What Is Immigration Law?

When people from other countries enter the UK, they must deal with UK Visas and Immigration, a regulatory body that uses immigration law to determine who can enter, and for how long. Everyone who wants to visit the UK from another country must fulfil certain conditions and meet certain requirements in order to enter. These conditions and requirements can differ depending on the person’s country of origin and other factors.

Entering the UK via work or study visa

Most visitors to the UK must have a visa in order to enter. People from some European countries can legally enter the UK without a visa, even to live and work here, providing certain other conditions are met.

The UK immigration system is a tiered system where people who want to enter are placed into certain tiers, or categories, according to their circumstances.

  • In Tier 1 are people who either have funds they wish to invest in a UK business, plan to set up or purchase a UK business, or who have exceptional talent in one or more fields.
  • Tier 2 includes skilled workers who have been offered a job in the UK. Minimum salary requirements apply to people in this category; for instance, if you’re classed as an experienced hire your job must have a salary of £30,000 or more.
  • Tier 4 students who are coming to the UK to study.
  • Tier 5 includes temporary workers who are staying up to 12 months.

Entering as a partner, spouse, or family member

Another way to enter the UK is as the partner or spouse of a UK resident. To apply for this kind of visa your spouse or partner must already be living in the UK, and both you and your partner must have work or be otherwise able to support yourselves. In addition, you may be asked to provide evidence that your relationship is genuine.

If you have other family living in the UK, and you want to join them for six months or more, you must obtain a family visa.

The Process

The typical path for someone to move to the UK permanently is to first obtain a visa that grants the right to live and work in the UK for a period of up to 5 years, or longer in some situations. Once they’ve been living in the UK for a certain period of time, they can then apply for permanent residency.

Applying for a visa

The exact process of applying for a visa depends on your country of origin and the circumstances under which you’re applying, as well as the kind of visa you’re applying for. Generally, the process includes these steps:

  1. Find out what kind of visa you need, and what supporting documents you need.
  2. Fill in an online application. You’ll have to pay an application fee at the same time. Or, pick up an application form from a visa application centre near you.
  3. Make an appointment to visit a visa application centre.
  4. Attend the appointment. Make sure to bring your application plus any other documents you need. Your photo and fingerprints will be taken and your application will be stamped at this appointment.
  5. Within 28 days, post your visa application and documents to UK Visas and Immigration.
  6. Most applications are processed within 30 days.

Becoming a citizen or permanent resident

If you are living in the UK there are several different paths you can take to become a permanent resident.

One way is naturalisation. If you’re over 18, are of good character, speak English, and meet the residency requirements, this may be an option. Residency requirements for naturalisation and citizenship typically include a minimum of 5 years living in the UK, plus a restriction on time spent outside the UK during that period.

Another way is to become a British citizen. If you’re a British national, a protected person, or are stateless, you may be able to register as a citizen. This option is also open to you if you have a British mother or father, depending on the year in which you were born.

If you’re the spouse or civil partner of a British citizen you can apply for citizenship if you meet the requirements. You must be over 18, of good character, speak English, and have lived in the UK for at least 3 years.

Naturalisation and citizenship also require that you have already been granted indefinite leave to remain, or permanent residency.

Indefinite leave to remain

To receive indefinite leave to remain you must have been living in the UK for a certain number of years, typically 2-5 years depending on your circumstances. Once you have indefinite leave to remain you can stay in the UK permanently, but to retain indefinite leave you can’t live outside the UK for more than 2 consecutive years.

How can a Solicitor Help?

Like many other fields of law, immigration law is complicated. While it’s a relatively simple matter to get a visa to enter the UK on holiday, for immigrants who want to stay in the UK long term or permanently it’s much more complex. This means that if you want to move to the UK to live and work, it’s useful to work with a law firm or a solicitor who can help you get through the application process.

A solicitor can help in a variety of ways, mainly having to do with the application process. For instance, they can:

  • Help you decide which immigration rules apply to you, and what kind of status you want to apply for.
  • Help you complete visa and immigration applications, and help you navigate any other processes and requirements that are needed to enter the UK.
  • Give you advice and help with any other matters relating to immigration or entry to the UK, such as nationality and citizenship.
  • If your entry request is denied, a solicitor can help you file an appeal, and represent you at the immigration tribunal where you appeal is heard.