if you want to get married or register a civil partnership in the UK, as long as you’re not planning to settle in the country afterward.

The visa is valid for up to six months and costs £100. You will need to provide:

  • Valid passport/ID
  • Proof that you can financially support yourself for your stay
  • Proof of marriage plans in the UK (e.g., venue booking confirmation)
  • Accommodation plans during your stay

Permitted Paid Engagement visa

The Permitted Paid Engagement visa is for those who:

  • Are invited to the UK by an organization or client based in the country
  • Want to do short-term paid work in the UK but haven’t been sponsored under the points-based system

The visa is valid for one month and costs £100. You will need to provide:

  • Valid passport/ID
  • Proof that you can support yourself financially during the stay
  • Invitation from a UK-based organization/client OR proof that the work you will be doing relates to your skills and expertise
  • Accommodation plans

Parent of a Child Student visa

You can apply for the Part of a Child Student visa if you have a child aged 4–11 who is attending an independent fee-paying school in the UK. This visa is usually for six months but can be extended to 12 months and then renewed until your child reaches 12 years of age.

The visa costs £531, with extensions costing £1,048. You must also pay a healthcare surcharge so that you can use the National Health Service (NHS) when you arrive in the UK. As for your child: they must be aged under 12 and hold a Child Student visa.

To obtain the Parent of a Child Student visa, you will need to provide:

  • Your valid passport/ID
  • Proof of your child’s visa
  • Evidence that you can support yourself financially during your stay
  • Evidence that you can maintain your main home outside the UK

Chinese tour group visa

You can come to the UK as part of a Chinese tour group of at least five people. The tour must be organized by an ADS-licensed Chinese tour operator and you’ll need to stay with the group for the duration of the trip.

This visa is valid for 30 days and costs £100.

UK Transit visa

The UK Transit visa enables you to pass through the UK if you’re changing flights or traveling through the UK on the way to another country.

There are two types of transit visas. These are:

  • Direct Airside Transit visa: If you are changing flights and not passing through UK border control. This costs £35 and lasts for 24 hours.
  • Visitor in Transit visa: If you’re passing through border control but on the way to another country. This costs £64 and lasts for 48 hours.

How do you apply for a Short-stay visa?

You can apply for Short-stay visas at the UK visa application center in your home country. You can also apply online through the UK Home Office Visas and Immigration Service website.

People traveling from certain countries will need to have a tuberculosis test if they are coming to the UK for more than six months.

The UK Visas and Immigration website has information on managing your visa application, containing information on things such as getting documents back and reporting a change in your circumstances.

What is a Non-Immigrant UK visa?

A Non-Immigrant UK visa is a longer-term temporary visa for purposes such as studying or working on a fixed-term temporary contract. Anyone wanting to stay in the UK for longer than six months will need to apply for this visa.

The majority of longer-term UK visas are issued for periods of between 1–5 years with the chance to extend many of them if you want to stay longer. The various types of fixed-term visas are as follows:

Study visa

In addition to the Short-term Study visa, there are two student visas available in the UK:

These visas are available to anyone who has been offered a placement at a recognized UK place of study. General student visas are granted for the length of the study course. Child student visas are available for those aged 4–17. They can be for up to six years (or three years if the child is 16 or 17).

Applicants will need to provide a valid passport/ID plus proof that they can support themselves during their stay without recourse to public funds.

Biochemistry student standing in lab wearing lab coat and traditional hijab
Photo: SolStock/Getty Images

General student visa applicants will need to provide evidence that they meet English language requirements. Child student visa applicants will need to show evidence of consent from their parent or guardian.

The student visa costs £363 to apply from outside the UK or £490 to extend or change to a student visa once you’re within the UK. On top of this, you must also pay healthcare surcharge costs.

For the Child Student visa, you will need £1,560 per month (for up to 9 months). This amount will cover both you and your accompanying parent.

Students on a general study visa can apply to be joined by certain family members if eligibility conditions are met.

Short-term work visas

There are several short-term UK work visas. These are:

Other UK work and business visas

Longer-term UK visas for work purposes include:

  • Skilled Worker visa: The standard UK visa for skilled workers. Usually available for up to 5 years but renewable for a maximum of six years. Costs are between £625 and £1,423 depending on visa length and occupation type
  • Senior or Specialist Worker visa: For overseas employees transferring to a UK branch, valid for up to nine years and costing between £625 and £1,423
  • Health and Care Worker visa: For medical professionals to work in the NHS or social care. Valid for up to five years for £479 (or £247 if only staying for up to three years)
  • Minister of Religion visa: For religious ministers, valid for up to three years and costing £625
  • International Sportsperson visa: For sports professionals and coaches, valid up to 12 months for £259 or valid for up to three years for £625
  • Innovator Founder visa: For those who want to set up a unique innovative business in the UK, valid for up to three years for £1,036
  • Global Talent visa: For exceptionally talented individuals endorsed by a recognized body, valid for up to five years at the cost of £623
  • UK Ancestry visa: Work visa for Commonwealth citizens with a grandparent born in the UK, valid for up to five years and costing £531
  • Representative of an Overseas Business visa: For those representing a business with a presence or interests in the UK as well as overseas media workers assigned in the UK. Valid for up to three years, costing £625

Family visa

You can apply for a family visa in the UK if you want to come and live with your:

  • Spouse/partner
  • Fiancée or proposed civil partner
  • Child
  • Parent
  • Relative who is providing you with long-term care

The cost of this visa is £1,538 (or £1,048 if you apply from within the UK). It costs £3,250 if you are an adult relative that needs to be cared for by a UK resident.

Family visas last for two and a half years if you apply as a partner/spouse or parent, although they can be extended. If you apply as a child or a cared-for relative, the visa can be for longer. The exact length will depend on your situation.

What is an immigrant UK visa?

Immigrant UK visas are available for those who want to stay in the UK long-term or permanently (a period longer than 5–10 years), usually for work or family reunion purposes. These visas can be repeatedly renewed if certain conditions are met.

You can apply for this visa after five years of continuous residence in the UK. There are various immigrant UK visas available, including the following:

Work and business visas

If you intend to relocate to the UK permanently or for a period longer than five years for work or business purposes, you will typically need to get a work visa and then extend it or apply for a settlement permit.

Visas that can be extended for five years and beyond include:

  • Skilled Worker visa: The length depends on the nature of the work you are doing
  • Senior or Specialist Worker visa: Maximum nine years
  • Minister of Religion: Maximum six years
  • Innovator Founder visa: Can be extended indefinitely if the business is still running and you still meet the eligibility requirements
  • Global Talent: Can be extended for five years at a time indefinitely
  • UK Ancestry visa: Maximum 10 years
  • Representative of Overseas Business visa: Maximum five years

To stay beyond the maximum extension on your visa, you will either need to switch to another visa (if your current visa permits this) or apply for permanent residence if you meet the eligibility requirements for your visa.

Family visa

UK family visas are issued for 2 and a half years for spouses/partners and parents, after which they can be extended. For children and cared-for relatives, they can be issued for longer periods.

As with work visas, those in the UK for family reunion purposes are eligible for permanent residence after five years of living in the UK. Children aged under 18 can sometimes apply for permanent residence earlier.

Retiring to the UK

The UK has scrapped its retirement visa, which was known as the retired persons of independent means permit. Under this, anyone needing a visa to stay could apply to retire to the UK if they could prove they have a minimum disposable income of £25,000 a year and close connections to the UK.

Those wanting to move to the UK for retirement now need to apply using another visa for which they are eligible (e.g., work, investment, family) and then apply for permanent residence after five years.

If you have already entered the UK on a retirement visa and this is due to expire, you can apply to extend this visa for a maximum of five years if you still meet the eligibility criteria.

Asylum-seekers and refugees in the UK

There were 75,492 asylum applications in the UK as of March 2023. Compared to EU countries, this would place the UK 4th after Germany, France, and Spain. The UK granted asylum or humanitarian protection to 22,648 people in the year leading up to March 2023.

Application claims are processed by the UK Home Office. You can make an asylum claim at the border control of any UK airport or an asylum intake unit if you want to apply from within the UK. It is not possible to apply for UK asylum from outside the country.

Placard protest sign advocating for refugee rights in London
A placard at the Illegal Migration Bill protest on Parliament Square, held on July 17 2023 (Photo: James Manning/PA Images via Getty Images)

Once you have made your application, you will have an appointment with an immigration screening officer. You will need to provide a passport or any current ID you have to file an asylum application, along with any information or supporting evidence.

You’ll be given an asylum registration card while you wait for your application to be processed. This takes up to six months. During this time, you won’t be able to work but will be able to access health services in the UK and the British education system for any children aged under 18.

What do asylum-seekers and refugees get in the UK?

The current benefit for asylum-seekers in the UK is £47.39 a week per person. This can be increased by up to £5 a week if you have a baby under one year old, or £3 a week if you are expecting or you have a child aged 1–3 years.

Asylum-seekers are housed in temporary accommodation – usually a flat, house, hostel, or bed and breakfast. Housing and financial support are available using the ASF1 form.

Successful applicants will be given leave to remain in the UK for five years as refugees, after which time you can apply for an extension if the circumstances regarding returning to their home country remain similar. Alternatively, you can apply for a UK settlement permit if you are eligible. This is free of charge if you are a refugee.

Rejected asylum-seekers will be required to leave the UK within a specified time, although they can appeal the verdict.

Support for asylum-seekers and refugees is available through several charities in the UK, such as the Refugee Council.

What visas are available for Ukrainian nationals and family members?

Following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the UK has set up two visa schemes for those fleeing the country:

Both of these visas are free and entitle the holder to work, study and access public funds in the UK. Check the UK government website for support with visa applications and information on what to do when coming to the UK.

Residence and citizenship in the UK

Those who want to stay in the UK for longer than six months need to apply for a UK biometric residence permit (BRP). This is an identity card that contains the following information:

  • Name, date, and place of birth
  • Fingerprints and photograph
  • Immigration status and any conditions of your stay
  • Your social rights (e.g., access to public funds, social services)

If you are working, studying, or have other special reasons for remaining in the UK, you are likely to be eligible for a BRP if you can provide the necessary evidence of your situation.

You can apply for a BRP from the following outlets if you are making your application from inside the UK:

Applications from outside the UK need to be made from a visa application center.

The BRP is valid for the duration of your stay in the UK, up to a maximum of 10 years. As of July 2023, the current cost is £19.20 if you apply within the UK.

Three colleagues laugh on rooftop while drinking coffee
Photo: Oscar Wong/Getty Images

After five years of continuous residence in the UK, you can apply for permanent residence if you meet other requirements related to your specific visa.

You can also apply for UK citizenship if you either:

  • Are married to/in a civil partnership with a British citizen and have lived in the UK for three years
  • Have indefinite leave to remain and have lived in the UK for at least 12 months
  • Qualify for British nationality via another path

You will also need to meet other requirements, such as demonstrating English language skills and passing the Life in the UK test.

EU Settlement Scheme: residence for EU/EFTA citizens already living in the UK

Following Britain’s withdrawal from the EU on 31 December 2020, EU/EFTA citizens already living in the UK could apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to obtain either:

  • Settled status: Equivalent to a permanent residence permit, if they have been living continuously in the UK for five years
  • Pre-settled status: Equivalent to a five-year temporary residence permit, if they have been living in the UK for less than five years

The deadline for applying in most cases was 30 June 2021. However, certain categories of people such as family members of successful scheme applicants who joined them after 1 April 2021 can apply later.

You can switch from pre-settled to settled status as soon as you’ve lived in the UK for five years. You should apply within two months of your pre-settlement permit expiring. Once you have settled status, you will be eligible to apply for British citizenship after 12 months.

How do you make an appeal or complaint?

You can ask for an administrative review if your application for a UK visa has been turned down. You should do this within 28 days of receiving the decision. This will cost £80.

If you’re not happy with the outcome of this, you may be able to appeal to the First-tier Tribunal. The tribunal also deals with appeals relating to asylum applications, British citizenship, and the EU Settlement Scheme.

Things can be escalated to the Upper Tribunal if you think that a legal mistake has been made.

However, appealing a visa decision can be a costly and lengthy exercise. Because of this, it’s wise to get legal advice before proceeding. Citizens Advice can provide you with support and signpost you to the right legal services.

Useful resources