Navigating The UK’s New Visitor Visa Rules
On 22nd October 2020, the Home Office published its ‘Statement of Change on the Immigration Rules HC813’, outlining a raft of changes, most of which will come into force on 1st December 2020. It is safe to say these represent a substantial overhaul of the current UK immigration rules providing the basis for the post-Brexit immigration policy for 2021.
The document covers a wide variety of areas including changes to the overarching requirements of validity, suitability, continuous residence, English language, and maintenance. It also covers the skilled worker, intra-company transfer, global talent, student, and visitor routes, in addition to the S2 healthcare visitor route. There are too many changes to cover in one article, hence we will focus specifically on the new UK visitor rules to discover what has changed.
Study, Research, And Academics On The New UK Visitor Visa
“A visitor may study for up to six months at an accredited institution, provided the study is not at a state-funded school or academy and provided the additional requirements of V.9.1. are also met”
Studying can now be the main purpose of a visit to the UK under the new rules. Visitors will now be permitted to study up to six months under the standard visit route; this is currently set at a maximum of 30 days.
“Where the applicant is seeking to come to the UK to undertake research or be taught about research at a UK institution, their overseas course provider must confirm that: (a) the research or research tuition is relevant to the course of study that they are enrolled on overseas; and (b) the applicant will not be employed at the UK institution, either as a sponsored researcher under Appendix Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) Government Authorised Exchange Scheme Worker, or otherwise.”
Visitors aged 16 or over who are enrolled on a course of study outside of the UK are now allowed to use a visitor visa to conduct research in the UK or receive “research tuition” at an eligible UK institution for a period of up to six months.
“An academic applying for a 12-month entry clearance must: (a) intend to undertake one of the permitted activities in Appendix Visitor: Permitted Activities at PA 11.2. for up to 12 months; and (b) be highly qualified within their own field of expertise; and (c) be currently be working in their field of expertise at an academic institution or institution of higher education overseas; and (d) provide a valid medical certificate if paragraph A39 and Appendix T of these rules apply”.
The revised visitor immigration rules mean that academics coming to the UK now have more flexibility if they decide to extend their stay from six months to 12 months if they meet the above eligibility criteria.
Volunteering On The New UK Visitor Visa
“A visitor may undertake volunteering provided it lasts no more than 30 days in total and is for a charity that is registered with either the Charity Commission for England and Wales; the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland; or the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator”.
Like the new rules for student visitors, it is now possible to use the new visitor visa where the purpose of coming to the UK is to volunteer. Previously volunteering had to be ‘incidental’ to the main reason for visiting. Unlike the rules for short-term study, a visitor visa can only be used for volunteering for a maximum of 30 days.
Clarification For Drivers On International Routes
“Individuals employed outside the UK may visit the UK to take part in the following activities in relation to their employment overseas…. a driver on a genuine international route delivering or collecting goods or passengers between the UK and overseas”.
Another of the permitted activities on a visitor visa is “Overseas roles requiring specific activities in the UK”, one of which is for drivers on a genuine international route. The above wording clarifies that from 1st December 2020, international drivers entering the UK to collect goods or passengers will be classified as visitors; previously this was only the case if they were delivering goods or passengers to the UK.
Changes To Accepted Travel Documents
“the applicant must have provided a passport or other document which satisfactorily establishes their identity and nationality”.
The above wording replaces the requirement for visitor visa applicants to hold a ‘travel document’. By requiring visitors to have a “passport or other documents which satisfactorily establishes their identity and nationality”, this may lead to new confusion as to which documents may be acceptable. In some cases, visitors may hold a document that is suitable for the purposes of international travel but does not clearly establish their identity and nationality.
Grounds For Refusal Of A Visitor Visa
“An application for entry clearance, permission to enter or permission to stay must be refused where the applicant: (a) has been convicted of a criminal offence in the UK or overseas for which they have received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more; or (b) is a persistent offender who shows a particular disregard for the law; or (c) has committed a criminal offence, or offences, which caused serious harm”.
The new visitor rules make it much more likely that an applicant who has been convicted of an offence leading to a custodial sentence of one year or more will be refused entry. Under the existing visitor rules, this depends on the length of the sentence and how long has passed since it has been served.
In addition, a person will be refused a visitor visa if the Home Office case officer can find clear evidence that “it is more likely than not” that the applicant intended to deceive in their application.
There are positive aspects to the changes to the new visitor visa. The improvements in clarity and removal of conflicting definitions are to be welcomed. In addition, the greater scope to study and volunteer as permitted activities may make the visa more attractive to those planning to spend only a short amount of time in the UK.
The reduction in the discretion available to case officers when faced with an applicant with a criminal background, on the other hand, may lead to some unfair decisions being made. If you need more information or legal assistance with your immigration matter, feel free to speak to one of our experienced immigration lawyers.