What are the most common types of UK Visas?

A visa is an authorising document in your passport that gives worldwide citizens the right to enter, temporarily stay, or live in a different country. A UK Visa is granted by a UK high commission or embassy in your country of residence and is usually in the form of either a paper vignette in your passport or a document.

Before entering the UK, you must ensure that you have applied and been approved for the relevant UK Visa to carry out your intended activity. Eligibility for a UK Visa being issued means that you meet the eligibility requirements of the particular visa type or category that you have applied for.

Types of UK Visas

There are various types of UK visas, and the category you should apply under is determined by several factors, including your nationality, the length of your stay and your reason for travelling to the UK.

Some of the different reasons why people want to apply for a UK visa include:

  • To join their spouse or family member who is already in the UK
  • To study
  • To work or start a business in the UK
  • To live permanently
  • To visit the UK/Go on holiday to the UK
  • To transit through the UK to another country
  • They are a refugee, someone seeking asylum, or a person who needs humanitarian protection
  • They are a stateless person

We will discuss the top four reasons in more detail, and outline what the visa means and what limitations that visa type may entail.

A UK Spouse Visa

A UK Spouse Visa allows the applicant to join their British partner or partner holding an Indefinite Leave to Remain Visa (otherwise known as a sponsor) in the UK for 33 months.

To qualify for a UK Spouse Visa, the dependent and sponsor must meet the following requirements:

  • They must both be 18 years or older
  • They must have met each other and legally married – this is to prevent marriages of convenience
  • They must provide documentation to prove they are in a genuine relationship
  • The sponsor must meet the financial requirement (earning a minimum of £18,600 per annum or holding daily savings of more than £62,500 for six months)
  • The spouse applying for the visa must satisfy the minimum English language requirements (approved English Language Test such as IELTS UKVI with a min score of CEFR A1)
  • There must be suitable accommodation and enough money to support themselves in the UK

Once the Spouse Visa has been granted, the applicant will be eligible to work or study in the UK. However, having a Spouse Visa has certain limitations, which includes not being able to claim most benefits, tax credits, or housing assistance from the UK government.

A UK Tier 4 (General) Student Visa

A Tier 4 (General) Student Visa is available for international students from outside the UK or the EU, who intend to study a full-time degree course in the UK. Student Visas are not issued for part-time courses. To be approved, there are specific requirements that the potential student must meet, and their eligibility is calculated using a points-based rules system, called a Tier 4 (General) Student Visa.

To qualify, the student must achieve a minimum of 40 points according to the points-based assessment criteria. Points are awarded as follows:

  • 30 points for receiving a Confirmation of Acceptance for studies (CAS) from a university, approved by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), who will act as the students’ qualifying sponsor.
  • 10 points for providing proof of funding. The student must be able to provide evidence that they have sufficient funds to cover the course fee and their living expenses while studying in the UK.

This visa type allows the student the right to enter and reside in the UK, to complete their course at a specific institution, and for the duration until their course is completed. Students can work part-time for a specified number of hours during term-time. The maximum work hours limit ranges from 10 hours to 20 hours, depending on the level of the course they are studying.

Limitations associated with this visa include not being able to use it as a route to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) or British Citizenship via Naturalisation.

A Tier 2 (General) Visa – sponsored by a UK employer to work for them in the UK

In order to obtain a visa to work in the UK, applicants require sponsorship from a UK-based employer that has a Sponsor License issued to them by the UK Visas and Immigration (the UKVI) to show that they have been offered a suitable job. Once a job has been secured, the applicant must apply online for the Tier 2 (General) Visa, from the UK Visas and Immigration service, or through the UK Visa application centre in their home country. An application for a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) is also essential if the applicant is required to stay and work for longer than 6 months.

Eligibility for a Tier 2 (General) Visa is determined by the number of points scored on the UK points system. Points are awarded for the following in this system:

  • Qualifications
  • Future expected earnings
  • Sponsorship
  • English language skills
  • Self-provided funds

There are several different types of UK Work Visas currently available:

  • Tier 1 visa for exceptional talent: For recognised leaders in STEM and the arts. Applicants need to be endorsed by the UK Home office and only 1,000 of these visas are issued each year. This category of visa is valid for 5 years.
  • Tier 2 visa for general work: For those who have been offered a skilled job (minimum £30,000 annual salary) and have been sponsored by a licensed organisation related to their employment. This category of visa is valid for up to 6 years (unless your earnings are approximately £160,000 or more, in which case, you can extend for longer).
  • Tier 2 visa for intra-company transfer: For those whose overseas employer has offered to transfer them to a UK branch, on condition of sponsorship. Valid between 6 months to 9 years (depending on the job position). Please note that this category of UK Visa does not qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain under the 5-year qualifying rule but does count towards ILR based on 10-years Log Residence.
  • Tier 5 visa for a temporary worker: For those engaging in temporary work as a charity volunteer, a sports person, a creative worker, a religious worker, or even a government authorised exchange, providing sponsorship has been secured. Valid between 1-2 years (depending on purpose).

Casual jobs or low-skilled employment are currently not eligible to be categorised for a UK Work Visa, so it is not possible to enter the UK on another type of visa and take up casual, temporary, or low-skilled work.

Indefinite Leave to Remain

Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), otherwise referred to as ‘Permanent Residence’, is available for a foreign national who meets the requirements and wishes to reside in the UK indefinitely. An ILR Visa allows the applicant to live and work in the UK without restriction indefinitely.

Some visa categories that can lead to ILR include:

  • A UK Spouse Visa, Civil Partner Visa, Unmarried Partner Visa or Same-sex Partner Visa
  • A UK Ancestry Visa
  • Long residence (after 10 years of legal residency in the UK)

There are specific criteria that must be satisfied to qualify for ILR; these include:

  • A complete 5 years of continuous lawful residence in the UK and adherence to certain income requirements
  • Keeping a detailed record of any absences from the UK over the last 5 years and not leaving the UK for more than 180 days in any given 12-month period during the 5-year qualifying period
  • Demonstration of a good Knowledge of Language and Life (KoLL) in the UK, bypassing the compulsory 45-minute test on ‘Life in the UK’.

Although ILR has no time limit on the duration period in the UK, it is recommended not to spend periods of more than 2 years outside of the UK in a single trip, as this could lead to the loss of your ILR Visa status.


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