How to Immigrate to the United Kingdom

How to Immigrate to the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom is a highly sought destination for immigrants for many reasons. It is brimming with history both in its big cities and quaint pastoral towns. And Brexit not withstanding, England enjoys a stable political culture that offers universal healthcare and extremely low levels of gun violence. Wondering how to settle there? We’ll break down the most common pathways used to achieve permanent residence in the United Kingdom.

First Things First

No matter the pathway you choose for relocation to England, it will take five years of strict adherence to the terms of your visa and a demonstration that you have been self-sufficient during that time in order to apply for permanent residence.

For now, residents of the European Union are still permitted to come to the UK and begin that five year process visa-free, with only a passport. That will likely change after March of 2019 when new regulations around Brexit are fully developed and implemented, but it will still be relatively easy for citizens of an EU country to gain entrance. If you happen to be a citizen of an EU country or Switzerland, the rest of this article will not apply to you.

Skilled Worker Visa

Generally called a Tier 2 visa, to qualify you must be sponsored by a UK-based business that is willing to offer you a job based on your professional skills. You have a better chance if you are on the Shortage Occupation List, but in recent months the cap on this kind of visa application has been reached consistently, resulting in professionals as advanced as doctors being turned away. That doesn’t mean that you have no chance to go this route, but even with a skilled job offer, you may need to apply several times before getting through.

Beyond having demonstrable professional skills, the points total awarded to your application has a lot to do with the salary for your job offer. The minimum is £30,000 (£20,800 if you’re a graduate recruit). Unfortunately, the more applicants there are, the higher this minimum salary climbs. In December 2017, the amount was £55,000 a year unless applicants were promised PhD-level roles or were filling positions on the official shortage occupation lists.

Entrepreneur or Investor Visa

This is a Tier 1 visa, and is open to people with cash to burn. Well, not burn exactly, but invest. Currently you must have at least £50,000 available to invest in a UK business in order to qualify. As with most other visas to Britain, you must also speak and write English well and score at least 95 points on the skills assessment.

Visa holders can stay in the UK for three years and four months before needing to apply for an extension that will grant another two years. This can get you to the five-year mark needed for application for permanent residence.

Spouse Visa

If you are married to a permanent UK resident and have been living with them for at least two years, you can apply for a visa that lasts 33 months. After that time, if you’re still married, you may extend the visa for a further two years and six months, to get to that all-important five-year mark. After five years of good behavior, you can apply for permanent residence.

One wrinkle in this process is that you and your partner will need to demonstrate a minimum annual income in order to qualify. For just you and your spouse, it’s £18,600 before taxes. With one child in tow, it goes up to £22,400 and is £2,400 more for each additional child beyond one. The income requirement is waived if you have refugee status.

Student Visa

To qualify for a student visa, you must be at least 16 years old, have a reserved place in a program of study, be able to support yourself financially, and speak and write English proficiently. The earliest you can apply is 3 months before the start of your program, but decisions tend to come within three weeks of application.

How long you will be able to stay in the UK depends on your particular course of study. But one of the nice things about a student visa is that you can apply to extend your stay while in the country in order to continue your current course or take up a new course of study.


While this is surely no one’s first choice, the UK is fairly welcoming of refugees. If you have travelled to Britain in fear for your life, and can show that you risk serious harm by returning home, you should apply for asylum in the UK as soon as possible after arriving.

After applying, you’ll be assigned an immigration officer. He or she will meet with you and help set you up with legal counsel and explain your options for living in the country until your asylum either comes through or is denied. This usually takes about six months, during which time you won’t be able to work. Falsifying statements on an asylum application carries a penalty of up to two years in prison as well as deportation.

Short Term Options

Visitor Visa

A standard visitor visa allows stays of up to six months for leisure or some approved business activities such as meetings, performances, or negotiations. If you want to be in the UK regularly as a visitor, it is also possible to get a long-term visa that lasts for two, five, or 10 years. The catch is that you can only stay for six months at a time, and then must leave and re-enter the country. But with all of Western Europe right next door, this is relatively easy and pleasurable to accomplish.

In general, you are eligible for a visitor visa if you can show that you intend to leave Britain at the end of your stay. However, if in that time you receive a job offer, get accepted to a course of study, or meet your future spouse, you may apply for a new visa to meet the needs of the life change.

Domestic Workers in a Private Household Visa

This visa allows you to live in the UK for up to six months with a family for whom you work in a domestic role. So if you nanny for a rich family, start laying down some subliminal messages about how great it would be to take an extended holiday in England. Who knows, you may meet your future British spouse while there.

There are literally hundreds of different visas available for travel to the United Kingdom, but we have given you the broad categories under which most fall. Be sure to dig into the official Visas & Immigration page run by the UK government to find out which option makes the most sense for you.

Because Britain is not the easiest country in the world for immigration, and it can be costly, consider engaging a professional immigration advisor to guide you through the process. This can be especially helpful if you’ll need a series of visas to achieve the five-year benchmark for permanent residence.

Good luck – keep calm and carry on!