Date updated: Friday 9th February 2024
The Visitor Visa route is used by many charities to bring overseas nationals to the UK. However, not all visits to the UK will be eligible for a Visitor Visa, and it is important to be aware of the relevant restrictions in order to avoid a refusal from the Home Office.
There are benefits and limitations to a Visitor Visa which should be considered before making an application, and an essential consideration is the main purpose of the visit.
We explore this visa route in further detail below.
The maximum duration that an individual can spend in the UK on a Standard Visitor Visa is six months. Citizens of countries on the visa national list must apply for a visa in advance of travelling to the UK. Non-visa nationals who are not on the visa national list (including EEA nationals, US, Canadian and Australian nationals, among others) do not need to apply for a visa in advance of travelling to the UK. They must instead make a request to enter the UK as a standard visitor at the UK border, i.e. when their flight lands in the UK. While non-visa nationals do not need to apply for the visa in advance of travel, they must still meet the same legal and documentary requirements under the Visitor Visa route.
Under this visa, successful applicants are able to come to the UK and experience British culture, provided they do so in line with the terms of their visa.
Visitors may take part in ‘permitted activities’ whilst on a Visitor Visa, and these can include business meetings and speaker-led activities such as conferences or seminars. Recreational study for up to 30 days is permitted during the course of their stay, and the same is true of volunteering for a registered charity in the UK. A visitor who is an employee of an overseas-based company may also provide training to UK employees.
Furthermore, as of 31 January 2024, a visitor may also remotely undertake activities relating to their overseas employment whilst in the UK, providing this is not the primary purpose of the visit.
Charitable organisations can therefore utilise the Visitor Visa route in a variety of ways.
If an individual is a visa national and therefore has to apply for their visa in advance of travelling, the application cost for a six-month Visitor Visa is £115. This amount is considerably lower than the potential costs incurred via alternative visa routes. Additionally, visitors are not required to submit a tuberculosis test if they are from a listed country, which can come at a further cost.
There is also no English language requirement for those travelling on a Visitor Visa. A high level of English language competency is required for a number of other visa routes, and obtaining evidence of this could incur yet more fees.
It is important to note that there are also limitations to a Visitor Visa, not least because it permits shorter-term stays only.
As previously mentioned, the maximum length of a Visitor Visa is usually six months. An overseas individual cannot use a Visitor Visa to live in the UK through regular and successive visits, therefore if they wish to reside in the UK they should not use this route. In addition to this, individuals who enter the UK on a Visitor Visa are generally not able to take up any work within the UK and must have an intention to leave the UK at the end of their visit.
If the intention of your organisation is for an overseas individual to undertake work within the UK, or for them to stay in the UK for longer than six months, a Visitor Visa may not be appropriate. You should consider the other visa entry routes available, as failure to comply with the terms of a visa can result in an individual and associated organisation being penalised by the Home Office.
Charitable organisations may wish to consider alternative visa routes for overseas individuals. These may include:
Skilled Worker route – for skilled individuals with an offer of a job
Charity Worker (Temporary Worker) route – unpaid voluntary fieldwork
Religious Worker (Temporary Worker) and T2 Minister of Religion routes – for faith-based organisations wishing to bring members to the UK
In order for an overseas national to make a visa application under the Skilled Worker or Temporary Worker route, they must be sponsored by a registered sponsor. To sponsor Workers or Temporary 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 vary depending on the type of licence you wish to apply for and the size of your organisation. If your organisation holds charitable status, the sponsor licence application fee is £536.
It is important to note that sponsoring a worker will incur further costs beyond the licence application fee. For example, the electronic record required to enable an overseas national to enter the UK for work, a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), currently costs £239 for a Skilled Worker or Minister of Religion applicant. A CoS for a Temporary Worker applicant is £25. For individuals being sponsored under the Skilled Worker route, the immigration skills charge may also be payable, which costs of £364 per year of sponsorship for charitable sponsors. It will also be necessary to consider the costs of the visa application fee and Immigration Health Surcharge payment, which are payable at the point of submitting the visa application online.
In terms of the length of stay granted to an applicant, leave under the Skilled Worker route can be up to five years. Under the Minister of Religion route, this could be extended to six years in total. Leave for Temporary Workers is usually up to a maximum of 12 months or two years, depending on the visa.
For charitable organisations wishing to bring overseas individuals to the UK, entry under a Visitor Visa can seem very appealing. Lower application costs, permitted activities such as short-term volunteering, and the absence of the English language requirement are all advantages of the route.
However, there are significant limitations to the Visitor Visa route. The length of leave and prohibited activities should be considered when deciding which visa is suitable. It is essential that the main purpose of the visit is assessed to determine what type of visa suits an individual’s 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.
We regularly complete Visitor Visa applications for individuals and have a 100% success rate. We offer different levels of support and can either complete the entire application process on an individual’s behalf, including preparing all required correspondence such as a detailed Letter of Representation outlining how the legal requirements are satisfied, or check an already prepared draft application for accuracy before it is submitted.
We also offer an Entry as a visitor package for non-visa nationals to present to border officials upon arrival to the UK. This package includes a Letter of Representation, a list of the evidence in support, and template letters of support (which we can prepare on your behalf) from the UK Charity and the individual’s employer overseas, outlining the purpose of the visit and demonstrating an intention to return.