What are the current visa rules for visitors arriving to the UK?

The free movement of EU citizens arriving in the UK ended on the 31st of December 2020. All EU arrivals after this date must either possess a valid permission to enter or remain, for example, a pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, or they must seek permission to enter as a visitor at the UK borders. Entry into the UK for any other purpose without a valid visa is not permitted. 

There have been recent reports that EU citizens have been denied entry to the UK and have been detained for removal. So, what are the current rules for EU visitors (with no pre-settled or settled status) arriving in the UK?

EU citizens visiting the UK

There is no need for EU citizens to apply for a visit visa to visit the UK. EU visitors can fly to the UK and ask permission to enter the country at the borders. Only citizens of countries listed in the Visa National list must seek to apply for a visit visa prior to their travel to the UK.

What visitors can’t do whilst visiting the UK

The Home Office has published a list in the Immigration Rules of activities that are prohibited for visitors to undertake. Paragraph V4.4 states that visitors are not allowed to undertake the following activities unless expressly authorised:

  • Work
  • Study
  • Marriage/Civil partnership
  • Medical treatment

Any visitor wanting to undertake the activities above, must apply in advance for a visa that will allow them to do so e.g. skilled worker visa, marriage visit visa, student visa, or a private medical treatment visa. These applications cannot be made at the border, an application must be submitted in advance via the government website.

What visitors can do whilst visiting the UK

The Immigration Rules set out all the things that a visitor can do whilst in the UK. The permitted activities include:

  • Tourism and leisure
  • Visiting friends and family
  • School exchanges and visits
  • Volunteering up to 30 days with a registered charity
  • Attend meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews
  • Negotiate and sign deals and contracts
  • Site visits and inspections
  • Intra-corporate activities 
  • Interpreting and translation work as an employee of an overseas enterprise
  • Tour group work
  • Journalism
  • Scientific and academic research
  • Preaching and pastoral work by religious workers

Visitors may also job search for future employment in the UK. However, visitors must be aware of the strict rules that if they are successful in finding work in the UK they must not begin working under any circumstances. They must leave the UK and go back to their home country where they are able to apply for the appropriate entry clearance visa.

Being allowed in at the border 

In order to be allowed entry, the border officer must be satisfied that the person is a genuine visitor and will leave the country at the end of their visit. The officer will assess the visitor’s credibility and intentions on a balance of probabilities. Although there is guidance available to border officers, this is ultimately a subjective decision and as such, this will inevitably lead to variance in border-decision making.

Some of the important factors a border officer will consider when deciding whether to permit entry are:

  • What is the main reason for visiting the UK?
  • Immigration history, including previous visa refusals and duration and frequency of previous visits to the UK
  • Is the visitor frequently and successively visiting to make the UK their main home or place of work or study?
  • Personal and economic ties to the country of residence. Does the visitor have a job, family, or home to go back to?
  • Does the visitor have a return flight booked
  • Does the visitor have enough money to cover the costs of their visit and stay

Please note this list is not exhaustive and border officers will take a look at the overall circumstances of the visitor to reach a decision. 

How long can a visitor stay in the UK? 

Visitors that are nationals of countries that do not require a visitor visa to enter the UK can stay for a maximum period of 6 months from the date of entry. 

Visitors that are nationals of countries that do require a visitor visa to enter the UK can stay for 6 months from the date of entry or until the expiry of their visa document, whichever is the earliest.

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