Your Guide to the UK Visitor Visa
It is summer again and many families prepare for their holidays. The UK is one of the prime holiday locations for many. Rich with culture and modern entertainment alike, it has something to offer to every taste. Unfortunately, for many the excitement of planning the perfect holiday is darkened by the hurdles they will face with getting a visit visa.
With days getting hotter, so do our telephone lines with calls from across the globe, making enquiries about the visitor visas.
Some of the questions are specific for each of their circumstances, however some of the questions are repeated over and over again. I thought it would be helpful to have a short guide on Visitor Visa to the UK and its makings.
Contact Us if you need help with securing visitor visa to UK or if you have been refused one.
- Do I need a visit visa?
Whether you intend to visit a friend, a family member or simply come over as a tourist, whether you have been to the UK before or this is the first time you wish to visit it, you need to consider whether or not you are required to hold a visitor visa. We advise that you look into this before planning any holiday and making any commitments with flights and hotels in the UK.
Currently, most non-EEA nationals will require a visitor visa if they wish to visit the UK. The full list of those who require visitor visa, also known as visa nationals, can be found on the Home Office website, under Appendix V – Appendix 2. Moreover, this type of visa should be obtained before coming to the UK. If you are a visa national you will not be granted entry to the UK unless you have already applied for and were successfully granted a visitor visa. Obtaining a visitor visa on the border is not an option for visa nationals.
The above type of visa is known as Standard Visitor Visa and has number of conditions attached to it. The requirements that are linked to a successful visitor visa application, as well as the conditions that one must respect after they were granted such a visa are extremely important. Failure to observe those is what can lead to your carefully planned holiday being ruined.
Hence, it is very important to prepare the visitor visa application carefully and get relevant advice. Furthermore, understanding your rights and obligations, as well as limitations attached to your visa is crucial. An experienced immigration solicitor can help you with all of the above. As in everything, getting things right from the first time is easier and less costly then trying to fix a failure.
- How long is Visitor Visa valid for?
The standard Visitor Visa is issued with any of the following validities:
– 6 months
– 2 years
– 5 years
– 10 years
Unless you apply specifically for a longer-term Visitor Visa you will be granted a visa with a 6 months validity. The fees for visas of longer validity are higher and you need to be able to demonstrate that you require these longer visas. For instance, if you have a close family member that you wish to visit regularly, a visa with a longer validity will be suitable. Similarly, if you have business interests in the UK that require your presence etc, are likely to lead to a grant of a long-term visit visa.
Irrespective of the length of the validity of the Visitor Visa, you will be allowed to visit the country as many times as required, provided you do not exceed the allowed time to spend in the UK. This point leads to the next frequently asked question.
- How long can I stay in the UK?
No matter whether you have a visa valid for 6 months or 10 years there are specific limits to how long you can stay in the UK. The length of the stay, is in fact, one of the biggest traps for those who come to the UK on Visitor Visa. Very often they are given an incomplete advice or rely on the generic information found on the Home Office website that seems to suggest that a visitor is allowed to stay in the UK for up to 6 months.
As mentioned, the above information is not really accurate. It is true that currently the Immigration Rules have clarified that most of the Standard visas are granted for a maximum length of stay for 6 months. There are exceptions to this and if you are coming to the UK to undertake academic activities, paid engagements or medical treatment, you should seek professional advice. However what needs to be clearly stated is that the 6 month is a maximum amount of time in 12 months. This does not automatically mean that you can stay the entire 6 months.
In the past, we have seen many situations where subsequent visa applications are refused, because the applicants had declared on their visit visa application that they were going to be staying in the UK, for instance, for two weeks. Then relying on the information from friends, family, Home Office or even sometimes lawyers, they stayed for several months and then returned to their country of origin safe in the knowledge that they did not exceed the allowable 6 months. The problem that arises here comes from a text in the Rules that allows for the applications to be refused is the applicant has misled the Home Office in any way. Therefore, your next application may well be refused, as the Entry Clearance officer can refer to the fact that your previous visit was for much longer than you initially declared. There also can be some genuineness issues, for instance where you have mentioned an employment but then remained in the UK for several months. This will indicate that your employment might not have been genuine, as such a long absence from work is very hard to justify.
It is impossible to discuss all the scenarios here. It is, therefore very important that you discuss in detail your plans with an immigration expert, who will then advise you on how to formulate your application and what to do in the UK, to assure that you will not face any issues in the future.
If you recognise yourself in any of the scenarios mentioned above, you should make sure you get legal advice before applying for any UK visa, so that the damage can be contained. An experienced immigration lawyer will be able to guide you on how to address these issues in your new application so that your chances of success are maximised.
- What can I do and what can I not do on visitor visa?
There are many limitations of the activities one may undertake once in the UK on a visitor visa.
As a rule of thumb, no paid activities are allowed, unless they are expressly permitted. In general, working, whether paid or unpaid, is also disallowed. The purpose of the present article is to cover the more generic scenarios, therefore we will not go into detail.
The Immigration Rules contain an explicit list of the activities that are permitted. It is a detailed list and reproducing it here is not sensible. However, as a general idea, tourism, leisure, visiting family and friends is, of course, permitted. Other permitted activities are certain business-related, work-related, academic and research-related activities. Private medical treatment is another area that is permitted.
In general, if you intend to visit the UK for any other purpose that tourism or visiting friends, family, it is wise to seek legal advice, as it is easy to fall foul of Immigration Rules simply due to not knowing or understanding the limitations attached to your leave to enter. As explained above, this can be fraught with serious consequences in the future.
- What are the chances of success?
Since the introduction of the new Immigration Rules in relation to the Visitor Visa, the refusal rate of these visas has spiked significantly. Getting a visitor visa for the nationals of certain countries is even more difficult. For the nationals of the countries that are associated with higher security risks, the refusal rated are considerably higher than for everyone else. If there is a previous refusal, then the risk of a new refusal is even higher. In any event, without full assessment of each individual case, it is not possible to give an accurate prognosis of your chances of success. However, I can confidently say that with good preparation and solid knowledge of the Immigration Rules and Home Office practices, the chances of success are much higher.
- My visitor Visa has been refused, what can I do?
As with the previous question, there is no one size fits all solution to this problem. However, a refusal does not mean that you should give up on getting a visitor visa.
While my recommendation is to try and get it right from the first time, I am acutely aware that in most cases it is when they have failed that people will look for a professional help. Myself and our entire immigration team has gained a vast amount of experience in dealing with refusals.
To discuss possible remedies for Visitor Visa refusal, we first must look at the most common reasons for refusals:
– Failing to provide relevant documentary evidence or evidence is in wrong format. – depending on your individual circumstances, you must provide certain type of evidence to the Entry Clearance Officer to prove that you are a genuine visitor, you intend to carry out the activities you have despaired in your application and you will return back to your country of origin at the end of your visit. This sounds simple, too simple in fact. So simple that many fail to identify the correct evidence that needs to be provided.
– Failing to prove you are genuine visitor – one of the main requirements is to demonstrate that you are a genuine visitor and that you will return to your country after the visit. This is mostly done by providing documentary evidence and evidencing your background, or explaining any issues in it that can lead to a contrary conclusion.
– Failing to disclose pertinent information – whether it is an activity you intend to undertake in the UK, a previous refusal, a bad immigration history, a misinformation provided on a previous application etc, these type of issues should be disclosed to the Home Office, or you risk not only a refusal, but up to 10 years ban on entering the UK. Always provide all the information openly and frankly to your solicitor, who will then advise you on how to tackle the issues arising from it.
– Relying on information from unqualified sources – many clients come to us with refusals because they followed advice from friends, family or unqualified people who pose into immigration experts. When relying on an advice, always keep in mind that in the UK only the solicitors and OISC regulated immigration advisers are authorised to provide immigration advice. Relying on self-proclaimed experts, without verifiable qualifications can turn out to be very costly.
– Replying on information from Home Office website – the Home Office website is not designed to provide accurate legal advice. It is generic and often-times dated. All legal advice should be taken only from qualified professionals who have a demonstrable track of expertise in the area of UK immigration.
Of course there are may more reasons for refusals, but the above are the most common. In any event, on each separate occasion, a solicitor must see the refusal letter, discuss with you your particular circumstances before giving you an advice on how to go forward. If you are offered a solution prior to these steps, it is a clear indication that the advice you are getting is incorrect and unprofessional.
Generally, once the application is refused, you have two options:
– reapply, or
– challenging the refusal.
Challenging the refusal can be very costly and will not always have any merits. This is why, making a fresh application, in most cases, will be more appropriate. The fresh application will need to address all the issues that led to a failure, otherwise it is pointless.
As the famous saying goes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Surprisingly, I’ve seen enough of such insanity in my practice, where the clients came to me after several refusals, due to the fact that they had been advised to put in fresh application, without correcting the outstanding issues.
In cases where the fresh application will clearly fail or is not practicable, for instance if there is a ban in place or such other, changeling the refusal will be the only option. This will be done through a Judicial Review proceedings. These proceedings are costly and time consuming, as such, detailed assessment of merits of the case is necessary. However, if there are merits to taking this route, the first step into this proceedings, should be serving the Home Office with pre-action letter, can prove to be the only necessary step to produce results. If this letter is successful, then the time and costs of the proceedings will be kept to minimal.
In all cases, I advise to not dismiss the possibility of bringing a Judicial Review challenge to a refusal without proper analysis or the case and attempting to resolve it through the pre-action letter.
Contact Us if you need help with securing visitor visa to UK or if you have been refused one.