How UK immigration works
There is only a limited number of immigration options that would allow a non-British citizen to come to the UK for a long-term project and settle here for good. You will be either joining your family in the UK or you will be going for one of the work related routes that may lead to indefinite leave to remain on completion of a requisite period of residence (usually five years).
Before you consult an immigration lawyer on the best option for your circumstances, it may be helpful to read this brief overview of how UK immigration works and what is on offer.
Joining family in the UK
Joining the family is mainly for the spouse or a durable partner of a UK citizen, a person with indefinite leave to remain or an EU national with settled or pre-settled status (UK Partner visa).
In some limited circumstances, there is also an immigration option for a parent of a British child.
The route for adult dependent relatives s reserved for extreme compassionate circumstances - where the person you want to bring over to the UK requires help with daily living tasks and this help is either not available or not affordable in the country of their habitual residence.
It is considerably easier for Adult dependent relatives of EU nationals with pre-settled or settled status then for dependants of British citizens to get a dependent visa. This is because the legislation protecting the rights of EU nationals post Brexit has preserved some of the more favourable conditions of EU law. These will gradually come to naught in the next few years.
Having a close family member in the UK does not create an additional immigration opportunity, but may help with logistics and some practical matters, such as a place to stay for the initial period and initial orientation about how things work in the UK.
There is also an immigration option for commonwealth nationals who have a British born great parent. British born means born on the British Isles and not in the former colonies that were part of the British empire. This option is called UK Ancestry visa.
There is no age limit for the Ancestry visa applicants but they have to demonstrate an intention to work in the UK and have funds to support themselves while they are looking for employment. Partner and children of the main Ancestry visa holder can apply for a visa at the same time or join the main visa holder later and have certain advantages in comparison to dependants in other visa categories
Work related immigration to the UK
Work related routes include the following options:
- Sponsored employment - this is the most common route, called the Skilled Worker route, previously known as Tier 2 General route.
- The Innovator route (for businessmen who have an innovative business idea endorsed by one of the accredited bodies)
- The Global talent route (for leaders in their area of science or technology, artists, composers, designers etc)
In order to apply for the Skilled Worker visa you will need a job offer from your prospective employer. Your employer will be the sponsor or your application. Your job will have to meet the minimum required skills level and will have to be paid above a certain minimum which varies depending on the job.
Only the employer can act as the sponsor, so be very careful if anyone offers you a Skilled Worker visa before you have a firm offer of employment. You will need a certificate of sponsorship assigned to you by the employer before you can apply for the visa. The employer has to have a sponsor licence which will allow them to act as the sponsor of their employees. Sponsorship of employees of another company is not allowed and the rules are very strict about it. If the company is willing to employ you but does not have a licence, we can help them get over this hurdle. Just ask your employer to get in touch with us.
Another immigration route leading to settlement is the Innovator route. This option is for businesspersons who want to pursue a business idea in the UK and can demonstrate that this idea is innovative, and has potential for exponential grown and can be developed internationally. Such business idea has to be endorsed by a designated endorsing body which will be also supervising the execution of the proposed business plan. The benefit of this route is that it allows settlement after three years of residence - two years sooner than the Skilled Worker route.
Global talent route also requires international recognition in your area of expertise and endorsement from a designated body in the UK. Same as the innovator route, it allows settlement after three years of residence.
Studying in the UK as an immigration option
If you are coming to the UK to study, you will be applying for a Student visa. This type of visa does not lead to settlement other than under the Long Residence rule - which requires ten years continuous residence in any combination of immigration categories.
Student visa cannot be extended beyond five years for studying at a degree level (Bachelor's or Master's degree). There are some exceptions and it can be extended if you are accepted on a PhD or MPhil course.
On successful completion of studies at a degree level you can apply for a Graduate visa which will allow you to take employment in the UK. Similar to the student visa, the Graduate visa does not lead to settlement, unless your total continuous period of residence reaches 10 years. However, the Graduate route will give you a better chance to find sponsored employment and potentially switch into the Skilled Worker route which will lead to settlement after five years. It may give you additional time counting towards the qualifying period under the Long Residence rule.
If you studied outside the UK but graduated in the last five years from one of the Universities listed on the Global Universities list for the year you graduated, you may qualify for the High Potential Individual visa which will allow you to work in the UK for two or three years (depending on your degree level). This visa does not lead to settlement but gives you a chance to switch into sponsored employment or another route leading to settlement.
English language requirement for UK visa applications
English language is one of the requirements in all visa categories leading to settlement in the UK.
In family immigration applications, the initial requirement is A1 level which progresses to A2 in the extension application and B1 when applying for indefinite leave to remain.
In work related applications the standard is B1. Some employers may require a higher standard of English at their own discretion.
To study in the UK at a degree level, the required level of English is B2.
TB test for UK visa applications
TB test certificate is required for residents of listed countries who are applying for a long term visa (study, work or family immigration) to the UK.
The certificate is valid for six months.
Visitors are not required to take a TB test.
TB test is taken outside the UK at approved test centres listed for each country.Other test certificates are not accepted.
For extensions within the UK, no further TB tests are required.
Children are also required to have a TB test certificate and have to attend the clinic. Children under 11 would not normally have an x-ray.
When traveling to the UK, you will be advised to keep the certificate in your hand luggage in case an immigration officer requests sight of it.
Criminal record certificates
For most types of visas, criminal record certificates are not required.
The exception is entry clearance applications as a Skilled Worker in one of the listed professions, mostly related to health and medical professionals, social workers, teaching professionals, care workers and childminders.
Where criminal record certificates are required, they should be produced by the relevant authority in each country in which the applicant was resident for 12 months or more (continuously or cumulatively) in the 10 years before the date of the application.
Criminal record certificates are not required in visa extension applications.
Where criminal record certificates are not required, general grounds for refusal include criminality grounds. These are different depending on the type of visa.
Most visa applications fall for refusal if the applicant had committed a criminal offence and had received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more. In family immigration, there is a qualifying period of time between the end of the sentence and the visa application, after which the application can be successful. This period depends on the length of the custodial sentence.
Switching from one immigration category to another
In general, switching from one long term immigration category to another long term category is permitted, but there are exceptions to this rule and it is important to check before making the application.
Visitors to the UK are not allowed to switch in country to any other immigration route. Short term students are also required to leave the UK and apply for entry clearance if they want to return in another capacity.
If you have lived lawfully in the UK for a continuous period of 10 years, you may be eligible for indefinite leave to remain or for extension of leave to remain on the basis of long residence.
There are two keywords here: continuous and lawful. Continuous means that it was not interrupted by excessive absences and lawful means with permission under one of the immigration categories.
A child under the age of 18 is eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain after having lived lawfully in the UK for 7 years.
If you do not have 10 years of lawful residence due to periods of stay in the UK without leave, you have to show that you have been living in the UK for a period of 20 years to qualify for permission to stay on the basis of the time you have spent in the UK.
General information on the visa application process
Applications for a UK visa are normally made online and supporting documents are submitted to the Home Office in electronic format.
If you are applying for a visit visa, the application can be made from any country outside the UK. Applications for long-term visas, such as work-related visas or partner visa, are normally made from the country of habitual residence or the country of nationality.
If you are already resident in the UK with a long-term visa but want to change your status - for example, switch from a student route to a skilled worker visa or a partner visa - the application can be made inside the UK.
Whether you are applying from abroad of from within the UK, you will be required to submit your biometrics. You may have to attend an appointment at the visa application centre or you may have the option of submitting your biometric information using an app.
The standard processing time for the visa varies depending on the type of application. In some cases it is possible to expedite the process by paying an extra fee.
Permission to stay permanently
UK immigration offers a number of routes that lead to permission to stay in the UK permanently. Such permission is called indefinite leave to remain.
Indefinite leave to remain is not the same as British citizenship. British citizenship is one step after indefinite leave to remain and unless you are married to a British citizen, requires 12 months residence with indefinite leave to remain before you can apply. You can apply for a British passport once you have become a British citizen.
The role of an immigration representative
Although we have tried to make things look simple in a nutshell, UK immigration is complex. The role of the legal representative is to maximise your chances of success in the application, anticipate and minimise any risks, including the risk of incorrect or faulty decision, save you time in preparing the application and as much as possible reduce the stress of applying.
First published 22 March 2022
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.