Immigration law is the branch of law that regulates how people enter the UK, either temporarily, long-term, or permanently. When people enter the UK they deal with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), a regulatory body that determines who can enter the UK, and how long they can stay. When someone wants to visit the UK from another country they have certain conditions and requirements they must meet. Immigration law determines what those conditions and requirements are, and how they must be met. Often these conditions and requirements differ depending on a person's country of origin, purpose for visiting the UK, and certain other factors.
Entering the UK
There are several different ways that a person from another country can enter the UK. In most cases, visitors must have a valid visa to enter the UK, regardless of whether they are entering for a short holiday, a longer visit, or permanently. The exception to this rule is that citizens of some European countries can enter the UK without a visa, and can live and work in the UK, as long as they meet certain other conditions.
Entering for work or study: tiered immigration system
People who want to enter the UK to work or study are categorised into a specific tier depending on certain factors.
Tier 1 includes people who have funds to invest in a UK business, who are setting up or purchasing a UK business, or who are exceptionally talented in a particular field.
Tier 2 includes skilled workers who are coming to the UK with a job already in place.
Tier 4 are people who are coming to the UK to study, and who already have a place at a recognised university or other approved educational institution.
Tier 5 are temporary workers. They can stay for up to 12 months.
Entering as a partner, spouse, or family member
Someone who is the partner or spouse of a current UK resident can also apply to immigrate. To be eligible the applicant and the UK-resident partner or spouse must have work, or another means of being self-supporting. They might also be required to prove their relationship is genuine.
Someone who has other family living in the UK can join them by applying for a family visa. Again, they must either have work, or have another means of being self-supporting.
Visa Application Process
For someone to move to the UK permanently they must first obtain a visa that grants them the right to live and work in the UK. They can apply for permanent residency once they’ve been living and working in the UK for a certain period of time.
Applying for a visa
The exact application process depends on a person's country of origin, the kind of visa they're applying for, and the circumstances under which they're applying. In most cases the process starts with an online application, followed by an appointment at a visa application centre. Once UKVI receives all the necessary information, most applications are processed within 30 days.
Becoming a citizen or permanent resident
There are multiple paths a UK immigrant can take to become a permanent resident.
Naturalisation is open to people over 18, of good character, who meet the residency requirements and can speak English, and who have been living in the UK at least 5 years.
Becoming a British citzen is an option for British nationals, as well as protected people and those who are stateless. Some people with a British mother or father can also choose this method.
Citizenship is available to spouses and civil partners of British citizens. To be eligible the applicant must have lived in the UK at least 3 years, be over 18 and of good character, and speak English.
Both naturalisation and citizenship also require that the applicant has been granted indefinite leave to remain, or permanent residency.
Indefinite leave to remain
To receive indefinite leave to remain the applicant must have been living in the UK for a certain number of years. Depending on circumstances this is typically 2-5 years. Once indefinite leave has been granted the applicant can stay in the UK permanently.
Rejection and Appeal
Not all visa requests are granted. When a visa application is rejected the applicant has the right to appeal the decision by filing an appeal with UKVI. At the immigration tribunal hearing the applicant can plead their own case or be represented by an immigration solicitor.