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Who qualifies for a UK visa? I asked an immigration lawyer

The UK has various visas for work and travel
The UK has various visas for work and travel   -   Copyright  petekarici / Getty Images
By Magesh Magesh

I moved from Australia to the UK at the end of 2019. When I looked into getting a work visa, I struggled to find clear information.

There are so many different types. Depending on what country you are travelling from, you may need a visa just to go on holiday in the UK. I found advice on government websites confusing, so I decided to ask an expert.

David Gering-Hasthorpe is an immigration lawyer and director of Southside Immigration in Glasgow, UK. Here’s everything he told me about applying for visas when travelling to the UK.

David Gering-Hasthorpe
David Gering-Hasthorpe is an immigration lawyer and director of Southside Immigration in Glasgow, UK.David Gering-Hasthorpe

Can I travel to the UK without a visa if I'm coming from a Commonwealth country like Australia?

“Some countries, including Australia, have a visa-free visitor scheme with the UK. This means that if an Australian citizen wants to come to the UK for a visit, they can request visitor status at the airport when they arrive, rather than applying for a visa prior to travelling.

“The list of countries that have visa-free travel to the UK is entirely separate from the Commonwealth, though. For example, Kenya is in the Commonwealth, but Kenyan citizens have to apply for a visa before visiting the UK.

“You can check out if your nationality means you’ll need a visa or not on the UK government website,” under the visitor immigration rules visa national list.

Do I need a visa to travel to the UK if I have relatives who are British citizens?

“Mostly, yes, and certainly if you’re looking to move here permanently.

“If you’re just looking to come to the UK as a visitor, then you might be able to enter under the visa-free visitor arrangement [outlined above], depending on your nationality.

“Even if your country does have a visa-free visitor arrangement with the UK, though, this can sometimes be refused at the airport when you arrive. This could be because of a history of overstaying your visa in the past, or if the Home Office thinks that you intend to live in the UK permanently.

“Having relatives in the UK is sometimes used as a reason why the Home Office thinks that you might intend to stay here permanently.”

AP Photo
If you're from a country with a UK visa-free visitor arrangement, you may not need a visa before travel.AP Photo

What common reasons would people be denied a UK visa?

“Sometimes people are denied because they do not meet the requirements. For example, if someone wants a visit visa, but they intend to work in the UK, then the visa will be refused.

“A lot of the time, people meet the requirements, but don’t have evidence of it. For example, if you want a visit visa but you don’t have any evidence of reasons to return to your country of residence, then you can expect that application to be refused as well.

“Other common reasons why someone might be turned away at the border could be that they have previously broken immigration law in the UK, they indicate to border staff that they do not intend to keep to the terms of their visa, or they have a history of criminal convictions.”

Can I stay in the UK as a tourist for six months without a visa?

“The Home Office doesn’t have strict limits on the amount of time that you can spend in the UK as a visitor. They do have a ‘Genuine Visitor’ requirement, though, for visitor status.

“One of the ways they assess this requirement is based on how much time you’ve spent in the UK as a visitor recently. If you’ve spent six months or more in the UK during the past 12 months, they’ll start to think that you’re probably no longer a ‘genuine visitor’.”

If I wanted to travel to the UK for a holiday in December, when and where would be the best time to apply for a visa?

“I recommend submitting your visa application at least two months before you’re planning to travel. You’ll need to apply from your country of residence in most cases.”