Unlike the U. S., the UK does not have a "visa waiver programme"; everyone without the "Right of Abode" in the UK or a claim to nationality in the EEA needs to have a visa during their stay here. However, the UK Government includes the United States in its list of designated countries and permits U. S. citizens to apply for a visit visa upon arrival in the UK (NOTE: Americans must apply for settlement visas if they want to work here or get married to a Brit; this page is about visitors - tourists only).
For the vast majority of visitors from the U. S., this is simply a case of receiving a visa at the airport without even realizing what has happened. There is a queue followed by a brief interview with an Immigration Officer and the passport is stamped with a visa that expires six months from the issue date. Examples of this visas issued in this category are:
In the normal case, the Immigration Officer would examine your 'landing card' (i.e., the white card you filled out on the airplane or in the arrivals area) and ask questions like:
During the interview, you may notice the Immigration Officer making notes on the back of your 'landing card'. This is a normal procedure which helps the Home Office to reconcile the Immigration Officer's findings with any later applications or claims you might make during your visit to the UK.
If the Immigration Officer's line of questioning seems invasive, it is important to remember that the IO is not being nosy, but rather seeking to assure that you meet the requirements. The vast majority of visitors sail right through their interview in less than a minute without fully realizing what has happened; and genuine visitors have no reason to feel stressed about the interview.
A person who has been to the UK frequently and has stayed for long periods (i.e., up to six months per year) would naturally expect a longer and more probing interview because a travel history like that may indicate that the person is not a genuine visitor. The same can be said for people who appear to be concealing something, such as traveling to meet a boyfriend/girlfriend they met on the internet. It is ironic to note that some people who have sought to contrive a purpose for their visit because they though their circumstances were too complex to explain were eventually refused entry - when had they been candid, they would have sailed right through! And in some cases, people get bounced.
In some cases, a visitor may need a visa prior to arrival and these visas are called "entry clearances". This would arise, for example, if the person has a criminal history or has been previously removed from the UK. Entry clearances may also be issued to those who do not need them, but wish a stress-free experience clearing UK immigration controls.
Visitor visas usually expire when the holder leaves the UK. In the absence of dire circumstances, there are no provisions in UK law for extending a visitor visa for longer than six months; and all classes of visitors are subject to the spent leave rule. Of course, the failure to observe the expiry date of a visitor visa (or any other visa issued by the UK government) results in an overstay.
For most people, the visitor visa fits the bill quite nicely. But sometimes there are other reasons for visiting the UK, and so specialized categories of visitors have been implemented to handle these cases
A business visitor is conducting an assignment or attending meetings. People attending job interviews, negotiating contracts, performing research, or trouble-shooting for their parent company are also business visitors. Business visitors should carry documentation showing their objectives. Those attending a job interview must show the invitation letter, and all business visitors should be prepared to show their hotel reservations or other accommodation arrangements. Some additional notes to remember about business visitors are:
The marriage visitor is coming to the UK only to marry, and does not intend to live here afterwards. This category was made to accommodate those seeking a purely destinational wedding, such as a romantic castle in Scotland.
This type of visitor requires an entry clearance.
The appeal visitor seeks to attend a judicial proceeding where they are the appellant (i.e., in a tribunal or adjudicator hearing). This type of visitor is somewhat rare and beyond Transpondia's scope.
These visas are for people who cannot enter the UK due to their criminal history or have been previously deported from the UK at the direction of a UK court. They allow the holder to transit (i.e., change airlines) through a special area which does not lead to entry into the UK. This topic is outside of Transpondia's scope, and we suggest that a specialist be consulted if such a visa is required.
The UK operates a socialized system called the National Health Service (NHS) wherein the Government pays for medical care. Visitors may use the NHS for emergencies only, and in all other cases must pay for their treatment even if it is administered by the NHS.
If you have a medical emergency, you may go to an NHS facility to receive treatment. Once the emergency is taken care of, you must pay for any other treatment received or you may get into trouble for abusing the NHS.
Abuse of the NHS may result in a pejorative immigration history. For this reason, we urge all visitors to obtain health insurance prior to traveling The NHS is free for those in 'settled status' only. This includes students, work permit holders, spouses, fiancés, permanent residents, and of course British citizens. Except for emergencies, the NHS is *NOT* free for visitors.
There is nothing in the rules prohibiting travel to the UK to pursue an internet relationship, and given the applicant meets the rules they will generally be successful in obtaining entry as a visitor. However,
Some IOs were surprised, and suspicious, when people travel to spend time with someone they hardly know or have never met. If people are going to visit someone in another country, IOs assume they will have had recent or regular contact and will know something about the other person. Internet relationships attract particular attention.
Where the sponsor is a boyfriend or girlfriend, the IO may be wary that the passenger will attempt to settle, or get married without a visa. If passengers lie about having a partner or romantic interest in the UK, or about the nature of the relationship, this can seriously damage their chances of being allowed to enter the country. Sometimes when IOs are not happy with some aspect of a story, they may put out a call to see if anyone is meeting the passenger in the arrivals hall; on occasion this produces a partner or spouse.
Officers commented that internet relationships tend to generate a lot of cases, and are a particular problem among American passengers. If the passenger is young, single and unemployed, there are concerns that he or she may be trying to start a new life in the UK.
Accordingly, we advise that visitors intending to pursue internet relationships bring all the necessary documentation to show their attachment to (and establishment in) their home country.
For more information and discussion, please visit Internet Relationships (US/UK couples)
Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man have their own governments and hence their own immigration rules, but the rules for visitors in these territories are generally the same as those in the UK.
A frequently asked question goes along the lines of "I have ancestors from the UK. Can I apply for citizenship?"
Many Americans are rightfully proud of their English, Scottish, Welsh, or Irish roots; and some enthusiastically observe that UK Immigration Law provides a settlement path called an Ancestry Visa. However, the rules for the Ancestry Visa are very clear about the requirements, and among these are:
The U. S., by its own choice, is not a member of the British Commonwealth, and therefore this hurdle cannot be cleared by most Americans.
The laws on this subject are commonly called "The Immigration Rules". Like all UK laws, "The Rules" were created by an act of Parliament and turned over to the Government for implementation.
The rules governing visitors are contained in Paragraphs 40 - 56 and can be found here: Persons seeking to enter or remain in the United Kingdom for visits.
To assure that staff are interpreting the rules in a consistent way, UKBA publishes a guidance document called, the Immigration directorate instructions, or simply "IDI". When reading the IDI's, take note that it is a supplementary document and not the law itself. This means that a UK immigration official will consider the IDI's when making a determination on your case, but is not obligated apply them. In cases where discrepancies occur, the rules are to prevail rather than the guidance.
NOTE: The 'family visitor' class has been discontinued as of mid 2012. See http://www.londonelegance.com/transpondia/content/removal-full-appeal-rights-certian-family-visitors
The information below is retained with strike-out font for archiving and research purposes.
A family visitor is a specialized case of visitor where the applicant intends to maintain family relationships with someone who is lawfully in the UK. The family visitor also has the right of appeal against refusal of permission to enter the UK. As a rule of thumb, a family member is no more distant than a first cousin. This would include grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, children, grandchildren and so on. Spouses and in-laws are also family visitors and as mentioned, anyone who is legally in the UK for any reason can sponsor a family visitor. This would include students, work-permit holders, highly skilled migrants, and so on. To be able to access the appeal rights, the family visitor should declare that it is the primary purpose of their visit. ("What is the purpose of your visit?" "I am a family visitor maintaining relationships with my daughter and son-in-law").
Update 16 April 2012
In a set of changes to the immigration rules called HC1888 that activated in April 2012, Parliament introduced a new type of visitor, called "A visitor undertaking permitted paid engagements". This class of visitor is intended to bridge a gap between the 'Business Visitor' and the Tier 5 worker.
To follow up on this information, check our Internet Resources page...
Reviewed 9 May 2012