Visitor visas

New Visitor Rules introduced by the Home Office apply to all Visit visa applications made on or after 24 April 2015. The guidance in this section details the restrictions and permitted activities under the Visitor visa routes relevant to the University, the application process, and when a Visitor visa would not be the appropriate visa route.

Who is a visitor?

A visitor is someone from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) who is coming to the UK, usually for up to six months, for a temporary purpose, for example as a tourist, to visit friends or family or to carry out a business activity. Visitors are not permitted to undertake employment and can only carry out work which falls within the permitted activities of the category of Visit visa they hold. A visitor needs to obtain permission to enter the UK in the form of either a Visit visa or ‘leave to enter’ i.e. having their passport stamped under the correct Visitor category on entry to the UK.

Visitors to the University who have been invited or are being hosted by the University would come to the UK as an Academic or Business visitor or as a Permitted Paid Engagement (PPE) visitor. They would not require a Certificate of Sponsorship, but would require a formal letter of invitation from the University to evidence the purpose of their visit. Those visiting only open access areas of the University, such as public areas of Museums and Libraries, would not require a letter of invitation.

Please note that applicants under the Academic Visitor route must be employed by an academic institution outside the UK. Applicants who are retired are not eligible under either the Academic or Permitted Paid Engagement (PPE) route.

A short Overseas visitor guide for Academics (259kb) is available for academics who invite visitors from overseas which gives an overview of the rules and requirements of the visitor immigration routes. 

While considering the possible visa requirements it may also be useful to direct potential visitors to the new website the International Strategy Office have launched to support international visiting researchers (providing information on arranging a visit and issues such as accommodation, healthcare and banking) which can be found at:

https://www.ox.ac.uk/research/support-researchers/international-visiting-researchers?wssl=1

What can a visitor do while in the UK?

The activities which a visitor can carry out in the UK depend on the type of Visitor visa they hold and the sub-category they fall under depending on what they state is the main purpose of their visit in their visa application. For full details see Visitors - Permitted Activities & Restrictions.

What are the Visitor visa routes?

In April 2015 the Home Office amalgamated several visitor categories to reduce the number of visitor routes from 15 to 4, summarised below. While the new Standard Visitor route now permits visitors to undertake multiple activities whilst they are in the UK they should make clear the main purpose of their visit when applying for a visa and on entry to the UK.

Visitor visa route

Previous Visitor visa route

Maximum length of stay

Standard Visitor

  • General Visitor (i.e. tourist)
  • Family Visitor
  • Child Visitor
  • Business Visitor (including Academic Visitor)
  • Prospective Entrepreneur
  • Entertainment Visitor
  • Sports Visitor
  • Visitor for Private Medical Treatment
  • Visitor undertaking clinical attachments
  • ADS Visitor (Approved Destination Status – for Chinese tour groups)

up to 6 months, OR

 

up to 11 months for Private Medical Treatment, OR

 

up to 12 months for an Academic Visitor & their spouse/ partner/ children, OR

 

up to 30 days for ADS Visitor

Marriage/ Civil Partnership Visitor

  • Visitor for Marriage/ Civil Partnership

up to 6 months

Permitted Paid Engagement (PPE) Visitor

  • Permitted Paid Engagement (PPE) Visitor

up to 1 month

Transit Visitor

  • Visitors in Transit

up to 48 hours

  • the ‘Student Visitor’ route has been renamed as ‘Short Term Study’ and is now a study, rather than a visitor visa route. Please see the Student Visa and Immigration guidance and relevant Home Office guidance for information in relation to Short Term Study visas.
  • the ‘Parent of a child at school’ route has been renamed as ‘Parent of a Tier 4 (child) student’ and is no longer a visitor visa route

What is the Visitor visa application process?

The process of obtaining permission to enter the UK as a Visitor depends on whether the applicant is classed as a ‘visa national’ or ‘non-visa national’. Appendix 2 of the Appendix V Immigration Rules for Visitors lists the countries whose nationals are considered to be 'visa nationals'.

'non-visa nationals' do not require a Visitor visa in advance of travel to the UK if they are coming for less than six months. They must, however, announce and evidence the purpose of their visit, by providing their letter of invitation from the University and any other required documents, to Immigration Officers at their UK port of entry and satisfy them that they meet the relevant requirements. They will then have their passport stamped under the appropriate visitor category granting ‘leave to enter’ the UK as a Visitor. There is no fee for obtaining ‘leave to enter’ at the UK port of entry.

Please note that if a ‘non-visa national’ is coming to the UK for longer than six months they must apply for a visa in advance of travelling to the UK using the same process as ‘visa nationals’.

'visa nationals' always require a visa in advance of travel to the UK. Information on how to apply for a Standard Visitor or PPE Visitor visa can be found on the Home Office website. Visitor visa applications must be submitted online (in all countries except North Korea) with supporting documents and Biometric information (photograph & fingerprints), if required, submitted through the local Visa Application Centre. While the new Standard Visitor route now permits visitors to undertake multiple activities whilst they are in the UK they should choose the sub category which matches the main purpose of their visit in their online visa application. There will be an application fee when applying for a Visitor visa in advance of travelling to the UK.

Particular care should be taken to ensure that the information provided when applying for a Visitor visa is complete and accurate as omissions or inaccuracies could be considered as having used deception. In particular, applicants should ensure that they list any spent or unspent convictions, including traffic offences, and are consistent in what they state is the purpose of their visit. If someone is intending to visit family and/ or for tourist activities in addition to their visit to the University the University visit should be stated as their main purpose and a letter of invitation provided. If the Home Office consider that deception has been used the application will be refused and it could result in a period of automatic refusal of any subsequent applications of up to 10 years.

Anyone planning a visit to the UK, particularly non-visa nationals who do not require a visa in advance of travel, are strongly advised to raise any queries/concerns with their nearest Visa Application Centre to avoid potential problems at immigration on arrival in the UK.

What supporting documentation is required?

Those applying for a Visitor visa under the Standard Visitor visa route for up to 6 months must submit the following documents in support of their visa application, whether applying before travelling to the UK or at their UK port of entry:

  • current passport or other valid travel identification
  • 1 passport-sized colour photograph (only required when applying before travelling to UK)
  • proof that they can support themselves during their trip
  • details of where they intend to stay and their travel plans
  • an invitation letter from the host department/ college within the university

Guidance on supporting document requirements for Visitor visas can be found in the Home Office Guide. Please note that there are additional requirements for Academic Visitors for over six (up to twelve) months and those coming as PPE Visitors.

Are letters of invitation from the University always required?

Visitors to the University who are coming as an Academic or Business visitor or as a Permitted Paid Engagement (PPE) visitor will always require a letter of invitation from the host department/ college to present with their visa application (for visa nationals) or to Immigration Officers at their UK port of entry (for non-visa nationals). Those who are visiting only open access areas of the University, such as public areas of Museums and Libraries, would not require a letter of invitation. Letters of invitation are not required for dependants who are accompanying Visitors, nor do they need to be listed in the Visitor’s letter of invitation.

The Staff Immigration Team has produced template Standard Visitor – Business Business Visitor template letter of invitation (34kb) and Standard Visitor – Academic Academic visitor template letter of invitation (30kb) letters of invitation and a PPE Visitor letter of invitation PPE Visitor template letter of invitation (33kb) that can be copied onto department/faculty headed paper and amended accordingly. Please note that a letter of invitation will not guarantee a successful visa application/ successful entry to the UK. This decision is made solely by immigration officers overseas and/or at the UK port of entry.

Can the University pay travel and subsistence expenses to Visitors?

Visitors are not permitted to receive pay from a UK source (except PPE Visitors who must be paid), however, payment of reasonable expenses to cover the cost of travel and subsistence is permitted. The Home Office do not define ‘reasonable’ so please ensure any payments can be justified. If unsure on this point contact the Staff Immigration Team to discuss prior to the invitation letter being issued.

Does the NHS Surcharge apply when applying for a Visitor visa?

No, the NHS Surcharge does not apply to the Visitor visa categories, even where the visa is issued for more than 6 months. From April 2015 Visitor visa holders will be charged for any NHS treatment they receive (at a rate of 150% of the cost of treatment) and are advised to ensure they have adequate insurance.

If someone applying for a Visitor visa has failed to pay charges for NHS treatment on a previous visit to the UK and the outstanding charges amount to £500 or more their application will normally be refused.

When is a Visitor visa not the correct visa route?

A Visitor visa would not be appropriate for:

  • someone employed by the University (a Tier 1(Exceptional Talent) or Tier 2 visa would be required);
  • someone coming to give one, or a series of, lecture(s) for more than one month (a Tier 5 temporary worker visa may be appropriate but they could not be filling an advertised vacancy and must be additional to normal staffing requirements);
  • someone coming to participate in collaborative research on a University-hosted research project (a Tier 5 temporary worker visa would be required);
  • students coming on internships specifically to undertake research, i.e. ‘research interns’ (a Tier 5 temporary worker visa would be required);
  • students coming on non-research internships or work placements (a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme visa, or Tier 5 Internship Scheme visa would be required);
  • students coming to carry out research which forms part of their course of study, either within or outside the UK (a Short Term Study visa would be required);
  • those holding the title of University Visiting Professor, if working on University-hosted formal research projects (a Tier 5 temporary worker visa or Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa would be required).