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UK Visa and Immigration Rules

This guidance explains what you will need to do if you want to travel to the United Kingdom (UK) as a visitor, and what the Immigration Rules say. It is only a guide but it aims to answer some common questions.
There are many categories of visitors. A visitor is someone who generally intends to be in the UK for a short period, for example, to visit friends and family, to do business, to do a short course of study, to have private medical treatment. The information given here aims to deal with the various categories of visitors coming to the UK.
In general, you must show that:
you want to visit the UK for no more than six months;
you intend to leave the UK at the end of your visit;
you have enough money to support yourself during your stay in the UK without working or needing help from public funds. See question 'What are public funds?';
you do not intend to take paid or unpaid employment.
What is a visa?
A visa is a vignette that is applied for in advance of travel and which gives you permission to enter the UK.
If you have a valid UK visa we will not normally refuse you entry to the UK unless your circumstances have changed, or you gave false information or did not tell us important facts when you applied for your visa.
When you arrive in the UK, an Immigration Officer will normally ask you questions, so we strongly advise you to take any documents that are relevant to your visit in your hand luggage. This includes a printed version of your return flight itinerary, for example.
Do I need a visa to visit the UK?
You will need a visa to visit the UK if any of the following apply to you:
you are applying to visit the UK in order to get married;
you are applying as an Academic Visitor and intend to stay in the UK for more than 6 months;
you are applying as a parent of a child at school and intend to stay in the UK for more than 6 months;
you are applying as a Prospective Student;
you are stateless (you do not have a nationality);
you hold a non-national travel document (a travel document which does not give you the nationality of the country that issued it), or
you hold a passport issued by an authority that is not recognised in the UK.

How long can I stay in the UK as a visitor?
Visitors can stay in the UK for a maximum of six months at any one time. The only three exceptions to this rule are Academic Visitors and the parents of children at school who can stay for up to 12 months and please see the separate section on visitors for private medical treatment.
A general visit, business, entertainer or sports visit visa may be valid for 1, 2, 5 or 10 years. However, you are still only entitled to stay in the UK for a maximum of 180 days (6 months). A 2 year visit visa does not mean you are entitled to stay in the UK for 2 years, for example. We recommend that you limit your stay to the period stated on your visa application or to a maximum of 180 days within a 12 month period. Lengthy periods spent in the UK as a visitor may cause an immigration or visa officer to doubt your intentions. If you breach the conditions attached to your entry to the UK, you face a future ban of up to 10 years.
You should give careful consideration before applying for a long term visit visa valid for 1, 2, 5 or 10 years as there is the possibility that the visa may be refused, or issued for a shorter period than you have applied for. This could happen if the evidence you provide does not support a long term visit visa application or does not meet the entry clearance criteria. If the application is refused or the visa is issued for a shorter period, you will not be refunded your application fee. Although there is no requirement for you to have held a short term visit visa before being able to apply for a long term one, if you have not previously applied for a UK visa, you may wish to apply for a short term visit visa first (that is, a standard visit visa of 6 months validity.).
Long-term visit visas
You should give careful consideration before applying for a long-term visit visa valid for 1, 2, 5 or 10 years as there is the possibility that the visa may be refused, or issued for a shorter period than you have applied for. This could happen if the evidence you provide does not support a long-term visit visa application and / or does not meet the entry clearance criteria. If the application is refused or the visa is issued for a shorter period, you will not be refunded your application fee. Although there is no requirement for you to have held a short-term visit visa (that is, a standard visit visa of 6 months validity) before being able to apply for a long-term one, if you have not previously applied for a UK visa, you may wish to apply for a short-term visit visa first.
Applications for long-term visit visas will be considered in the light of:
Whether the applicant can demonstrate a frequent and sustained need to come to the UK, such as family links or an established business connection.
Whether personal circumstances are unlikely to change significantly during the validity of the visa. The better able the applicant can demonstrate stability over the long term the more it will support an application for a longer period.
Whether the applicant can support themselves in the UK without public funds, and demonstrate that they intend to leave the UK at the end of each visit.
Previous travel history as evidenced in a current valid passport.
Applicants under the age of 18 may only be granted a visa which is valid to six months past their 18th birthday. For instance, for a 14 year old applying for a five or ten year long-term visit visa, the visa expiry date will be limited to the date that is six months after the applicant’s 18th birthday.
General visitors: Tourist or visiting friends
If you want to come to the UK as a tourist or to visit friends you should apply as a general visitor. To visit the UK in this capacity you must be able to show that:
you intend to visit the UK for no more than six months;
you intend to leave the UK at the end of your visit, and
you have enough money to support yourself and live in the UK without working or needing any help from public funds.
Business visitors
Immigration Rules Paragraphs 46G-46L
If you are employed abroad but want to visit the UK for short periods to undertake business related activities you may be eligible to do so as a business visitor. However, some business visitors may need to qualify under the employment rules (where you engage in certain activities) or the student rules (where training is intended).
Anyone wishing to visit the UK as a business visitor should:
be based abroad and not intend to transfer their base to the UK, even temporarily; and receive their salary from abroad, although it is acceptable for them to receive reasonable travel and subsistence expenses whilst in the UK; and
not be involved in selling goods or services direct to members of the public;
not be replacing someone in the UK, including for temporary leave periods;
not be coming to the UK do work placements or internships.
What types of people can be treated as business visitors?
Film crews (including actors, producers, directors and technicians) on locations shoots only, provided they are employed or paid by an overseas company or programme;
Representatives of overseas news media provided they are employed or paid by an overseas company and are gathering information for an overseas publication and provided they will not be in the UK for more than 6 months;
Academic visitors (see below)
Visiting professors accompanying students on study abroad programmes (see below)
Secondees from overseas companies who have a contract with a UK company, provided they are being paid by the overseas company – some secondees will need to qualify under points-based system Tier 2 or Tier 5 - see INF guidance;
Religious workers undertaking preaching or pastoral work during a business visit (e.g. to attend a conference), provided their base is abroad and they are not taking up office, post or appointment (see below), some religious workers need to qualify under points-based system Tier 2 or Tier 5;

Advisers, consultants, trainers or trouble shooters employed abroad by the same company to which the client firm in the UK belongs, provided this does not amount to employment paid or unpaid for the UK branch;
Persons undertaking specific, one-off training provided by their own company, or a branch of it in the UK, in techniques and work practices used in the UK, provided this is not on-the job training.
In addition, those intending to carry out any of the following permissible activities are considered business visitors:
Attending meetings or conferences;
Arranging deals, negotiating or signing trade agreements, contracts, etc;
Undertaking fact-finding missions, e.g journalists on a short assignment to cover a story;
Conducting site visits;
Purchasing, checking details of or examining goods;
Delivering goods from abroad, such as lorry drivers and coach drivers provided they are genuinely working an international route;
Attending interviews, where prior arrangements for interview have been made;
Tour group couriers contracted to a firm outside the UK seeking entry to accompany a tour group and who intend to leave with that group;
Speaking at a conference where this is not run as a commercial concern and it is a 'one-off' event;
Interpreters or translators who are existing employees of an overseas company and who are accompanying and solely providing a service for business visitors from that company;
Representatives of computer software companies coming to install, debug or enhance their products. Representatives coming to be briefed on a UK customer’s requirements is also acceptable. But representatives who intend to provide a detailed assessment of a potential customer’s needs should enter under the points-based system tier 2 because this is regarded as consultancy;
Representatives of foreign manufacturers coming to service or repair their company’s products within their initial period of guarantee;
Representatives of foreign machine manufacturers coming to erect and install machinery too heavy to be delivered in one piece, as part of the contract of purchase and supply;
Monteurs – representatives of foreign companies coming to erect, dismantle, install, service, repair or advise on the development of foreign-made machinery;
Board level directors attending board meetings in the UK, provided that they are not employed by a UK company, although there may be a fee for attending the meetings.
How long can I stay as a business visitor?
In line with general visitors, the maximum permitted stay as a business visitor is six months. If you often visit the UK, you can apply for a visa that is valid for one, two, five or ten years. You can then visit the UK as often as you like while your visa is still valid, but you can only stay for up to six months on each visit. However, lengthy periods spent in the UK as a business visitor may cause an immigration or visa officer to doubt your intentions.
Business visitors: Academic visitors
If you wish to come to the UK as an Academic visitor you can do so provided you are either:
a person on sabbatical leave from an overseas academic institution who wishes to make use of their leave to carry out research here (e.g to do research for a book)
NB. Those who are on sabbatical leave from private research companies are not eligible for leave under the academic visitor provisions - see INF guidance on points-based system Tier 2 or Tier 5.
or
an academic (including doctors) taking part in formal exchange arrangements with United Kingdom counterparts; or
an eminent senior doctor or dentist coming to take part in research, teaching or clinical practice.
In addition you must:
not receive funding for your work from any United Kingdom source (payments of expenses or reasonable honoraria may be disregarded, as may payments on an exchange basis);
not engage in any work other than the academic activity for which you are being admitted;
not be filling a normal post or a genuine vacancy;
not stay in the UK for more than 12 months;
not intend to take employment in the UK;
intend to leave the UK at the end of your visit;
be able to maintain yourself and any dependants without having recourse to public funds (or be adequately maintained and accommodated by relatives or friends);
be able to meet the cost of your return or onward journey from the UK.
How long can I stay in the UK as an Academic Visitor?
The maximum permitted stay in this category is 12 months.

Business visitors: Doctors coming for Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board Test (PLAB)
If you are a doctor wishing to come to the UK to sit the PLAB test, you will need to satisfy the normal visitor requirements and in addition show that:
you are a graduate from a bona fide medical school and intend to sit the PLAB Test; and
you can provide documentary proof of a confirmed test date or of your eligibility to apply to sit the test; and
you do not intend to take employment whilst in the UK.
You will need to complete the VAF 2 application form if you want to apply to come to the UK to undertake a PLAB test.
Business visitors: Doctors undertaking clinical attachments. Dentists undertaking clinical observer posts
If you wish to visit the UK in either of these capacities you must:
be a graduate from a bona fide medical or dental school; and
provide documentary evidence of a clinical attachment or dental observer post which:
(a) Will involve observation only and not treatment of patients
(b) Will be unpaid;
meet the general visitor requirements of the Rules relating to visitors including:
• that you will be able to maintain and accommodate yourself and any dependants adequately without recourse to public funds; and
• that you do not intend to take up employment whilst in the UK.
How long will I be allowed to stay in the UK on a clinical attachment or as a dental observer?
You will be allowed initially to stay for 6 weeks, but may apply for further six week extensions to the UK Border Agency up to a maximum stay of 6 months.
You will need to complete the VAF 2 application form if you want to apply to come the UK to undertake a clinical attachment or dental observer post.
Business visitors: Visiting professors accompanying students undertaking study abroad programmes
If you are a professor or teacher from an overseas academic institution and you wish to come to the UK to accompany overseas students on study abroad programmes you can do so as a business visitor. Whilst in the UK, you may undertake a small amount of teaching, limited to the institution hosting the students you are supervising but must be employed and paid by the overseas academic institution and must not intend to base yourself or seek employment in the UK.

Business visitors: Religious workers
If you are a religious worker coming to the UK for a business visit (e.g to attend a conference) and undertake some preaching or pastoral work during the visit you may come to the UK as a business visitor provided that you are based abroad and do not intend to take up an office, post or appointment in the UK.
If you are coming to the UK to fill a vacancy as a religious worker for a recognised religion, and will be undertaking preaching and pastoral work you will need to qualify under Tier 2 – Ministers of Religion – of the Points Based System.
Sports visitors
Immigration Rules Paragraphs 46M - 46R
You should apply under the new sports visitor category if you are coming to the UK as a sportsperson for any of the following purposes:
a specific event, tournament, or series of events as individual competitors or as members of an overseas team (e.g. for a tour). This includes charity events, exhibition matches etc;
as an amateur coming to join and amateur team;
personal appearances and promotions such as book signings, television interviews, negotiating contracts or to discuss sponsorship deals;
a trial provided that the trial is not in front of an audience, either paying or non-paying;short periods of training, whether as an individual or as part of a team.
Examples include:
Persons coming for championships such as the British Open Golf or Wimbledon;
Touring rugby, football or cricket teams;
Boxers coming for one fight.
You may also apply as a sports visitor if you are:
a member of the technical or support staff of amateur or professional sportspeople, and you are attending the UK with them for the same event or series of events; or
an official attending the same event or series of events as the sportperson/people, e.g as an umpire.
Entertainer visitors
Immigration Rules Paragraphs 46S-46X
The new entertainer visa has been designed for those coming to the UK for a short time to take part in certain major arts festivals, music competitions and charity events.
You may apply as an entertainer visitor if you are:
A professional entertainer coming to take part in a music competition;
An internationally famous person coming to the UK to take part in broadcasts or public appearances, provided you are not being paid;
Coming to the UK for an audition provided this is not performed in front of an audience (either paying or non-paying);

An amateur entertainer seeking entry as an individual performer for a specific engagement;

amateur entertainers seeking entry as part of a group, such as a choir or youth orchestra coming for a specific engagement;

A professional entertainer taking part in a charity concert or show where the organisers are not making a profit and you are receiving no fee;

An amateur or professional entertainer taking part in a cultural event sponsored by a government or recognised international organisation, or at a major arts festival;

A member of the technical or support staff of amateur or professional entertainers, who are attending for the same event. Examples of such staff include dieticians, bodyguards and press officers;

An official attending the same event as the entertainer. Examples include choreographers, stage managers and designers.
Special visitors
Special visitors are a distinct group of different kinds of visitors as outlined in the following paragraphs.

Special visitors: Visitors for private medical treatment
Immigration Rules Paragraphs 51 - 56
You can apply for a visit visa to travel to the UK for private medical treatment. You must be able to show that you:
have made suitable arrangements for the necessary private consultation or treatment;
have enough money to pay for the treatment;
have enough money to support yourself and live without working or getting any help from public funds while you are in the UK, and
intend to leave the UK at the end of your treatment.
We may also ask you to provide the following:
A doctor’s letter giving details of your medical condition and the treatment you need.
Confirmation that you have made suitable arrangements for the private consultation or treatment and how long the treatment will last.
Evidence that you can afford to pay for the consultation and treatment.
We may also ask you to give an undertaking (in other words, a formal agreement) that you will pay for the consultation and treatment.
Can I stay more than six months for medical treatment?
If you need to stay longer than six months to complete your medical treatment you can apply to the UK Border Agency. They will charge a non-refundable fee for any extension application.

You are not allowed to enter or stay in the UK to receive treatment on the National Health Service (NHS). You must make sure that you have enough medical insurance for the whole of your stay.
Special visitors: Visitors coming to get married
Immigration Rules Paragraphs 56D - 56F
Can I get married or register a civil partnership in the UK?
If either you or your future husband, wife or civil partner are not EEA (European Economic Area) or Swiss nationals, you can visit the UK together to get married or register a civil partnership as long as you intend to leave the country within six months. If you wish to marry and live in the UK please see Guidance - Husbands, wives and partners (INF 4).
Everyone coming to the UK to get married or to register a civil partnership (except EEA and Swiss nationals) must get a visit for marriage or visit for civil partnership visa.
You will need to show evidence that you plan to enter into a marriage or civil partnership during the period for which you are granted leave (which will be for six months).
You can get married or register a civil partnership in any location licensed for the purpose of marriage or civil partnerships. Once you are both in the UK you will need to give official notice of your marriage or civil partnership at a designated register office. If you are a non-EEA or Swiss national you will have to show your entry clearance or certificate of approval to do this. You can get more information about marriage or civil partnerships and register offices from the General Register Offices:

England and Wales - http://www.gro.gov.uk/
Scotland – http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk/

Northern Ireland – http://www.groni.gov.uk/
Special visitors: Parents of children at school in the UK
Immigration Rules Paragraphs 56A-56C
You will qualify to come to the UK in this capacity if you meet the general visitor requirements 41(ii) – (xii) as set out in Paragraphs 41 of the Immigration Rules and if all of the following apply:
Your child is attending and independent fee paying school
Your child is under 12 years of age
You are not seeking to make the UK your main home.
Special visitors: Child visitors
Immigration Rules Paragraphs 46A-46F
If a child visitor is travelling to the UK without an adult (someone over the age of 18) you will need to provide:
consent for your child to travel to the UK;

evidence to show that suitable living arrangements have been made for their stay in the UK, and

contact details of the parent or guardian in the child’s home country.
If a child visitor is travelling with an adult (someone over the age of 18), the adult must be identified when the child’s visa is applied for. The adult’s name will appear on the visa and if the child arrives in the UK without that adult, they will be refused entry. Up to two adults can be identified, as long as the parent or guardian has given their consent (permission).
The child’s visa is only valid if the child travels with at least one of the adults identified on their visa.
A child visitor may undertake a short course of study as long as this is provided by an organisation which is:
the holder of a Sponsor Licence for Tier 4 of the Points Based System;
accredited by a UKBA approved accreditation body, or
an independent fee paying school registered with the Department for Children, Schools and Families.
The lists of institutions accredited by the UKBA approved bodies (Accreditation UK, BAC, ASIC and ABLS) can be found at the following websites:
Accreditation UK - a British Council scheme which offers an accreditation service for English language schools;
The British Accreditation Council (BAC) - which offers a more general accreditation service to cover a wide range of different educational establishments and their courses; and
The Accreditation Service for International Colleges (ASIC) - which also offers a general accreditation service to cover a wide range of different educational establishments and their courses.
The Accreditation Body for Language Services (ABLS) - which provides an accreditation service to a diverse range of English language providers.
The child may also participate in a short visit exchange programme with a UK school. You will need to submit full details of the school offering the programme and full details of the care arrangements in place covering the child's full stay in the UK.