Visitor Visa

Can a UK visit visa holder switch into other visa categories from within the UK?

By Amer Zaman

on February 14, 2024

Read Time: 9 Minutes

It is an understandable enough question; if you have come to the UK on a visit visa such as the Standard Visitor visa, but have since fallen in love with the UK and wish to stay, or are interested in extending your time in the UK for any other reason, is there any way of converting your visitor visa into another, perhaps longer-term visa option?

Alas, it is also a question that has a fair swift and simple answer: no. Or at least, this is the case if your wish is to switch directly from a visitor visa into another UK visa category, without leaving the UK first. There might, however, be certain options open to you for a longer-term stay in the UK, although you will almost certainly be required to leave the UK first, followed by applying for another visa from your country of origin.

So, what are the essential things to know about switching between visa types in the UK, especially when it is a visitor visa that you initially have? Below, our award-winning specialists in UK immigration law have set them out.

Can you switch visa types while in the UK?

It certainly is possible for a foreign national who is already in the UK to switch from one type of visa to another without having to leave the UK first. However, whether this will be an option open to you will depend heavily on what visa type you presently hold, and the specific type of visa to which you would like to switch.

To explain our point, let’s take a closer look at just one popular visa category in the UK, the Skilled Worker visa. This is the route through which many people migrate to the UK; in the year ending June 2023, some 321,101 UK work visas were granted to main applicants, with 69,421 of these being Skilled Worker visas, and 121,290 being Health and Care Worker visas.

If someone wished to switch into the Skilled Worker visa category from another type of visa in the UK, they would need to fulfil certain eligibility criteria. The Home Office also forbids people from applying to switch to this visa if they are on a visitor visa, or certain other types of visa, such as a short-term student visa, a Parent of a Child Student visa, or a seasonal worker visa. People who hold these visa types would need to leave the UK first, in order to then apply for a Skilled Worker visa.

So, as you can see, it is definitely possible for holders of UK visasto change directly from one visa type to another while they are still in the UK, without being forced to leave the UK. However, you will need to check whether the UK immigration rules allow your intended switch. If you are unsure, please feel free to call our central London-based experts in immigration law at Cranbrook Legal, on 0208 215 0053.

Why am I not allowed to switch from a UK visitor visa directly to another type of UK visa?

As their name suggests, the UK’s visitor visas – which include the likes of the Standard Visitor visa, Marriage Visitor visa, and Permitted Paid Engagement visa – exist for the purposes of allowing short-term visitation to the UK.

The UK’s visit visas are not designed to be “routes” or pathways into longer-term stays in the UK, and the UK Government vigilantly guards against anyone attempting to use these visa categories in such a way. Indeed, when someone applies for a Standard Visitor visa, one of the eligibility requirements is that they must be able to show they will leave the UK once their visit comes to an end.

Let’s imagine a situation in which it was, indeed, possible to switch directly from a UK visitor visa to another type of UK visa. Many unscrupulous individuals who never had any intention of only remaining in the UK temporarily, would almost certainly try to use their visitor visa as a “stepping stone” to staying permanently, thereby undermining the entire intended purpose of the UK’s visitor visa system. So, you can hopefully understand why the UK Government would set strict policies in relation to this.

So, what options do UK visitor visa holders have to stay longer in the country?

Typically, if someone is in the UK on a visitor visa and they wish to remain in the country on a longer-term basis, they will need to investigate their options for returning to their country of origin and only then applying for a new UK visa from outside the UK.

One course of action that we would certainly advise against you doing, is submitting an application for another type of UK visa anyway, despite still being in the UK on a visitor visa. This will simply waste time, and in any case, returning to your home country before making a fresh UK visa application will allow you to do so in the knowledge that you definitely intend to stay in the UK for a longer period of time, or for a different purpose than merely visiting.

Even in the event that you are offered a job in the UK for an immediate start during your time on a visitor visa in the country, you would have no option but to turn this job offer down, because there is no means by which you can switch directly from a visitor visa to a work visa in the UK. Nor does the Standard Visitor visa itself allow for the holder to do paid or unpaid work for a UK company or as a self-employed individual.

Instead, you would need to leave the UK first and make a new application for a relevant working visa – such as the Skilled Worker visa – from your country of origin, if you wished to take up paid work in the UK.

It is worth noting, however, that it may be possible to stay in the UK on a Standard Visitor visa for longer than six months, in certain specific circumstances.

This will only be an option for you if you are:

  • A patient receiving medical treatment
  • An academic who still meets the eligibility criteria
  • A graduate retaking the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) test or doing a clinical attachment

If you are able to stay in the UK on a Standard Visitor visa on the aforementioned basis, you will need to submit your visa extension application while you are still in the UK, and before your current visa or permission expires. You will also be required to pay a Home Office application fee of £1,000, and a further £1,000 on top of this if you wish to use the department’s ‘super priority’ service in order to get a quicker decision.

What does a UK visitor visa allow you to do, and for how long?

The specifics of what you can and cannot do on a UK visitor visa will naturally depend on the specific type of UK visitor visa you hold. For example:

  • The Standard Visitor visa usually allows holders to stay in the UK for as long as six months, for a range of temporary visitation purposes such as tourism, business, or study on a course lasting for no longer than six months
  • The Marriage Visitor visa enables holders to marry or enter into a civil partnership in the UK within six months of their arrival
  • The Permitted Paid Engagement visa allows for a visit to the UK for up to one month; as its name indicates, this visa is aimed at those who will be visiting the UK for a paid engagement, having been invited as an expert in their profession by a UK-based client or organisation.

It is of the utmost importance, before you apply for a UK visitor visa, to check that your chosen visa route will permit you to carry out the activities you wish to undertake in the country, and for the time period for which you wish or need to be in the country.

To use the Standard Visitor visa as an example, this popular route enables the holder to carry out any of a broad range of “permitted activities”. These encompass – but are not limited to – visiting for the purposes of a holiday or vacation, and/or seeing friends or family members.

A holder of the Standard Visitor visa is also permitted to volunteer for up to 30 days with a registered charity, and to carry out certain business activities, such as attending a meeting or interview.

You cannot, however, do paid or unpaid work for a UK company or as a self-employed person during your time in the UK on a Standard Visitor visa. Nor is it permissible to use this visa to spend long periods of time living in the UK through frequent or successive visits.  

Can I leave the UK after six months and come back?

If you are a holder of a UK visitor visa – such as the Standard Visitor visa – that only has a validity period of six months, it might have crossed your mind that you could stay in the UK for those six months, leave when the visa comes to an end, and then apply from your country of origin for a new UK visa (for example, a new Standard Visitor visa lasting a further six months).

In theory, it is possible for someone to leave the UK after six months and come back soon afterwards on a new, valid visa – which would mean effectively spending more than six months a year in the UK. The UK’s immigration rules do not set out a specific cumulative time limit.

However, the UK’s immigration rules also state that a visitor has to show they will not “live in the UK for extended periods through frequent or successive visits, or make the UK their main home”.

This is a somewhat different requirement to a specified time limit. However, the rules do give Home Office staff – both those at the border, and those deciding on a UK visa application – a lot of power to make their own decisions on who counts as a legitimate visitor to the UK.

So, if you have already spent six months in the UK on a visit visa in any given 12-month period, and you wish to come back to the UK shortly after the six months for which your visit visa was valid have elapsed, you will need to take great care to ensure you are complying with the relevant rules for whatever visa you might be travelling on when you return to the UK.

That will include being able to show to Home Office staff that any swift return visit to the UK will not be part of a continued pattern of long visits that will continue. Our own immigration experts at Cranbrook Legal can advise and assist with your efforts to comply with this requirement.

Our specialists in UK immigration law can provide the complete project-managed service

Whatever UK visa you might already hold, as well as whatever UK visa you may be interested in switching to, if you are unsure what your next steps should be as a foreign national who may or may not already be in the UK, please contact our award-winning immigration solicitors for advice and guidance.

UK immigration law can be notoriously complicated. But the good news is that our own knowledgeable and experienced professionals in this field can help you ensure you always stay on the right side of the Home Office’s ever-changing rules and criteria, including in relation to visitor visas. To learn more about the comprehensive project-managed service we can provide to prospective UK visa applicants or switchers, please feel free to give us a call in central London on 0208 215 0053. You are also welcome to request a free consultation, using our straightforward online contact form.

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