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UK Entry Clearance Guidance

If you are planning to come to the UK in the near future, depending on where you are from, you may need to apply for entry clearance before travelling. This typically involves applying for a visa that meets the purpose of your travel to the UK. Here we explain what is meant by entry clearance, who requires entry clearance, how to apply, and what to do if you are refused.

What is entry clearance?

Entry clearance is the process of being cleared to come to the UK as a foreign national, whether to visit, work, study, or any other reason, whether on a permanent or temporary basis. It involves a British High Commission or Embassy in another country granting you permission to enter the UK. Entry clearance is defined by the Home Office as “the procedure used by Entry Clearance Officers (ECOs) at British posts overseas to check before a person arrives in the UK if that person qualifies under the Immigration Rules for entry to the UK” 1.

As the name suggests, entry clearance applications can only be made from outside the UK. Usually from the applicants country of origin or a country where they have a legal right to reside.

If you are granted entry clearance to come to the UK, you will be issued with an entry document, typically a vignette sticker that is placed in your passport.

It is important to note that even if you are granted entry clearance at a British Embassy or Consulate, the authority to admit you into the UK will ultimately rest with an Immigration Officer at the port of entry.

Is there a difference between a visa and an entry clearance?

The term “visa” and “entry clearance” mean slightly different things but are closely related.

A visa is an official document which grants you permission to come to the UK for a stated purpose (e.g. work, study, visiting). As such, a visa is a type of entry clearance, as is a family permit.

Entry clearance is the process of checking a person meets the immigration rules before allowing them entry to the UK.

When you apply for a visa, you are also applying for entry clearance.

Who needs a UK entry clearance?

There are over 100 countries whose citizens must apply for a visa before they can enter the UK. These are referred to as “visa nationals”. Visa nationals must apply for a visa that will grant them entry clearance before coming to the UK.

Citizens of certain countries, including Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, Namibia, Botswana, Hong Kong, and several other nations can enter the UK without a visa if they are only staying for 6 months or less. These are referred to as “non-visa nationals”. If staying longer than 6 months, a visa is generally required.

It is important to note that entry clearance is still undertaken for citizens of these non-visa countries. The difference is that it is conducted at the UK border. You will need to show your passport, and the entry-clearance officer may ask you several questions such as how long you are staying in the UK and what is the reason for your visit.

We recommend using the Home Office’s online service 2 to check if you need a visa. Based on your nationality, the reason for travelling to the UK, and the amount of time you will spend in the UK, you will be advised if you need a visa (and hence need prior entry clearance).

How do I apply for entry clearance?

The process of applying for entry clearance is same the same as applying for a visa (i.e. when you apply for a visa, you also apply for entry clearance – these are not separate processes).

Where you need to apply for your visa will depend on the type of visa you require. In some cases, you will need to apply in the country where you reside; for others, you may be able to apply in other countries.

Applications are typically completed online on the Home Office website 3. The type of application you need to prepare and submit and the documents you need to provide will depend entirely on the type of visa you need.

To make an entry clearance application, you may need to provide:

  • A valid passport or travel document.
  • Proof that you can support yourself whilst you are in the UK, for example, bank account statements.
  • A record of your biometric data (fingerprints and a photograph) taken at a local Visa Application Centre.

You will need to present other documents depending on the type of visa you are applying for. For example, if you are applying for a Skilled Worker visa, you will need to show that you have a Certificate of Sponsorship from an employer who holds a valid UK Sponsor Licence, evidence of sufficient personal savings and that you can speak English to the required level.

What happens to your entry clearance at the UK border?

When you arrive in the UK, you will need to show both your passport (or other travel document) and a passenger locator form to a UK Border Force Immigration Officer. They will check your vignette to verify your entry clearance and ask you questions about your stay in the UK. If they are satisfied, they will stamp your passport and grant you entry. Because you already have a visa and have satisfied the necessary eligibility and other requirements, the checks carried out at the border are usually completed in a short time.

It is important to understand that even if you have entry clearance, you can still be refused entry at the border. As such, entry clearance only provides you with permission to travel to the UK for the purposes of seeking entry through the border. The final decision will rest with the Immigration Officer at the border. If you are granted entry clearance, but on arrival, a border official has concerns that your reason for entering the UK is not as stated on your visa application, they have the right to refuse you entry.

If you do not have entry clearance because you are entitled to apply for leave to remain for less than 6 months on arrival, you will need to satisfy the border official that you meet the requirements. If granted, you will be given leave subject to conditions on what you can (and cannot do in the UK) and when you must leave the country by.

If you are transiting through the UK, you may need to obtain a visa to pass through the UK in transit. If you do not need to pass through the UK border (e.g. if your connecting flight is in the same airport and is leaving in 24 hours or less), you may need a Direct Airside Transit Visa (DATV). If you do have to go through UK border patrol (e.g. if your connecting flight leaves from another airport), you may need a Visitor in Transit Visa, which will be valid for 48 hours.

By using the Home Office visa checking service, you can quickly clarify if a visa is needed and which type to apply for.

What if my entry clearance is refused?

In the majority of applications where an Entry Clearance Officer has concerns on the grounds of eligible or suitable, they will ask for further information or invite you to attend an interview. This will provide you with a valuable opportunity to satisfy the Entry Clearance Officer that you meet the requirements and your intentions are entirely genuine.

Your application may then be approved, refused, or deferred until more evidence has been provided. Entry clearance may be refused if the Home Office believe:

  • You are coming to the UK for a different reason than that stated in the application
  • You made a false representation when you applied
  • You have been deported
  • You have committed a serious criminal offence
  • You have breached the immigration rules in the past
  • It would not be in the public good to grant your visa

If your application is refused, your decision letter will outline if you have a right of appeal or if you can request an Administrative Review (AR). In most cases, you likely will not have a full right of appeal, but you may be able to request an AR if you believe a mistake was made when deciding your application. Your other options are to reapply or to come to the UK and apply for entry on arrival (at which point you will still need to satisfy the border official you are eligible).

In any event, we recommend speaking to an immigration Solicitor in the UK who can review your situation and recommend the best way forward.

How can Reiss Edwards help?

If you are coming to the UK, it is important to apply for the correct type of entry clearance and use the correct process. Our team will be happy to have a chat about your entry clearance and visa requirements and those of your family members.

We can assist with all aspects of entry clearance applications, including:

  • Recommending the best immigration route to meet your goals and those of your family
  • Checking your application prior to submission
  • Handling the visa application process for you
  • Checking you have the necessary documents
  • Dealing with complex matters relating to your application
  • Liaising with the Home Office on your behalf
  • Managing a visa refusal


1 GOV.UK: ECB3: What is entry clearance?

2 GOV.UK: Check if you need a UK visa

3 GOV.UK: Applying for a visa to come to the UK

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