If you are a non-European citizen, you will need a UK visa to move to or visit United Kingdom (UK). Before you consider travelling/relocating to UK, it is very important that you understand how the UK points-based immigration system works, the UK tier visa system and the various types of UK visas in each tier. In this article, you will learn all about UK Point Based System (PBS), UK tier visa system and their various categories, answers to some of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the UK Point-Based Immigration system and UK visa tiers/categories.
The UK Points-Based Immigration System
The Point Based System (PBS) refers to the entry route for aliens who wish to move or visit UK for work or study purposes. Whatever is your purpose for going to the United Kingdom, you will need a UK visa. All UK visas are categorized into 5 tiers.
What is UK Tier Visa System?
UK tier visa system simply means the various UK visa categories, which are points-based. This means that as an applicant, to be eligible for a UK visa, you must score a minimum number of points on an assessment test, depending on the specific tier under which you are applying. Points are attached to various attributes, such as age, qualifications, employment status, English language skills, source of funds, current earning level, and other tier-specific attributes. The first most important step in your UK visa application is to choose the correct visa tier.
Various UK Visa Tiers/Categories
The five tiers/categories of UK visas include:
Tier 1 Visas: For those with Extraordinary Talents, Business Developers and Investors (High Value Immigrants)
- Global Talent Visa (Tier 1): For promising and talented individuals in specific sectors (academics or research; arts and culture; digital technology). On the 20th of February 2020, the UK Global Talent Visa (Tier 1) replaced the Exceptional Talent (Tier 1) Visa.
- Innovator Visa (Tier 1): For experienced entrepreneurs who wish to establish or run a business or businesses in the UK. To be eligible to apply for this type of visa, you must have a minimum of £50,000 up to £200,000 (depending on the source of funding) dedicated to UK businesses.
- Start-Up Visa (Tier 1): For ambitious and potential entrepreneurs who have unique business plans and wish to establish a business in the UK for the first time. It is open to both graduates and non-graduates, and you are not required to have investment funds like in the case of Innovator visa. But you are required to have at least £945 in your personal savings in your bank account. This amount must have been saved for a minimum of 90 days. Also, the applicants need to be endorsed by a UK university or an approved business sponsor.
NOTE: The Tier 1 Start-Up visa and the Innovator visa schemes were replaced by the Innovator Founder visa route on 13 April 2023. So currently, if you wish to setup or run a business in the UK, you apply for Innovator Founder visa.
Tier 2 Visas: For Skilled Workers
- General Work Visa (Tier 2): For highly skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland, who have a job offer for a skilled job or a job in the Shortage List (job that cannot be done by a UK settled person). This visa type permits your partner and your children under 18 years of age to accompany you as your dependents.
- Minister of Religion Visa (Tier 2): For ministers of religion, missionaries, or members of a religious order, who are foreign skilled workers, offered a position in a faith-based community within the UK.
- Sportsperson Visa (Tier 2): For elite athletes and coaches who are internationally recognized at the highest level of competition, who wish to move to the UK and are sponsored by someone in the UK.
- Intra-Company Transfer Visa (Tier 2): For skilled workers or employees of a multinational company who are transferred to a UK branch of their company.
Tier 3 Visas (Currently Suspended): For Low-Skilled Workers on Temporary Basis
The tier 3 visas were meant for low-skilled workers, especially during temporary labour shortages in the UK. But this visa tier is currently suspended.
Tier 4 Visas: For Students
- Student Visa (Tier 4): For International students accepted in a British educational institution. They need to apply for a UK Student Visa before their courses start.
- Parent of a Student (Child) Visa (Tier 4): For parents intending to accompany their child who is younger than 12 years old, to study at an independent school in the UK.
In October 2020, Tier 4 (General) Student visa was replaced with Student Route. Therefore, the Students Route is now the new UK Student visa. EEA nationals will now need this visa to study in any higher institution in the UK. Applicants can now apply for a Student visa up to 6 months before the start of their courses. To be eligible for a Student visa now depends on a Point-based System, and you must score at least 70 points.
The Student Route was has 2 main sub-categories:
- Student Route Visa: For adult students who are 18 years old and above. It replaced the Tier 4 (General) Student visa.
- Child Student Route Visa: For students between the ages of 4 and 17 years. It replaced the Tier 4 (Child) Student visa.
There is also a Short-term Study visa for international students who wish to study English language in the UK for up to 11 months.
Also, a new post-graduate visa called the UK Post-Study Work (UK PSW) visa is now available for international students that graduated from any recognized university in the UK starting from summer 2021. This UK PSW visa allows them to stay and work in the UK for up to 2 years.
Tier 5 Visas: For Temporary Workers
- Youth Mobility Scheme Visa (Tier 5): For people between 18 and 30 years of age who wish to come to UK to work and live temporarily. Only citizens of the following countries are accepted: Canada, Australia, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea and Taiwan, or British Overseas Citizens, British Overseas Territories citizen or a British national.
- Temporary Worker Visa (Tier 5): For people who wish to work temporarily in the UK in charity, culture, sports and religious sectors.
- Government Authorized Exchange Visa (Tier 5): For people coming to the UK under a government approved program that aims to promote the sharing of knowledge, experience and best practice.
- International Agreement Visa (Tier 5): For people coming to the UK under contract to do work that is covered under international law such as the GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) agreement.
Other visa types/categories include: Short-term study visa, Visitor visas (Standard visitor visa, Permitted paid engagement visa, Marriage visitor visa, Chinese tour group visa), Family visas (UK spouse visa, UK parent visa, UK child dependent visa, UK adult relative visa, UK unmarried partner visa, Ancestry visa and UK fiancé visa), Scale-up visa, Start-up visa, High potential individual – HPI visas, Settlement visas (Indefinite leave to remain – ILR, EU settlement scheme), Transit visas (Direct Airside Transit Visa – DATV, Visitor in Transit Visa), Refugee visa.
UK Visa Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Here are some of the FAQs that most UK visa holders and applicants ask, and the answers to these questions.
What is the UK Electronic Visa Waiver, and How do I get it?
The UK Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW) is meant for citizens of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, who wish to visit the UK and stay up to 6 months for medical treatment, business, tourism or study. With the EVW, the citizens of these countries don’t need a UK visa to enter the UK for the stipulated reasons.
NOTE: If the citizens of these countries wish to stay more than six months in the UK, then they need to apply for other UK visa types. Also, the EVW applicant must apply between 3 months to 48 hours before they travel.
Here are the required documents and details for EVW application:
- The applicant’s current passport
- The UK address of the place the applicant will stay
- Travel details, including the departure and arrival dates and times
For more details and how to apply for the UK Electronic Visa Waiver (EVW), check out this guide: Get an electronic visa waiver to enter the UK.
How Long Does it Take to Get a UK Visa?
It takes an average of 3 weeks for a UK visa to be processed. However, the UK visa processing time differs, and depends on some of these factors:
- Visa type you are applying for
- The country from which you are applying for the visa
- Your specific situations
- The number of visa applications in the UK visa processing center at that time
How Can I Get my UK Visa Faster?
Some types of UK visas are eligible for the “priority service” or even the “super-priority service”.
- For the “priority service”, you will pay an extra fee of £500, and you will get a decision on your visa application within 5 working days.
- For the “super priority service”, you will pay an extra fee of £800, and you get a decision on your visa application by the end of the next working day.
So inquire to know if the type of visa you are applying for are eligible for any of these services.
What is the Immigration Health Surcharge and How Much Does it Cost?
The Immigration Health Surcharge is the amount of money you are required to pay when applying for UK visa. This fee will make you eligible to use the services of the UK National Health Service (NHS) when you are eventually granted a UK visa, and you move to the UK.
The UK health surcharge costs £300 per year for the Youth Mobility Scheme (Tier 5) visa or student visa, and £400 for other UK visa and immigration application types.
NOTE: You will still pay separately for some other healthcare services like: eye test, dental treatment, prescriptions and assisted conception.
What are the Reasons Why Some UK Visa Applications Rejected?
Some of the reasons why some UK visas are denied include:
- Missing Documents: This is one of the most common reasons why the embassy turns down some visa applications. Make sure none of the required documents for visa application is not missing before submitting to the embassy, else your application will be turned down, and you will need to start all over again.
- Not able to meet the English language requirements.
- Mismatching and incorrect information in the documents you submitted to the embassy.
- Wrong organization of required documents.
- Insufficient financial means to support your stay in the UK.
Will I be Refunded if my UK Visa Application is Rejected?
No, you will not be refunded if your visa application is not approved. This is because the fees you paid are visa processing fees, and they are non-refundable fees, even if you wish to withdraw your application. If your first visa application is rejected, you will need to reapply and pay all the required visa processing fees again.
Will my UK Visa Application be Approved if I Have a Criminal Record?
If you have a criminal record, your home office will treat your application differently from the way the applications of other people with no criminal records are treated. But the UK authorities will still receive and process your UK visa application if it reaches them.
The length of sentence and the time such criminal activity happened play important roles in such cases. Your visa application will be rejected automatically if you were imprisoned:
- Between one to four years, unless at least ten years have passed since the end of the sentence.
- For four years or more.
- For less than twelve months, unless at least 5 years have passed since the end of the sentence.
NOTE: Your application will be rejected on the spot if your criminal record has a case which is not up to 12 months, in which you were convicted of an offense for which you received a non-custodial sentence or out of court disposal.
Do I Need to Register with the Police when I Finally Enter the UK?
Check the visa sticker on your passport to see if it contains the words, “Police registration” or “Register with the Police within 7 days of entry”. If you see such words, then you need to register with the police once you enter the UK, with a valid visa.
Make sure you do that within seven days of your entry into the UK, else your visa validity will be reduced, and you might even be sent back to your home country.
Can I Travel to Other Countries While I am in the UK, with my Valid UK Visa?
Yes, you can travel to other countries when you enter the UK. Note that there may be other requirements which you must meet before you are allowed into other countries, depending on your nationality and purpose of travel.
If you wish to visit other European countries from the UK, you need to apply for the Schengen visa, which will allow you to travel to other European countries for tourism and business purposes, for a maximum of ninety (90) days. Even if you are not a British citizen, you can apply for the visa from UK. But note that the visa requirements might for British citizens might differ from those of non-British citizens. For more details, check out this guide: Schengen Visa Application from the UK.
NOTE: If you wish to travel to the U.S. from UK, you might be required to apply for a U.S. visa in the UK, depending on your nationality. Instead of applying for a U.S. visa, you will need to apply for ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), if you are a citizen of a country in the Visa Waiver Program. For more details, check out this guide: How to Apply for a Visa for USA from the UK.
- How to Relocate to USA without a Job Offer/Sponsorship
- How to Relocate to UK without a Job Offer/Sponsorship
You have now learnt all about UK Point Based System (PBS), UK tier visa system and their various categories. Lastly, we answered some of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the UK Point-Based Immigration system and UK visa tiers/categories. With these information, you now know the UK visa type that suits you.
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