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An overview of immigration routes to come to the UK

Written by
Helena Sheizon, Kadmos Consultants
Date of Publication:

There is only a limited number of immigration options that would allow non-British citizens to come to the UK for a long-term project and make it your permanent home. You will be either joining your family in the UK or you will be going for one of the work-related routes that allow settlement or permanent residence after five years.

Joining the family is mainly reserved for the spouse or a durable partner of a UK citizen, a person with indefinite leave to remain or an EU national with settled or pre-settled status (UK Partner visa). In some limited circumstances, there is also an immigration option for a parent of a British child. The route for adult dependent relatives is reserved for extreme compassionate circumstances – where the person you want to bring over to the UK requires help with daily living tasks and this help is either not available or not affordable in the country of their habitual residence.

There is also an immigration option for commonwealth nationals who have a British born great parent. British born means born on the British Isles and not in the former colonies that were part of the British empire. This option is called UK Ancestry visa. There is no age limit for the Ancestry visa applicants but they have to demonstrate an intention to work in the UK and have funds to support themselves while they are looking for employment. Partner and children of the main Ancestry visa holder can apply for a visa at the same time or join the main visa holder later and have certain advantages in comparison to dependants in other visa categories

Work related routes include the following options:

  1. Sponsored employment – this is the most common route, called the Skilled Worker route, previously known as Tier 2 General route.
  2. The Innovator route (for businessmen who have an innovative business idea endorsed by one of the accredited bodies)
  3. The Global talent route (for leaders in their area of science or technology, artists, composers, designers etc)

In order to apply for the Skilled Worker visa you will need a job offer from your prospective employer. Your employer will be the sponsor or your application. Your job will have to meet the minimum required skills level and will have to be paid above a certain minimum which varies depending on the job.

Only the employer can act as the sponsor, so be very careful if anyone offers you a Skilled Worker visa before you have a firm offer of employment. You will need a certificate of sponsorship assigned to you by the employer before you can apply for the visa. The employer has to have a sponsor licence which will allow them to act as the sponsor of their employees. Sponsorship of employees of another company is not allowed and the rules are very strict about it.

Another immigration route leading to settlement is the Innovator route. This option is for businesspersons who want to pursue a business idea in the UK and can demonstrate that this idea is innovative, and has potential for exponential grown and can be developed internationally. Such business idea has to be endorsed by a designated endorsing body which will be also supervising the execution of the proposed business plan. The benefit of this route is that it allows settlement after three years of residence – two years sooner than the Skilled Worker route.

Global talent route also requires international recognition in your area of expertise and endorsement from a designated body in the UK. Same as the innovator route, it allows settlement after three years of residence.

If you are coming to the UK to study, you will be applying for a Student visa. This type of visa does not lead to settlement unless you spend in the UK continuously ten years, either studying or in combination of various immigration categories.

Student visas cannot be extended beyond five years for studying at a degree level (Bachelor's or Master's degree). There are some exceptions and it can be extended if you are accepted on a PhD or MPhil course. On successful completion of studies at a degree level you can apply for a Graduate visa which will allow you to take employment in the UK. Similar to the student visa, the Graduate visa does not lead to settlement, unless your total continuous period of residence reaches 10 years. However, the Graduate route will give you a better chance to find sponsored employment and potentially switch into the Skilled Worker route which will lead to settlement after five years, or when you reach the total 10 years of residence – whatever happens sooner.

If you studied outside the UK but graduated in the last five years from one of the Universities listed on the Global Universities list for the year you graduated, you may qualify for the High Potential Individual visa which will allow you to work in the UK for two or three years (depending on your degree level). This visa does not lead to settlement but gives you a chance to switch into sponsored employment or another route leading to settlement.

Applications for a UK visa are normally made online and supporting documents are submitted to the Home Office in electronic format. Whether you are applying from abroad of from within the UK, you will be required to submit your biometrics. For this you will have to attend an appointment at the visa application centre or at a designated centre in the UK. The standard processing time for the visa varies depending on the type of application. In some cases it is possible to expedite the process by paying an extra fee.