4 Different Types of UK Visas You Can Apply For
One thing I'm often asked is how to know which kind of visa to choose when you're hoping to live in the UK. Before my (now) husband and I settled on the fiance visa route, we explored all of the options to settle on what worked best for our specific circumstances. We ultimately got married probably sooner than we would have had, had there not been a visa restriction - but after 2 1/2 years of a long distance relationship, we knew this was the right choice for us. After all, it was either get married and live together, or continue to do long distance and get married further down the line. We ultimately chose the route that meant we could live in the same place.
Obviously these circumstances will not be the right fit for everybody who is looking to live in the UK. If you're hoping to get a UK visa, here are a few (but not all) options for you! As you know if you've read my detailed post about how I got my approved fiance visa - I am not a visa expert or a solicitor (just somebody who's gone through the process many, many times), so please make sure you also do your own research and visit GOV.UK for the official government guidance as well.
1. Student Visa (Tier 4)
For this route, you need to be accepted into a course in the UK - university level is most common. For my study abroad program when I initially came to London in 2013, my college back in the states applied for me and set this up. If you're not applying through your current school as a study abroad, and just applying as an independent student, you will need to submit the application yourself, 3 months ahead of the start date of your course. This visa will allow you to work at a job or hold an internship while abroad, during the length of your study. There are specific requirements in terms of eligibility of the courses, so make sure you check with your university when applying. The big pro is obviously that you have the ability to work abroad if you choose, but a con is that admissions fees tend to be much higher in the UK than for citizens. It's also important to note that most undergrad degree programs in the UK are 3 years long, rather than the standard 4-year American degrees.
2. Employer Sponsorship (Tier 2, Tier 5)
If you are offered a role at a company based in the UK, there are two routes to go down. You can either apply for a Tier 2 work visa, which grants you up to 3 years of work in the UK, or a Tier 5 temporary work visa, which is generally for a maximum of 12 months. However, your employer must be a licensed sponsor with the ability to grant you a certificate of sponsorship before you apply for your work visa. The good news for those looking to work in the UK is that the government keeps an official register of corporate sponsors, so you can check before applying that a company is eligible. There are lots of sub-categories of both Tier 2 and Tier 5 work visas, so make sure you check with your sponsor company when applying for your visa. Pros are that your company will be able to support you through the process, but a con is that the visa hinges on your employment at the company - if you were to change jobs, the visa could be revoked (unless you find another licensed sponsor).
3. Family Visa - Partner or Spouse
The "fiance visa" is the initial route I took to get to the UK - which you can read about in detail here. In order to be eligible, you must prove that you have a genuine and subsisting relationship with your partner who is a UK citizen or a person with settled status in the UK. Once approved, you have a 6 month window in which to move to the UK and get married. During this period, you will not be able to work at all, including volunteering. Then, once you've been married, you apply for a Further Leave to Remain marriage visa, or FLR(m) for short. This visa will give you 2.5 years of living and working in the UK, functioning for the most part like a citizen, but you are unable to vote and have no recourse to public funds (a large part of the visa makes sure you or your partner are able to support you and that you're not coming to the UK to use government money). After your 2.5 years are up, you can apply for another 2.5 year FLR(m) visa. Once you've completed 5 years in the UK, you can apply for a residency settlement visa, or SET(m), also called "indefinite leave to remain". This means that you are able to live in the UK without the need to apply for further visas. However, if you do want to be able to vote and function as a citizen, you will need to apply for UK Citizenship as well, after you've had settlement status for 12 months.
4. Family Visa - Child or Parent
Family visas should really have subcategories of their own - there are so many special cases that it's best to make sure your case is
Parent of a UK Citizen or Settled Person: Your child must be a minor in order to be eligible for this one - essentially, if you have a baby while living in the UK and they are granted Citzenship, you may be able to apply for a visa, as they're then your dependent. If you share parental responsibilities with a partner, they must be a UK Citizen or Settled Person. This visa allows you to stay for up to 2.5 years, at which time, you'll need to apply for a visa extension.
Child of a UK Citizen or Settled Person: If one or both of your parents hold a British Citizenship or are a Settled Person in the UK, you can apply either as a dependent of that parent, or apply independently. If you were born outside of the UK, the application hinges on what kind of visa your parent has been granted, and you must be able to prove that your sponsor (parent) can financially support you if need be.
As stated above, visas are incredibly complicated and many cases are unique and require research based on your particular circumstances. It's also important to note that these are not the only ways to get a UK visa - I've not touched at all on what it means to be a part of the Commonwealth, or gone into detail about the different types of employment or family visas you can apply for (and there are a lot of them!), simply because I have no personal experience with these applications and the multi-faceted nature of the visas. If you or someone you know is seeking to move to the UK, the best route to go is to research what fits your needs through the GOV.UK website, and to seek out guidance from resources like Expat Forum, or work with a solicitor.
If you have any questions at all about my process through the fiance/marriage visa route, please feel free to contact me!