To enter the UK, you may need to apply for a visa (also called entry clearance). Most visas for the UK require an application before you travel to the UK.

You should always try and get legal advice before submitting an application. You can find information about visas for the UK on the Home Office website.

The requirements for visas are becoming increasingly difficult to meet: most require a lot of documentary evidence, large amounts of money, and lengthy probation periods. See also Family Members section.

This section explains general grounds of refusal of entry, gives an overview of the main types of visa for entry to the UK, then looks at the immigration health surcharge, and entering the UK and claiming asylum.

There are “general grounds” under which the Home Office can refuse an application to enter the UK. This includes if you are subject to a deportation order, or are subject to a re-entry ban for other reasons.

See Re-entry Bans section

Some of the grounds for refusal are quite vague. For example, “failure by a person arriving in the United Kingdom to furnish the Immigration Officer with such information as may be required for the purpose of deciding whether he requires leave to enter and, if so, whether and on what terms leave should be given”. Others are more specific. For example, an application may be refused if the applicant has failed to “pay a charge or charges with a total value of at least £500 in accordance with the relevant NHS regulations on charges to overseas visitors.” You can find the immigration rules on general grounds of refusal here.

The right to appeal refusals of visa applications is limited – there is now only the right of appeal for decisions regarding international protection, human rights applications or EU law applications.

Even if your application is successful, entry clearance officers (the immigration officers who work at ports of entry) can still refuse to let you enter. For example, you may have successfully applied for a visa (“entry clearance”) but an Immigration Officer may refuse to let you enter the UK if they are “satisfied” that false representations were made in your application, or false documents or information were submitted, or you did not disclose important information, or if your circumstances have changed since you applied. See Immigration Rules, section Refusal of leave to enter in relation to a person in possession of an entry clearance.

All visas will be time limited and so will need to be renewed if you wish to stay longer. If you do not renew your visa, you will be classified as an overstayer. Overstaying is an immigration offence, and the Home Office frequently use “poor immigration history” as a reason to refuse applications for leave to remain, or to argue against release from detention.

This Toolkit will not go into detail about the many different kinds of immigration applications that can be made. For more information on asylum claims, human rights applications and family migration, follow the links below.

See Claiming Asylum section
See Human Rights section
See Family Members section

Student visas

People who are not European Economic Area (EEA) nationals and are wishing to study in the UK for more than six months will need to apply for a student visa. You will need to have been offered a place on a course; be able to speak, read, write and understand English; and have enough money to support yourself and pay for your course. You may be able to work during your time as a student in the UK, but generally this is restricted to 20 hours a week during term time. Read more about student visas here.

Work and investor visas

People applying to enter or stay in the UK to work used to apply under what was known as the “points-based system”. Although the government seems to be phasing out the “points-based” tiers of the system, the principle of needing to meet certain criteria for certain visas will continue. What was known as Tier 1 (now covered by “Appendix W” for “workers” in the immigration rules) covers “investors, business development and exceptional talent”. Tier 2 is a category for “skilled workers” with a job offer in the UK; Tier 5 covers certain temporary work visas. Find out more here.

European nationals

Nationals from the European Economic Area (EEA) can currently travel to the UK more easily than people from non-European countries. The EEA consists of the member states of the EU, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. As an EEA national (or if you are Swiss), you can enter the UK with either a valid passport or a national identity card issued by a EEA country. It must be valid for the whole of your stay. As an EEA/Swiss national, you do not need a visa to enter the UK.

See EU law section

Health surcharge

The government has introduced an “immigration health surcharge” (IHS) as part of some applications for leave to enter/remain in the UK.

All applicants for entry clearance (visas) for more than six months, and people already in the UK applying for time-limited leave to remain, are required to pay the charge to cover National Health Service (NHS) healthcare in the UK.

This includes people applying to come to the UK as a worker or student, and people applying for leave to remain under the Family Migration section of the immigration rules (this includes applications based on your family/private life, family members in the UK and long residence in the UK).

Who doesn’t have to pay the surcharge

You do not need to pay the surcharge if you’re applying from outside the UK for a visitor visa or any visa that lasts six months or less.

The rules state that you do not need to pay the surcharge if you are applying for indefinite leave to remain (ILR), but there have been occasions when the Home Office have stated it is required and will be refunded if the application is successful. If you apply for indefinite leave to remain and are instead granted a form of limited leave to remain by the Home Office, you are likely to be asked to pay the surcharge.

You currently do not need to pay the surcharge if:

  • you are an EEA national (or family member of one) exercising treaty rights
  • you are a child under 18 who is in local authority care
  • you are an identified victim of trafficking
  • you are applying for asylum or humanitarian protection, or other protection under Article 3 of the ECHR.

Find a full list of exemptions to the surcharge here.

Paying the surcharge

The charge is £300 per year for students and £400 per year for all other types of application. The charge is payable for each dependant as well as the main applicant. You have pay the total amount for the length of visa you are applying for, upfront. For example, if you are applying for a visa that is valid for two years, you would need to pay £800 with your application. You pay the surcharge via the government’s surcharge website.

If you can prove you are destitute, you can apply for a fee waiver on the basis that not getting a fee waiver would mean you couldn’t exercise your human rights under the ECHR.  You can apply for a fee waiver of just the Immigration Health Surcharge if you are able to pay the fee for making the immigration/human rights application; or a fee waiver for both if you are unable to pay either.

To apply for a fee waiver, you need to apply online here.  Read more in the Home Office’s fee waiver policy here.

If you are required to pay the surcharge as part of your application, and your application is then refused, the health surcharge is refunded.

Entering the UK and claiming asylum

There is no visa for claiming asylum. Once you make it to the UK, you claim asylum on arrival at the port of entry, or at the Home Office in Croydon.

See Claim Asylum section

False passports

Some people who come to the UK to seek asylum use their own passport, but for some this is not possible because they do not have one and to ask for one, or to travel on their own passport, would put them in danger.

Article 31 of the Refugee Convention acknowledges the danger for some people of using a real passport in their own name, and states that asylum seekers should not be punished for this if they have a good reason for using false documents.

The “Article 31” principle is part of UK law as Section 31 of the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act.

Section 31 provides for the defence for someone charged with ‘document offences’, if they can demonstrate that they have:

  • come to the UK directly from a country where their life or freedom was threatened
  • presented themselves to the authorities in the UK without delay
  • showed good cause for their illegal entry or presence, and
  • made a claim for asylum as soon as was reasonably practicable after their arrival in the UK.

People prosecuted by the UK government for the use of a false passport may not be aware of the statutory defence above. If you are represented by a lawyer who specialises in criminal law, and who does not know this Section 31 defence, the lawyer may wrongly advise you to plead guilty: the evidence of the crime is clearly there, and pleading guilty should lead to a shorter sentence. You should, however, be given advice about the Section 31 defence (which allows you to plead not guilty).

If convicted, you may serve a prison sentence and the criminal conviction for using a false passport may be used as a reason to refuse some immigration applications – including indefinite leave to remain – and can cause problems when applying for work.

If you are in Scotland, you should ask your lawyer to look at the Crown Office’s prosecution guidelines, designed to protect refugees fleeing persecution.

There are legal options, even after a criminal sentence has been given, that may help you if you have been prosecuted for use of a false passport. One of these is the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).

The CCRC was set up to deal with suspected miscarriages of justice. It has reviewed a number of convictions relating to offences by asylum seekers/refugees connected to their entry to the UK. In most of these cases, the applicants have been advised to plead guilty, and were not advised that they may have a defence. The CCRC has the power to refer convictions (and sentences) to the appropriate appeal court if it determines there is a real possibility that the conviction will be quashed.

For more information on this process, contact the CCRC on 0121 233 1473 or get an application form on their website.

The CCRC can deal with cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For cases in Scotland, contact the Scottish CCRC on 0141 2707030 or see their website for more information.