- Where to find law and policy on visit visas
- Administrative requirements for a visit visa
- What is a visitor anyway?
- Categories of visit visa
- Suitability requirements for visitors
- What can and can’t visitors do in the UK?
- Extension of stay as a visitor
- Cancellation and curtailment of visit visas
A visit visa is a visa allowing a person to visit the United Kingdom for up to six months at a time, during which time they are not allowed to work. Visa nationals have to apply for and be granted a visit visa before they travel otherwise they will automatically be refused entry. Non-visa nationals can apply for a visit visa when they arrive at the UK border at a port or airport. The list of visa and non-visa nationals is contained in a document called the immigration rules along with the lists of permitted and prohibited activities for visitors and the other conditions of a visit visa, such as no recourse to public funds.
Immigration rules for visitors travelling to the United Kingdom are frequently updated by the Home Office. Appendix V: Visitor has been in effect since 24 April 2015, following the codification of the Visitor route under the appendix system. As visitors make up the largest percentage of people entering the UK at the time of writing, it is important to understand the structure and content of this section of the immigration rules.
Where to find law and policy on visit visas
Appendix V to the immigration rules sets out the formal legal requirements for visitors. Also relevant to Visitors are the following related appendices:
- Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities;
- Appendix Visitor: Visa national list;
- Appendix Visitor: Permit Free Festival List; and
- Appendix Visitor: Transit Without Visa Scheme
The Home Office also publishes guidance for its own staff on how to make decisions and apply the law (Visit Guidance and Considering human rights claims in visit applications) and also guidance for applicants on what documents to submit with an application (Visit visa: guide to supporting documents).
Administrative requirements for a visit visa
The entry requirements are set out at paragraphs V 1.1 to V 1.4. These explain the need to obtain permission to enter the UK with either a visit visa or leave to enter, that visa nationals must apply for a visit visa before travelling and that non-visa nationals may apply before travelling but do not need to except in certain circumstances.
Paragraphs V 2.1 to V 2.6 tell an applicant about validity requirements for entry clearance from overseas or permission to stay from within the UK, including how to make a visit visa application (apply online, pay the fee, etc.), where entry clearance and permission to stay applications can be submitted and that applications which do not meet all validity requirements may be rejected.
What is a visitor anyway?
The introduction to Appendix V opens with a pithy and plain language definition of what a visitor is and is not considered to be:
This route is for a person who wants to visit the UK for a temporary period, (usually for up to 6 months), for purposes such as tourism, visiting friends or family, carrying out a business activity, or undertaking a short course of study…
Visitors cannot work in the UK unless this is expressly allowed under the permitted activities set out in Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities.
The rest of Appendix V then struggles to define in both positive and negative terms what a visitor is and is not, drawing on Austen-esque language such as ‘suitability’ and ‘eligibility’ and subcategorising different types of visitor.
The eligibility requirements are set out at paragraphs V 4.1 to V 4.6. These attempt to define what a visitor is and is not with the “genuine intention to visit” requirement and require that the applicant meet all of the following criteria:
a) will leave the UK at the end of their visit; and
b) will not live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits, or make the UK their main home; and
c) is genuinely seeking entry or stay for a purpose that is permitted under the Visitor route as set out in Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities and at V 13.3; and
d) will not undertake any of the prohibited activities set out in V 4.4. to V 4.6.; and
e) must have sufficient funds to cover all reasonable costs in relation to their visit without working or accessing public funds, including the cost of the return or onward journey, any costs relating to their dependants, and the cost of planned activities such as private medical treatment. The applicant must show that any funds they rely upon are held in a financial institution permitted under FIN 2.1 in Appendix Finance.
The funds can be provided by a third party — often referred to as a sponsor — if the third party has a genuine professional or personal relationship with the visitor, is legally present in the UK (or will be at the time of the visitor’s entry) and can and will provide support for the intended duration of the visitor’s stay: see paragraph V 4.3. An undertaking may be requested of the sponsor.
These requirements apply to all the categories of visitors, but some of the different categories also have additional criteria they must meet, described below.
Categories of visit visa
There are four categories under the visitor route:
- Standard Visitor;
- Marriage/Civil Partnership Visitor;
- Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE) Visitor; and
- Transit Visitor.
Different periods of leave might be granted to different types of visitors:
|Type of visit||Maximum length of stay|
|Standard Visitor||Up to 6 months, except: (i) a visitor who is coming to the UK for private medical treatment may be granted a visit visa of up to 11 months; or (ii) an academic, who is employed by an overseas institution and is carrying out the specific permitted activities in Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities at PA 11.2, along with their spouse or partner and children, may be granted a visit visa of up to 12 months; or (iii) a visitor under the approved destination status agreement may be granted a visit visa for a period of up to 30 days.|
|Marriage/Civil Partnership Visitor||Up to six months|
|Permitted Paid Engagement Visitor||Up to one month|
|Transit Visitor||Up to 48 hours, except for leave to enter as a transit visitor under the Transit Without Visa Scheme which may be granted until 23:59 hours on the next day after the day the applicant arrived.|
Here we can see that the supposed simplicity of the new visit visa categories breaks down and we can see that there are some subcategories. Standard visitors and transit visitors both have different subcategories of visitors within them.
Standard visit visas
The “standard visitor” category actually includes several subcategories each of which has additional qualifying criteria. Basically, if a visitor is coming to the UK as a visitor for one of several defined reasons as set out below they will have to meet certain additional requirements over and above a normal standard visitor. If not coming to the UK for one of the defined reasons then the visitor will be a true “standard” visitor.
Child visit visa
The additional requirements if the visitor is a child are:
- Adequate arrangements must have been made for their travel to, reception and care in the UK.
- If the applicant is not applying or travelling with a parent or guardian based in their home country or country of ordinary residence who is responsible for their care; that parent or guardian must confirm that they consent to the arrangements for the child’s travel to, and reception and care in the UK. Where requested, this consent must be given in writing.
- A child who holds a visit visa must either:
- hold a valid visit visa that states they are accompanied and will be travelling with an adult identified on that visit visa; or
- hold a visit visa which states they are unaccompanied;
if neither applies, the child may be refused entry unless they meet the requirements of the previous paragraph.
Private medical treatment visit visa
The additional requirements if the visitor is a private medical treatment visitor are:
- If the applicant is suffering from a communicable disease, they must have satisfied the medical inspector that they are not a danger to public health.
- The applicant must have arranged their private medical treatment before they travel to the UK, and must provide a letter from their doctor or consultant detailing:
- the medical condition requiring consultation or treatment; and
- the estimated costs and likely duration of any treatment which must be of a finite duration; and
- where the consultation or treatment will take place.
- If the applicant is applying for an 11 month visit visa for the purposes of private medical treatment they must also:
- provide evidence from their medical practitioner in the UK and overseas, if relevant, that the proposed treatment is likely to exceed 6 months but not more than 11 months; and
- provide a valid tuberculosis certificate if required.
Organ donor visit visa
Quite why the Home Office seems so obsessed with the idea that some people might pretend to be an organ donor for the nefarious purpose of obtaining a visit visa to the UK is quite a mystery. Arguably, Home Office resources might be better used then in drafting and enforcing these particular rules. In any event, the additional requirements if the visitor is intending to donate an organ are:
- An applicant must satisfy the decision maker that they genuinely intend to donate an organ, or be assessed as a potential organ donor, to an identified recipient in the UK with whom they have a genetic or close personal relationship.
- The applicant must provide written confirmation of medical tests to show that they are a donor match to the identified recipient, or that they are undergoing further tests to be assessed as a potential donor to the identified recipient.
- The applicant must provide a letter, dated no more than three months prior to the applicant’s intended date of arrival in the UK from either:
- the lead nurse or coordinator of the UK’s NHS Trust’s Living Donor Kidney Transplant team; or
- a UK registered medical practitioner who holds an NHS consultant post or who appears in the Specialist Register of the General Medical Council; which confirms that the visitor meets the requirements medical and confirms when and where the planned organ transplant or medical tests will take place.
- The applicant must be able to demonstrate, if required to do so, that the identified recipient is legally present in the United Kingdom or will be at the time of the planned organ transplant.
Agreement with China
An applicant under the approved destination status agreement with China must:
- be a national of the People’s Republic of China; and
- intend to enter, leave and travel within the UK as a member of a tourist group under the agreement.
Academic seeking a 12 month visit visa
An academic applying for a 12 month visit visa (standard) must:
- be highly qualified within their own field of expertise; and
- currently working in that field at an academic institution or institution of higher education overseas; and
- provide a tuberculosis certificate if required
Marriage and civil partnership visit visa
Marriage and civil partnership visitors must also meet the additional eligibility requirements set out at paragraphs V 12.1 to V 12.2. These are that they must hold a valid visit visa as a marriage and civil partner visitor and:
(a) intend to give notice of marriage or civil partnership; or
(b) intend to marry or form a civil partnership; and
(c) do not intend to give notice of or enter into a sham marriage or sham civil partnership, within the validity period covered by their visit visa.
Permitted Paid Engagement (PPE) visit visa
PPE visitors must also meet the additional eligibility requirements set out at paragraph V 13.2, which is that they must intend to do one (or more) of the permitted paid engagements set out in paragraph V 13.3.
a) an academic who is highly qualified within their field of expertise, coming to examine students and/or participate in or chair selection panels, and have been invited by a UK higher education institution, or a UK-based research or arts organisation as part of that institution or organisation’s quality assurance processes; and
b) an expert coming to give lectures in their subject area, where they have been invited by a higher education institution, or a UK-based research or arts organisation, and this does not amount to filling a teaching position for the host organisation; and
c) an overseas designated pilot examiner coming to assess UK-based pilots to ensure they meet the national aviation regulatory requirements of other countries, where they have been invited by an approved training organisation based in the UK that is regulated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority for that purpose; and
d) a qualified lawyer coming to provide advocacy for a court or tribunal hearing, arbitration or other form of dispute resolution for legal proceedings within the UK, where they have been invited by a client; and
e) a professional artist, entertainer, or musician coming to carry out an activity directly relating to their profession, where they have been invited by a creative (arts or entertainment) organisation, agent or broadcaster based in the UK; and
f) a Professional Sportsperson coming to carry out an activity directly relating to their profession, where they have been invited by a sports organisation, agent, or broadcaster based in the UK.
Children cannot be PPE visitors.
Transit visit visa
Paragraphs V 14.1 to V 14.2 provides the additional eligibility requirements for transit visitors, who are defined as follows:
A transit visitor is a person who seeks to travel via the UK en route to another destination country outside the common travel area.
Reference is made to Direct Airside Transit Visas which can be obtained if the traveller will stay “airside” and never formally enter the UK. Otherwise, a transit visit visa must be applied for in advance of travel or those who qualify for the transit without visa scheme can apply for leave to enter on arrival.
To qualify for entry clearance or permission to enter as a Transit Visitor, the traveller must show they:
a) are genuinely in transit to another country outside the Common Travel Area, meaning the main purpose of their visit is to transit the UK (passing through immigration control) and that the applicant is taking a reasonable transit route; and
b) will not access public funds or medical treatment, work or study in the UK; and
c) genuinely intend and are able to leave the UK within 48 hours after their arrival; and
d) are assured entry to their country of destination and any other countries they are transiting on their way there.
The Transit Without Visa Scheme also has additional requirements which are set out in Appendix Visitor: Transit Without Visa Scheme.
Suitability requirements for visitors
Part V 3 is entitled “suitability requirements for all Visitors”. Jane Austen must be turning in her grave. In fact, this part reintroduces the general grounds for refusal from Part 9 of the immigration rules but in plain English. This mandates or requires refusal of an application in some circumstances (‘will be refused’) and enables discretionary refusal (‘will normally be refused’) of an application in some circumstances. If applying for permission to stay, Part V 3.2. notes that the applicant must additionally not be in breach of immigration laws, except where paragraph 39E applies and overstay will be disregarded and not on immigration bail.
It is worth making representations for a ‘will normally be refused’ application because there is discretion to grant the application and even if refused an appeal might potentially succeed. Where a refusal is mandatory, it would be very exceptional for an application to be granted. It may still be possible in some circumstances where the refusal is based on previous convictions, such as those not recognised in the UK.
What can and can’t visitors do in the UK?
The rules on what visitors can and cannot do are complex. Because of the ‘negative freedom’ way in which the law operates so as to allow all things which are not specifically prohibited, it is sensible to start with the specific activities that visitors are prohibited from carrying out. Conceptually, visitors are then permitted to carry out any other activity.
There is a distinction between breach of a formal condition stated on a visa and doing something that is not permitted under the immigration rules for a particular type of visitor. The former is a criminal offence under section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971. The latter is a breach of the immigration rules and a breach of trust, effectively and will have adverse future immigration implications if discovered by the Home Office. It is not a criminal offence, however.
Can’t do with a visit visa
Formal conditions or restrictions will be imposed on a visit visa, breach of which amounts to a criminal offence:
(a) no work in the UK, barring permitted activities in Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities); and
(b) no study (which does not prohibit the incidental study allowed by the permitted activities in Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities); and
(c) no access to medical treatment, other than private medical treatment or to donate an organ; and
(d) cannot get married or form a civil partnership, or give notice of intention to marry or form a civil partnership, unless they are applying for entry clearance as a Marriage/Civil Partnership Visitor or are a relevant national as defined in section 62 of the Immigration Act 2014.
Work is defined in paragraph V 4.4 as including:
(a) taking employment in the UK;
(b) doing work for an organisation or business in the UK;
(c) establishing or running a business as a self-employed person;
(d) doing a work placement or internship;
(e) direct selling to the public;
(f) providing goods and services
An exception is made for the activities listed as permitted activities in Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities, Appendix Visitor: Permit Free Festival List and the Permitted Paid Engagements in V 13.3.
Permitted activities must not amount to the applicant taking employment, or doing work which amounts to them filling a role or providing short-term cover for a role within a UK based organisation. In addition, where the applicant is already paid and employed outside of the UK, they must remain so.
Confusingly, and rather ridiculously, this further exception/un-exception is subject to a further exception. The visitor must not receive payment from a UK source for any activities undertaken in the UK, except for the following:
(a) reasonable expenses to cover the cost of their travel and subsistence, including fees for directors attending board-level meetings; or
(b) international drivers or seafarers undertaking activities permitted under PA 9.2 to PA 9.4; or
(c) prize money; or
(d) billing a UK client for their time in the UK, where the applicant’s overseas employer is contracted to provide services to a UK company, and the majority of the contract work is carried out overseas. Payment must be lower than the amount of the applicant’s salary; or
(e) multi-national companies who, for administrative reasons, handle payment of their employees’ salaries from the UK; or
(f) paid performances at a permit free festival as listed in Appendix Visitor: Permit Free Festival List, where the Visitor is an artist, entertainer or musician; or
(g) Permitted Paid Engagements, where they have permission as a Permitted Paid Engagement Visitor.
Can do with a visit visa
Most standard visitors (with the exception of approved destination status visitors who can only visit friends and family or come to the UK for a holiday) can engage in any of the many activities listed in Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities. This is quite a long list of activities:
- A visitor may visit friends and family and / or come to the UK for a holiday.
- A visitor may undertake incidental volunteering, provided it lasts no more than 30 days in total and is for a charity that is registered with either the Charity Commission for England and Wales; the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland; or the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.
- A visitor on business may:
(a) attend meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews;
(b) give a one-off or short series of talks and speeches provided these are not organised as commercial events and will not make a profit for the organiser;
(c) negotiate and sign deals and contracts;
(d) attend trade fairs, for promotional work only, provided the visitor is not directly selling;
(e) carry out site visits and inspections;
(f) gather information for their employment overseas;
(g) be briefed on the requirements of a UK based customer, provided any work for the customer is done outside of the UK.
- An employee of an overseas based company may:
(a) advise and consult;
(c) provide training;
(d) share skills and knowledge;
on a specific internal project with UK employees of the same corporate group, provided no work is carried out directly with clients.
- An internal auditor may carry out regulatory or financial audits at a UK branch of the same group of companies as the visitor’s employer overseas.
- An employee of a foreign manufacturer or supplier may install, dismantle, repair, service or advise on equipment, computer software or hardware where it has a contract of purchase or supply or lease with a UK company or organisation.
- A client of a UK export company may be seconded to the UK company in order to oversee the requirements for goods and services that are being provided under contract by the UK company or its subsidiary company, provided the two companies are not part of the same group. Employees may exceptionally make multiple visits to cover the duration of the contract.
- Scientists and researchers may:
(a) gather information and facts for a specific project which directly relates to their employment overseas;
(b) share knowledge or advise on an international project that is being led from the UK, provided the visitor is not carrying our research in the UK.
- Academics may:
(a) take part in formal exchange arrangements with UK counterparts (including doctors);
(b) carry out research for their own purposes if they are on sabbatical leave from their home institution;
(c) if they are an eminent senior doctor or dentist, take part in research, teaching or clinical practice provided this does not amount to filling a permanent teaching post.
- An expert witness may visit the UK to give evidence in a UK court. Other witnesses may visit the UK to attend a court hearing in the UK if summoned in person by a UK court.
- An overseas lawyer may advise a UK based client on specific international litigation and/or an international transaction.
- Religious workers may visit the UK to preach or do pastoral work.
- An artist, entertainer, or musician may:
(a) give performances as an individual or as part of a group;
(b) take part in competitions or auditions;
(c) make personal appearances and take part in promotional activities;
(d) take part in one or more cultural events or festivals on the list of permit free festivals in Appendix Visitor: Permit Free Festival List (where payment is permitted).
- Personal or technical staff or members of the production team of an artist, entertainer or musician may support the activities in PA 14.1. or Appendix V: Visitor at V13.3 (e), provided they are attending the same event as the artist, entertainer or musician, and are employed to work for them outside of the UK.
- Film crew (actor, producer, director or technician) employed by an overseas company may visit the UK to take part in a location shoot for a film or programme that is produced and financed overseas.
- A sports person may:
(a) take part in a sports tournament or sports event as an individual or part of a team;
(b) make personal appearances and take part in promotional activities;
(c) take part in trials provided they are not in front of a paying audience;
(d) take part in short periods of training provided they are not being paid by a UK sporting body;
(e) join an amateur team or club to gain experience in a particular sport.
- Personal or technical staff of the sports person, or sports officials, may support the activities in PA 15.1. or in Appendix V: Visitor at V 13.3.(f), if they are attending the same event as the sports person, and are employed to work for them outside the UK.
- Individuals employed outside the UK may visit the UK to take part in the following activities in relation to their employment overseas:
(a) a translator and/or interpreter may support a business person in the UK, provided they will attend the same event(s) as the business person and are employed by that business person outside of the UK;
(b) personal assistants and bodyguards may support an overseas business person in carrying out permitted activities, provided they will attend the same event(s) as the business person and are employed by them outside the UK. They must not be providing personal care or domestic work for the business person;
(c) a driver on a genuine international route delivering goods or passengers from abroad to the UK or undertaking cabotage operations;
(d) a tour group courier, contracted to a company with its headquarters outside the UK, who is entering and departing the UK with a tour group organised by their company;
(e) a journalist, correspondent, producer or cameraman gathering information for an overseas publication, programme or film;
(f) archaeologists taking part in a one-off archaeological excavation;
(g) a professor from an overseas academic institution accompanying students to the UK as part of a study abroad programme, may provide a small amount of teaching to the students at the host organisation. However this must not amount to filling a permanent teaching role for that institution;
(h) market researchers and analysts may conduct market research or analysis for an enterprise located outside the UK; and
(i) seafarers working on a vessel on a genuine international route between a port in the UK and a port outside the UK may deliver or collect goods or passengers from a port outside the UK to bring to the UK port and call at up to a further 10 UK ports within a 60-day time period to deliver or collect goods or passengers before travelling to a port outside the UK.
- Overseas graduates from medical, dental or nursing schools may:
(a) undertake clinical attachments or dental observer posts provided these are unpaid, and involve no treatment of patients. The visitor must provide written confirmation of their offer to take up this post and confirm they have not previously undertaken this activity in the UK;
(b) take the following test/examination in the UK:
- the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) test, where the visitor can provide written confirmation of this from the General Medical Council; or
- the Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCE) for overseas, where the visitor can provide written evidence of this from the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
- Employees of an overseas company or organisation may receive training from a UK based company or organisation in work practices and techniques which are required for the visitor’s employment overseas and not available in their home country.
- An employee of an overseas based training company may deliver a short series of training to employees of a UK based company, where the trainer is employed by an overseas business contracted to deliver global training to the international corporate group to which the UK based company belongs.
- Visitors may carry out the following study:
- educational exchanges or visits with a UK state or independent school; or
- a total of up to 30 days on recreational courses (not English language training) or a short-course (which includes English language training) at an accredited institution.
- An individual may receive private medical treatment provided they meet the additional eligibility requirements at Appendix V: Visitor at V 7.1. to V 7.3.
- An individual may act as an organ donor or be assessed as a potential organ donor to an identified recipient in the United Kingdom, provided they meet the additional eligibility requirements at Appendix V: Visitor at V 8.1. to V 8.4.
Extension of stay as a visitor
It is possible to extend stay as a visitor only in very limited circumstances under the rules. The following extensions of stay are permissible:
a) a Standard Visitor or a Marriage/Civil Partnership Visitor, who was granted permission for less than 6 months may be granted permission to stay for a period which results in the total period they can remain in the UK (including both the original grant and the extension) not exceeding 6 months; and
b) a Standard Visitor who is in the UK for private medical treatment may be granted permission to stay as a Visitor for a further 6 months, provided the purpose is for private medical treatment; and
c) a Standard Visitor who is in the UK to undertake the activities in Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities at PA 11.2. or the accompanying partner or child of such a Standard Visitor, may be granted permission to stay for a period which results in the total period they can remain in the UK (including both the original grant and the extension) not exceeding 12 months; and
d) a Standard Visitor may be granted permission to stay as a Visitor for up to 6 months in order to resit the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board Test; and
e) a Standard Visitor who is successful in the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board Test may be granted permission to stay as a Visitor to undertake the activities in PA 10.1. (a) for a period which results in the total period they can remain in the UK (including both the original grant and the extension) not exceeding 18 months.
There is no provision in the rules for extensions of stay beyond these limits.
Cancellation and curtailment of visit visas
Visit visas can be cancelled or curtailed in certain circumstances. These are set out in the immigration rules part 9: grounds for refusal.
Cancellation while outside the UK or on arrival may occur where:
- there has been such a change in the circumstances of the case since the visit visa or leave to enter or remain was granted that the basis of the visitor’s claim to admission or stay has been removed and the visa or leave should be cancelled;
- the visitor holds a visit visa and their purpose in arriving in the United Kingdom is different from the purpose specified in the visit visa;
- false representations were made or false documents or information submitted (whether or not material to the application, and whether or not to the applicant’s knowledge);
- material facts were not disclosed;
- it is undesirable to admit the visitor to the UK for medical reasons, unless there are strong compassionate reasons justifying admission;
- conducive to the public good criteria apply; and
- the person is outside the UK and there is a failure to supply any information, documents, or medical reports requested by a decision maker.
Curtailment within the UK may occur where:
- false representations are made or material facts are not disclosed as above;
- the visitor ceases to meet the requirements of the Visitor Rules;
- the visitor fails to comply with any conditions of their leave to enter or remain; and
- conducive to public good criteria apply, in particular if the visitor has committed a criminal offence and received a sentence of imprisonment, but also in wider circumstances.
This article was originally published in May 2015 and was updated in September 2023.