UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) offers the exempt vignette to people who are exempt from immigration control. The Home Office recommends that in order to avoid delays on arrival in the UK, those who are exempt from immigration control should obtain an exempt vignette before they travel.
This comprehensive guide looks at the eligibility requirements for an exempt vignette in detail alongside the process of applying for an exempt vignette.
Eligibility for an Exempt Vignette
In order to qualify for an exempt vignette, you will need to satisfy UKVI that you fall under one of the following categories:
- Diplomats and people working for a diplomatic mission in the UK;
- Employees of International Organisations;
- Overseas Government Ministers on official business and their employees;
- Heads of State and their employees; and
- Members of Armed Forces and Arms Control Personnel.
In some cases, the exempt vignette is also available by extension to family members who form part of an applicant's household, for example spouses, civil partners and children under 18. Some routes allow eligibility for other family members too.
Diplomats, People Working for a Diplomatic Mission in the UK, and their Dependents
Members of the diplomatic, administrative, technical and service staff and career consular officers of recognised States are eligible for an exempt vignette. Under this category, an exempt vignette will be valid for five years or for the length of the posting if it is shorter.
Exempt vignettes can be extended from within the UK through the Diplomatic Missions and International Organisations Unit (DMIOU).
Dependents of Diplomats
This eligibility extends to family members who form part of their household. If a dependent child with an exempt vignette is going to turn 18 during their time residing in the UK, the exempt vignette will be valid until their 18th birthday.
Children who are over the age of 18 and under 25 in full time education are eligible if a child will complete their studies before their 25th birthday. This option is also available to those who would turn 18 during their residence in the UK. This exempt vignette will be issued for the duration of their course, until their 25th birthday or in line with their diplomat parent's visa (whichever is shorter will apply).
If a dependent child is not in full time education or over the age of 25, their application is referred to the Diplomatic Missions and International Organisations Unit and Protocol Directorate of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (DMIOU) where an external decision will be made.
Elderly parents who form part of the diplomat's household are not eligible except for in exceptional circumstances where they are wholly dependent, live alone and have no relatives in their own country. Other elements of dependency are also taken into consideration, such as the elderly parents' assets, their medical conditions, and their relationship with the diplomat. It is worth noting that grandchildren and other family members of a diplomat accredited to the UK are not eligible for an exempt vignette.
Other Eligible Diplomat Categories
The Home Office has specified that these categories, and family members who form part of their household are also exempt from immigration control:
- Locally employed members of staff of a mission in the UK who were recruited outside the UK; and
- Diplomats travelling through the UK to or from a country where they are accredited. Under this category, an exempt vignette will be valid for six months.
The Home Office has also specified that the following categories are not exempt from immigration control:
- Diplomatic couriers, though they are not required to provide biometrics;
- Unmarried partners of diplomats, though foreign nationals are able to apply for UK entry clearance as the unmarried partner of an accredited diplomat posted to or based in the UK.
Employees of International Organisations and their Family Members
The Home Office has published a list of International organisations whose employees qualify for exemption from immigration control. If an international organisation is not on the list, their entry clearance application will still be considered.
The following groups are eligible for an exempt vignette under this route:
- Family members of the relevant employee who form a part of their household. Their dependent children may also be eligible (see above under Diplomats, People Working for a Diplomatic Mission in the UK, and their Dependents);
- Those who form part of the official delegation of an international organisation, for example, civil servants, secretaries and interpreters; and
- Those undertaking internships with an international organisation listed.
The exempt vignette will be valid either for 5 years or for the length of the contract/visit if it is shorter.
It should be noted that this route is limited to those who are employees of the sending state. Journalists and businessmen, for example, would not qualify for an exemption from immigration control. They would need to meet the requirements for a visa as a business visitor.
Overseas Government Ministers on Official Business, their Employees and Members of their Family
Serving Government Ministers or their equivalents, such as Governor Generals, of states recognised by HMG are eligible for an exempt vignette. They must be travelling to the UK on the official business of their government.
The following categories of people are also eligible:
- Family members forming part of their household; and
- Those who form part of the official delegation of the overseas Government Minister, for example, civil servants, secretaries and interpreters.
This application allows for a two-year exempt vignette to be issued. As above, this route is limited to those who are employees of the sending state.
Heads of State, their Employees, their Family Members and Servants
This category applies to Sovereigns or Heads of State travelling both officially and privately.
The following categories of people are also eligible:
- Employees attending to the Head of State for an official state visit;
- The family members of the Head of State who form part of their household;
- The domestic servants of a Head of State.
Ex-Heads of State and their families are not ordinarily exempt from immigration control. However, in some cases, their circumstances can be considered outside the rules. As above, private persons such as journalists and businessmen are not eligible for an exempt vignette through this route.
Members of Armed Forces and Arms Control Personnel
The following groups of people are exempt from immigration control:
- Commonwealth or Overseas Territories citizens who have been selected for training in the UK Armed Services.
- Members of Commonwealth and NATO armed forces posted for service in the UK or attending training courses either at a military establishment or with a UK firm. The countries that qualify are listed under the Visiting Forces Act. The length of the exempt vignette will match the period of the posting or training.
- People serving or posted for service as a member of an international headquarters or defence organisation.
- People accepted as arms control personnel under the Vienna Document 1992 (Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe) and the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty 1992. This route allows an exempt vignette valid for two years.
The Home Office has specified that the dependents of members of the armed forces, however, are not eligible for an exempt vignette. It is also worth noting that people attending an interview or selection test for entry into the UK Armed Services are not eligible for an exempt vignette.
Documents Needed to Apply for an Exempt Vignette
If you are eligible under a category above, you will need to provide the following documents:
- Your current passport or other travel identification;
- A passport photo;
- Evidence that you are coming to the UK as part of your job (if relevant), for example, a letter from a UK or foreign ministry.
In the case of diplomats, a diplomatic passport is not strictly sufficient evidence of a person's diplomatic status. Further proof can include a Note Verbale or Ministry of Foreign Affairs letter confirming a person's posting to the UK.
How to Apply for an Exempt Vignette
Applications should be made on the relevant application form. The Home Office may however, also accept a Note Verbale in place of the relevant application form if it contains sufficient information.
You cannot apply for an exempt vignette online from North Korea.
You also cannot apply until three months before you enter the UK. This type of application is free and is decided within approximately three weeks. Those who are exempt are also not required to provide biometric data. If the application is successful, your exempt vignette will be added into your passport for you to show when you enter the UK.
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.