Visitor’s visas for charitable organisations

The Visitor’s visa route is used by many charities to bring overseas members to the UK. Not all visits to the UK will, however, be eligible for a Visitor’s visa and it is important to be aware of the restrictions to avoid a potential refusal by the Home Office.

There are benefits and limitations to a Visitor’s visa which should be considered before making an application and an essential consideration is the main purpose of the visit. We explore this type of leave in further detail below.

Legal background of a Visitor’s visa

The leave permitted under a Standard Visitor visa is usually for up to 6 months. Under this visa, successful applicants are able to experience British culture in a variety of ways in line with their leave.

Visitors may take part in business meetings and speaker-led activities such as conferences or seminars. Study for up to 30 days is permitted during the course of their stay, providing that this is not the main purpose of their visit. The same is true of volunteering. Visitors who are an employee of an overseas based company may also provide training to UK employees.

Benefits of a Visitor’s visa

The application cost for a Visitor’s visa is £95 to the visitor. This is a considerably smaller amount then the potential total costs incurred via alternative visa routes. Additional costs are also avoided as visitors are not required to apply for a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) with leave of less than 6 months. Nor will they be requested to submit a potentially costly tuberculosis test if they are from a listed country.

Further, there is no English language requirement for those travelling on a Visitor’s visa. A high level of English language competency is required for other visa routes, and obtaining evidence for the same could incur yet more fees.

A Visitor’s visa may be a viable route for an overseas employee who has recently been in the UK on a worker’s visa. The individual may not be eligible for another Tier 2 visa application if their leave expiry date on a previous Tier 2 visa was dated within the last 12 months.

Limits of Visitor’s visas

Whilst considering the aforementioned points, it is important to note that there are limits to the Visitor’s visa, not least because they permit shorter-term stays only. As previously mentioned, the maximum length of leave on a Visitor’s visa is usually 6 months. An overseas individual cannot use a Visitor’s visa to live in the UK for an extended amount of time through regular visits, therefore if they wish to be granted leave longer than 6 months they should not use this route. Additionally, individuals who enter the UK on a Visitor’s visa are generally not able to take up any work within the UK, whether paid or unpaid.

If the intention of your organisation is for the overseas individual to undertake work within the UK, and/or for them to stay in the UK for longer than 6 months, you should consider the other visa entry routes available.

Alternative visa routes

Alternative visa routes for entry to the UK for overseas individuals are:

  • Tier 2 (General) – for skilled individuals with an offer of a job
  • Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) Charity Worker – unpaid voluntary fieldwork

In order for the individuals to make an application under the Tier 2 or 5 route, they must be sponsored by a registered sponsor. To sponsor Tier 2 or Tier 5 workers, your organisation must become a registered sponsor and hold a valid sponsorship licence. There are various costs involved in applying for a licence.

The associated costs involved in applying for a sponsorship licence vary depending on the type of licence you wish to apply for and the size of your organisation. Fees start at £536.

In terms of the length of stay granted to an applicant, leave under Tier 2 can be up to 3 years. This can be extended to 6 years in total. Leave for Tier 5 workers can be up to a maximum of 2 years.

Consideration should also be given to the fact that sponsoring a worker will incur further costs beyond the licence application fee. For example, the electronic record required to enable a migrant to enter the UK for work, a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), currently costs £199 for a Tier 2 applicant. The cost is £21 for a Tier 5 applicant. Further, sponsored workers must apply for a BRP if the length of their stay on their CoS is greater than 6 months. An application for a BRP within the UK is £19.20. The costs involved in obtaining and maintaining a sponsorship licence and sponsored workers soon add up.

Final thoughts

For charitable organisations wishing to bring overseas individuals to the UK, entry under a Visitor’s visa can seem very appealing. Lower application costs, ability to attend conferences and absence of English language requirements are all advantages when compared to other routes. However, there are significant limitations to the Visitor’s visa. The potential length of leave and prohibition of certain activities should be reflected upon when deciding which visa is most appropriate for the individual. It is essential that the main purpose of the visit is assessed to determine what type of visa suits their needs. What may be suitable for one person may not be suitable for another, therefore individual requirements should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

If you should require any further immigration assistance, please contact Julie Moktadir.

The law and practice referred to in this article or webinar has been paraphrased or summarised. It might not be up-to-date with changes in the law and we do not guarantee the accuracy of any information provided at the time of reading. It should not be construed or relied upon as legal advice in relation to a specific set of circumstances.

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