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How to get a Visa for London

So, you’re planning to come to London for an extended period of time, perhaps to work, study or visiting family. It’s an exciting time – imagine living in a city where you’ll see historic sights on a daily basis!

Whoa there, tiger… Just hang on just a second. Before you get carried away with fun stuff like planning, the first thing you need to sort out is your visa. And naturally, being a bureaucratic process, there are a few hoops you need to jump through before you get that hallowed stamp in your passport.

But actually, with a little common sense and a bit of form filling, getting a visa for London isn’t all that complicated.

The first thing you need to work out is:

What type of visa do I need for London?

Visas are categorised into ‘tiers’ for the UK. They are as follows:

  • Tier 1 – Entrepreneur
  • Tier 2 – General
  • Tier 4 – (General) Student
  • Tier 5 – Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange

What we have listed here is the latest visa requirements.

Let’s look at these categories in more detail.

Tier 1 – Entrepreneur

This is a visa for anyone who comes from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) and who wishes to set up or run a business in the UK. This business could be in London, or anywhere else within the UK.

In order to apply for this visa, it’s essential to have access to at least £50,000 investment funds. Other eligibility requirements also apply.

The Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa allows you to stay for a maximum of 3 years and 4 months, after which you have to extend the visa or switch it to another category. Once you’ve been in the UK for 5 years, it’s then possible to apply for settlement, which will give you the right to remain in the country indefinitely.

This type of visa allows you to bring family members with you, such as children, a spouse or partner.

Tier 2 – General

This is the type of visa you’ll need if you’ve been offered a skilled job in the UK, and are from outside the EEA or Switzerland. It’s necessary to have a Certificate of Sponsorship from an employer who’s a licensed sponsor, and the job must pay an appropriate salary. This is generally in excess of £20,500 per year – although there are exceptions, such as for nurses, ground staff of overseas owned airlines and religious ministers.

There are different categories within the Tier 2 visa types, including a skilled worker and those who are offered a job that’s included on the shortage occupation list.

A Tier 2 visa allows you to stay for up to 5 years and 14 days (or the time specified on your certificate of sponsorship plus 1 month). In addition to the job offer, there are various other eligibility requirements in order to apply for this type of visa. Once again, you can bring family members with you if you have this type of visa.

Tier 4 – (General) Student

If you’re 16 years or over, are from outside the EEA or Switzerland and have been offered a study place on a course in the UK or London, this is the type of visa you’ll need to apply for.

Once again, there are various eligibility requirements, including a good level of English, as well as the funds to both pay for your course and be able to support yourself.

This visa allows you to arrive in the UK upto 1 week before the commencement of your course, (if your course lasts less than 6 months), and up to 1 month before if your course is longer than 6 months.

How long you can stay in the UK is dependent on the type of course and study already completed. This will be specified once the visa is granted.

Family members are not automatically included on a Student Visa, but in some circumstances they are allowed.

Tier 5 – Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange

This is the visa for those from outside the EEA and Switzerland who wish to come to the UK for a short time only. This could include for work experience, training, research, an Overseas Government Language Programme or an approved government authorized exchange scheme.

Once again, a certificate of sponsorship is necessary, as are other eligibility requirements. It’s also possible for your sponsor to provide you with a multiple entry certificate, meaning you can leave and return to the UK.

Licensed sponsors are:

  • Government agencies or departments
  • An organization running an approved exchange scheme
  • A higher education institution.

Phew! It all sounds very complicated…

Necessarily, we’ve used fairly official language to describe the different types of visas available. If English isn’t your first language, then it’s appreciated that it might be a challenge understanding all the intricacies. To this end, there are thousands of lawyers and immigration firms out there who will advise and do all the paperwork for you.

However, a word of warning. If you wish to use such a service, it’s essential to only use one who’s on the Register of Regulated Immigration Advisers – the Government approved list of all organisations regulated by the Office of the Immigrations Services Commissioner (OISC).

Some of these charge a fee, and others don’t – the list will advise which are which. You can also see a list of those who are banned from acting as immigration advisers – essential reading if you’re planning on paying for visa help.

And talking of fees, the visas themselves cost money as well. But how much depends on the type of visa you’re applying for. Full details of fees are explained on each visa type on the official Government Visa and Immigration website. Costs start from around £150 to upwards in excess of £1,000 per person (and that includes each dependent).

And remember once you’ve got your visa to work in London – it covers you for the whole of the UK. Britain might be a small country, but there’s a wealth of places to explore. Once you’ve got your visa and begin your new life in London, it’s well worth taking some time out to explore the rest of the UK. Because we may be a little biased, but we think it’s a pretty special place in the world.