UK Visa for Study, Work, Investment & Family – The Complete Guide

UK Visa application guide illustration

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

This is the complete guide to applying for a UK visa for study, work and families wanting to come to the United Kingdom for a long-term stay in Great Britain.

This guide goes through the steps you need to follow to make a valid UK visa application.

The British government grants around 3 million visas a year to workers, students and their families.

Students take the biggest share, with 38 per cent of all visas snapped up by foreign youngsters attending colleges and universities ranked among some of the best in the world.

Another 18 per cent – around 550,000 visas – go to workers. Six per cent – about 185,000 – are offered to families to join visa holders already in the UK. 

Tourists and other visitors account for the rest.

Although the UK opens borders to millions of people every year, tens of thousands more fail to gain permission to enter the country. 

Many of these rejections come from failing to complete the visa application correctly.

Choosing The Right UK Visa

You will likely need a visa to come to Britain for work, study, or join your family.

Choosing the correct visa depends on several factors, including:

  • The country where you come from
  • The reason you want to come to Britain
  • How long you will stay
  • Your circumstances and skill-set

It’s a good idea to check if you need a visa, what type, and apply before your trip. 

You can check what type of visa you need with a free online tool that confirms your status by asking a couple of simple questions.

Coming to the UK from Ireland or Europe?

Irish nationals do not need a visa to come to the UK.

Nationals from the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein living in the UK before December 31, 2020, may have a right to stay under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Those arriving on or after January 1, 2021, must follow the same visa application route as non-European Economic Area nationals.

UK Study, Work, Investment And Family Visas

If you come to the UK for a holiday, to visit family or friends, or for a business or study trip lasting less than six months, you can apply for a Standard Visitor Visa.

You cannot work for a UK employer with a standard visa.

If you are coming to the UK to marry, you should apply for a Marriage Visitor Visa.

UK study visas

The study visa you apply for depends on the time you intend to spend in the Uk, the type of course and the school, college or university you will attend.

Short-term UK Study Visas 

These types of visa’s are for students learning English on a course lasting between six and 11 months. If your course is shorter than 11 months, you can stay in the UK for the length of the course plus 30 days.

Follow this link to the official Government site – gov.uk

Student Visas 

These are for courses of more than 12 months. To apply, you must be aged 16 or over, have a confirmed place and sponsorship from an approved college or university.

In addition, your application must show you have enough money to support yourself while in the UK and have a good understanding of written and spoken English.

If you are under 18, you should have written consent to come to the UK from a parent or guardian.

Follow this link to the official Government site – gov.uk

Child Student UK Visas 

Visa type for four to 17 year-olds enrolled at independent schools. Your application should show you have enough money to support yourself and consent from a parent or guardian to come to the UK.

Follow this link to the official Government site – gov.uk

A student or child student visa may allow you to take a part-time job if you are 16 or over.

UK Work and Investment Visas

The UK offers a wide range of work visas depending on your skills, the type of work you do and how long you intend to stay in Britain.

Entrepreneurs and investors can also start up a business or stake cash in a company.

Six visas are for temporary workers, five for entrepreneurs and investors, with another 16 visas for long-term workers and workers with special circumstances, such as sportspeople, graduates, skilled workers and religious ministers.

Wealthy investors can also look at the Tier 1 Investor Visa who want to make a financial investment into the UK and in return get permanent residency status in Great Britain.

Joining Family In The UK

You can visit family or friends in the UK for up to six months on a Standard Visitor Visa.

For longer stays, you can apply for a family visa to live with a:

  • Spouse or partner
  • Fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner
  • Child
  • Parent
  • Carer, who is a relative

If you are already in the UK, you can apply to bring your family into the country or switch your visa.

You cannot apply for a family visa if you want to join someone in the UK as a temporary worker or student. 

To understand more about this type of visa, check out the guide to the Family Visa UK.

Making A UK Visa Application

The UK has an online platform that lets you apply and pay for most visas.

You can make an application three months before your travel date to the UK. The system accepts Student and Child Student applications up to six months before travel.

An online visa fee calculator will estimate how much you must pay on application. 

Besides the application fee, you may have to pay a healthcare surcharge.

What is the healthcare surcharge?

The healthcare surcharge or immigration health surcharge (HIS) lets you make an appointment with a doctor or have treatment at a clinic or hospital.

You still need to pay for other treatments, like dental care, eye tests and prescriptions.

The surcharge is collected with your visa application fee if:

  • Your visa runs for more than six months, and you are outside the UK. If you receive medical treatment while in the UK, you must pay for the service 
  • If you apply for a visa from inside the UK

The surcharge still applies even if you have private medical cover.

How much is the healthcare surcharge?

The healthcare surcharge varies depending on the type of visa and time you will spend in the UK:

Type of visaYearly chargeTime in the UK
Anyone aged under 18£470example a two-year visa healthcare surcharge costs £940
Student visa
Youth Mobility Scheme visa
Anyone aged over 18£624example a five-year visa healthcare surcharge costs £3,120
Source: Home Office

You must pay the healthcare surcharge online

Taking A Tuberculosis Test

Tuberculosis (TB) is a highly infectious illness spread by coughing and sneezing.

Not everyone coming to the UK has to take a tuberculosis test (TB).

If you have lived for six months or more in one of several listed countries, you must provide a certificate showing you do not have the disease.

The TB Red List covered 100 countries

You must take the test at an approved clinic. However, some countries do not have an approved clinic, so you must go to another country for the check.

The clinic will take a chest X-ray to check for TB. 

  • If you do not have TB, the clinic issue a pass certificate valid for six months. You should include the certificate with your visa application
  • If the result is unclear, you may have to take further tests.

You do not need to take the test if:

  • You are a UK resident returning to Britain after no more than two years overseas
  • You lived for six months or more in a country that’s not on the TB red list, and you have stayed away from that country for less than six months
  • You are an accredited diplomat in the UK

TB tests for children and pregnant women

Take your children to an approved clinic to complete a medical questionnaire to decide if they need a chest X-ray.

If the clinic decides your child does not have TB, a pass certificate is issued.

The clinics can make special arrangements for pregnant women, including 

  • An X-ray with extra shielding
  • Waiting until after delivery for the X-ray 
  • Taking a sputum test that involves coughing up phlegm
  • Assessing an X-ray taken at an approved clinic within the past three months

Proving Your Identity For A UK Visa Application

You may need to provide copies of passports, identification papers or other official documents to prove your identity as part of your visa application.

A professional, like a solicitor or someone of ‘good standing’, should certify the copies. 

A person of good standing includes:

  • A bank official
  • Councillor
  • Minister of religion
  • Dentist
  • Chartered accountant
  • Solicitor or notary
  • Teacher or lecturer

But do not ask someone who is:

  • Related to you
  • Living at the same address
  • In a relationship with you

Take the original and copy to the person certifying the document.

They should write ‘Certified to be a true copy of the original seen by me’ on the copy, then sign and date the declaration. Under the declaration, they should print their name, their occupation, address and telephone number.

The procedure is slightly different for a certified translation.

You need a certified translation of any document not written in English or Welsh that is part of your visa application.

The translator should include the declaration ‘This is a true and accurate translation of the original document’, date the translation, and print their name, address, and contact details.

The UK government publishes a list of English-speaking translators and interpreters based overseas.

What Is A Visa Application Centre?

A visa application centre is a middle man appointed by the government to help with logging and checking visa applications.

The visa application centre (VAC) does not decide to grant or withhold a visa – this power stays with immigration officials.

Staff at the VAC will accept and check your visa application before sending the documents to the UK embassy or consulate for processing.

The VAC will also scan documents and take fingerprints and photographs for biometric residence permits.

The VAC will charge for help with your visa application and offer related services at an extra cost.

In most cases, the UK government directs visa applicants to a VAC.

Although there are more than 130 VACs worldwide, not every country has one. If you live somewhere without the service, you must travel to another country to continue your visa application.

You can find a list of UK visa application centres online. The list includes information about costs and services.

What are Visa and Immigration Service and Support Centres?

Visa and Immigration Service and Support Centres – known as SSC for short –  are hubs for processing visa applications from within the UK.

If you are switching or extending a visa or applying for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK, the immigration service may ask you to attend an SSC.

The SSC appointment is to carry out administrative tasks related to a visa application. Therefore, you will not get a decision on the day.

SSC appointments

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will tell you by email or post if you need an SSC appointment.

If your application is for you and your family, everyone named on the visa application must attend at the same time.

Many of the appointments gather biometric data – your fingerprints and photograph – for a residence permit.

If you have already provided fingerprints, they are reusable.

You can also upload your photo and ID documents with an online tool if you pay for a priority service, which avoids making an appointment.

UKVI will take you through confirming your ID with an app, which means no appointment is needed.

Visiting the SSC with a child

If you are a responsible adult for a child aged 16 or under, you must still attend the appointment with them even if your fingerprints are reusable. Children younger than five years old do not give fingerprints or a signature.

You must bring proof of responsibility for the child from the parent, guardian or the child’s carer.

What happens at your appointment

At your appointment, UKVI staff will:

  • Take your fingerprints and photograph. The process is digital, so don’t worry about ink or mess on your hands
  • Check your identity and signature against the documents you submit. Identity documents include a photo driving licence, passport, national ID card or UK biometric residence permit
  • Check your visa application is complete
  • Scan your documents if you have not done this online
  • Discuss the progress of your application

If you only give biometric data, the appointment lasts around 15 minutes, otherwise schedule up to two hours at the centre.

You do not need to take off head coverings worn for medical or religious reasons.

Finding your nearest SSC

UKVI has seven SSCs in cities around the country – the complete list, including addresses, is here

None have parking, but all are accessible to wheelchair users.

The UK Immigration: ID Check App

The UK Immigration: ID Check app is a way to prove your ID without going to a Visa Application Centre.

The app confirms an ID document is genuine and verifies who you are.

You are told to download the app as part of your visa application.

Instructions on how to use the app are on the UK government website

Knowledge Of English

You may have to show you have a good knowledge of English when you apply for a visa.

To prove your language skills, you can either provide an academic qualification or take a test.

Speaking English to a good standard is not enough to pass the test – you must understand, read and write English well, too.

You will need to show your academic qualification or take the test if you apply for one of these visas:

  • Innovator
  • Start-Up
  • Skilled worker
  • Minister of Religion
  • Student

You do not need to prove your knowledge if:

  • You are a child
  • A relative will care for you in the UK
  • You are a spouse or parent extending a family visa after spending at least five years in the UK
  • You have a condition that stops you from taking the test

You don’t have to prove your knowledge of English if you were born and brought up in one of these countries:

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Canada
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Jamaica
  • Malta
  • New Zealand
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • USA

Academic proof of your knowledge of English

A degree or other academic qualification taught or researched in English shows you have a good knowledge of the language – providing the degree is from a UK university or college.

If the degree or qualification is from outside the UK, you need one of two types of certificates that show your qualification is equivalent to a UK degree and was taught in English.

The ‘statement of comparability’ assesses overseas school qualifications against UK GCSEs if you gained your qualifications in:

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • the Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Ireland
  • Jamaica
  • Malta
  • New Zealand
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • USA

You should apply for a ‘visa and nationality statement’ for qualifications gained in any other country

Taking the language test

A limited set of providers offer the English language test, so make sure you book with the right company.

In the UK, the options are:

  • IELTS SELT Consortium
  • LanguageCert
  • Pearson
  • Trinity College London

Abroad, the providers to look for are:

  • IELTS SELT Consortium
  • LanguageCert
  • Pearson
  • PSI Services (UK) Ltd

Also, check you are taking the correct test. The choices are:

  • IELTS SELT Consortium: ‘IELTS for UKVI’ or ‘IELTS Life Skills’
  • LanguageCert: ‘LanguageCert International ESOL SELT’
  • Pearson: ‘PTE Academic UKVI’ or ‘PTE Home’
  • PSI Services: ‘Skills for English UKVI’
  • Trinity College London: ‘Secure English Language Tests for UKVI’ – Integrated Skills in English (ISE) or Graded Examinations in Spoken English (GESE)

To pass,  your test must be on the approved list,  taken at an authorised testing centre and awarded no more than two years before your visa application.

For more information about taking the test and the locations of authorised testing centres, follow these links:

If you are in the UK

  • IELTS SELT Consortium
  • LanguageCert
  • Pearson
  • Trinity College London

If you are outside of the UK

  • IELTS SELT Consortium
  • LanguageCert
  • Pearson
  • PSI Services (UK) Ltd

Proving your identity for the English test

You must prove your identity before taking the English test. To do so, show one of these documents – and it should be an original, not a copy:

  • Passport
  • UK biometric residence card or permit
  • A convention travel document
  • Stateless persons travel document
  • A valid government-issued identity card 

Criminal Record Checks

A criminal record certificate proves a visa applicant has no record or lists details of past offences and arrests pending prosecution.

If required, you must provide a valid certificate for the country where you live and each country where you stayed for six months or more in the ten years before the visa application date since you turned 18 years old.

The UK Visa Application Decision

Your visa application decision will arrive by letter or email.

You will also receive a vignetter or sticker that goes in your passport or a code to view your UK immigration status online.

Your status shows:

  • Your visa type
  • Start and end dates
  • Any conditions, such as your right to work or claim benefits

If your visa application fails, you can seek an administrative review or appeal the decision.

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