United Kingdom Visa and Residency Issues

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Chinese nationals from mainland China need a visa to visit the UK. Hong Kong SAR passport holders generally do not require a visa to visit the UK (including to study here) for six months or less. If Hong Kong passport holders come for longer than six months or are here to work, the usual visa rules set out below will generally apply. In all cases, it is of course important to remember that the exact requirements will potentially vary from person to person.


Type of visa:


Just visiting Visas for study Visas for work The Exceptional Talent category The Entrepreneur category
The Investment category Tier 2 General Bringing the family Settling in the UK permanently  


Just visiting:


If you are coming to the UK as a visitor (not to study  or work), you are allowed to stay for up to 6 months in most cases. You would normally apply under a category known as “General Visitor”. To obtain such a visa, the main requirements are to demonstrate that you can support and accommodate yourself during your stay, that you have sufficient means to make the return journey and that you will not seek paid employment. The UK Border agency lists on its website some of the documents it recommends to support a visa application.  This would include bank statements to demonstrate adequate funds and details of accommodation where you will stay. Applicants then complete a form known as VAF – 1A. Guidance notes for filling in such forms are available in Mandarin from the UK Border agency website.  The VAF – 1A form can be completed either online or by paper version.


The process for applying requires a visit to any one of the UK Border Agency offices in China located in Beijing, Wuhan, Shenyang, Jinan, Chongqing, Fuzhou, Chengdu, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Guangzhou or Shenzhen. Visa processing times will not normally exceed 3 weeks. It is possible to apply for a visa up to 3 months before the intention to travel date.


For visitors coming to the UK as part of a tour party of 5 or more persons with an accredited Chinese Travel Agency and staying not more than 30 days, it is possible to obtain a visa through the travel agency, which therefore makes it easier to visit the UK in this way.


For Chinese visitors who wish to come to the UK regularly, it is possible to obtain a multiple entry visa.

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Visas for study:


If you are 18 or over, it is possible to obtain a visa to enter the UK for a course of study under the category known as ‘Tier 4’.  This Visa lasts until four months after the end date of the course.  The main supporting documents required are those which confirm acceptance of study by the course provider and proof that course fees and living expenses can be afforded during the study period.  The rules prohibit recourse to state benefits, but do allow for paid employment of up to 20 hours per week in term times and full time work during the vacation periods.


However, the right to work only applies to students who are enrolled on higher education courses (typically degree level or equivalent) run by approved higher education institutions. If the student is enrolled on a course below degree level run by a publicly funded institution, term time work is restricted to 10 hours per week, but it is still permitted to work full time during vacations. For the great majority of students enrolled on degree courses, attractive work rights are therefore available. This is one attractive feature of the UK system, which helps qualifying overseas students go someway to alleviating the costs of foreign study.


Those under the age of 18 who come to the UK for study, for example at one of the UK’s many highly regarded private (fee-paying) schools, usually apply for a Tier 4 (child) visa.  The process is similar to other Tier 4 applications, with the need to provide evidence of confirmation of acceptance of study and the financial means to pay for the course and living costs. In addition, it must be shown that there are adequate care arrangements for the child while in the UK.  Children under 16 may stay in the UK for the duration of their course plus four months, up to a maximum of 6 years. Children over 16 may stay a maximum of 3 years (but that may be extended, if for example, they then go to university, in which case they apply for a new Tier 4 visa). Unlike those in higher education, children studying in the UK are not permitted to engage in paid employment during their stay.


The above situations describe circumstances where a person is seeking a visa for a relatively long course of study. There may be circumstances where a person is coming initially just for a short course of study, for example, to learn English before enrolling on a main degree course. In these circumstances, one can seek a student visitor’ visa (which is a category of Tier 4). This visa requires proof of acceptance for study on a course provided by an accredited provider, proof of sufficient financial means for study and living expenses and proof of means to finance the return journey. This type of visa normally lasts for 6 months, or 11 months for English language courses and the person may not seek paid employment during their time in the UK.

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Visas for work:


While most Chinese citizens entering the UK may do so as general visitors or students, it is also possible to obtain a visa to work in the UK, or a visa that is associated with some kind of economic contribution to the country. In this respect, the UK now operates a points-based system similar to  other countries such as New Zealand and Australia.


The UK has signalled its commitment to obtaining high calibre foreign talent and wealth creators by creating various new visa categories under what is known as "Tier 1". These are "Exceptional Talent", "Entrepreneur" and "investor".  These categories may be of considerable interest to Chinese professionals, investors and business people.


The Exceptional Talent category:


The Exceptional Talent category is for people who are recognised or have the potential to be recognised as leaders in the fields of science and the arts. The person must be accredited in this regard by a recognised institution in the UK such as the Royal Academy of Engineering. This visa category is quite limited, with only a 1000 places annually.

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The Entrepreneur category:


The Entrepreneur category is for people who want to set up or take over, and be actively involved in the running, of a business or businesses in the UK. To qualify for this visa, the applicant must score a total of 95 points. There are various ways in which these points can be obtained. 25 points is available to any person who can show they have at least £200,000 (2M Yuan) to invest in the UK. 25 points is then available to show that these funds are invested in a UK financial institution (such as a bank) and another 25 points is available for showing that these funds are freely disposable in the UK. There are then 10 points available for those who can demonstrate their ability to speak English to the required standard. The final 10 points is available for proof that the person can maintain themselves while in the UK.


Persons entering under this category may stay for a maximum period of 3 years and 4 months. However, after 6 months they need to have registered as self-employed with the tax authorities, or registered as a director of a new or existing business.  Extensions of the visa are then available, again on a points basis, for showing that you have actually invested your money in a UK business, that you are registered as a director of the business or self-employed and that your presence in business in the UK has created at least two jobs for persons already settled in the UK.


It is also possible to apply for permanent settlement (known as ‘indefinite leave to remain’) after just 3 years of residence in the UK under this visa category, if you can show your business has created at least 10 new jobs for settled UK residents, or the income generated from your business activities over the last 3 years has exceeded £5 million (50M Yuan). If you can’t meet these conditions, you can in any event apply to settle in the UK after 5 years of residence here (assuming you met all your visa conditions during that time.)

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The Investment category:


The Investment category is for people who want to make a substantial financial investment in the UK. To gain this visa, the applicant must have over £1M (10M Yuan) of their own money held under their control in a UK bank or other regulated financial institution, or the person must have nett assets worth over £2M (20M Yuan) and loan monies granted by a UK financial institution of not less than £1M (10M Yuan). This visa lasts for 3 years and four months and there is no requirement to demonstrate English language competency to a certain standard or that the person has sufficient funds to maintain themselves.


Leave to enter under this visa category may be curtailed if within 3 months of arrival in the UK, the applicant has not invested, or had invested on his behalf, at least £750,000 (7.5M Yuan) of his capital in the UK by way of UK Government bonds, share capital or loan capital in active and trading UK registered companies, other than those principally engaged in property investment. It is important to note therefore, that while those investors entering the UK under this category may freely invest in UK real estate, at least £750,000 (7.5M Yuan) of their money must have been invested in something else such as Bonds or UK company shares.


Depending on the level of investment made in the UK, the Investor visa holder may gain permanent settlement rights in the UK after 2, 3 or 5 years. For settlement after 2 years, an applicant must show £10M (100M Yuan) of funds at their disposal in a UK bank or institution or nett assets of £20M (200M Yuan) and minimum loan capital of £10M (100M Yuan). For 3 years, the equivalent figures are £5Million (50M Yuan) or £10M (100M Yuan) of nett assets and for 5 years, the equivalent figures are £1M (10M Yuan) and £2M (20M Yuan). It would also be necessary to show that during the period of the person’s residence in the UK (which must be a minimum of 180 days per year), the person maintained their level of investments throughout the initial investment period and that the person has sufficient knowledge of the English language and the UK way of life.

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Other worker categories: Tier 2 General


Under the Tier 2 General category, which most skilled workers would use to gain a visa to work in the UK, the main requirements are to have an offer of a job from a licensed sponsor company in a field of activity where it is difficult to find a settled UK worker to do that job. 70 points must be obtained to gain such a visa. 50 of those points can be obtained in a variety of ways, for example if the person has been offered a job type which is on the UK list of occupational shortages, or if the job commands an annual salary exceeding £150,000 (1.5M Yuan), or if the person is transferring from a Post-study work visa (see above.) 10 points are then available if sufficient knowledge of the English language can be demonstrated and a final 10 points for proof that the person has the financial means to maintain themselves in the UK. A graduate wanting to stay on and gain working experience following their course of study would apply for a visa under this category.

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Bringing the family:


In most cases it is possible for members of the family to come to the UK to join the person who has obtained a visa under the various categories above. This can either be done as a dependant of the main visa holder or by family members applying for a visa in their own right, for example, both husband and wife might have separate Tier 2 work visas.

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Settling in the UK permanently:


Persons gaining entry to the UK under the various visa types described above may apply, after a certain time, for permanent residence rights in the UK, known as ‘indefinite leave to remain.’ How long you need to be resident in the UK depends on the original visa category under which a person entered. For example, as discussed above, for those investing large sums of money in the UK, the period could be 2, 3 or 5 years depending on the level of investment made.  In the majority of cases, 5 years of visa residence is needed before a grant of indefinite leave is possible.  After 5 years of residence, it is also possible, to apply to become a British citizen. Once indefinite leave has been granted, the further steps necessary to gain citizenship are not particularly difficult for most people, for example you have to be over 18, of sound mind and able to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of life in the UK.


China does not recognise dual passport-holding, so it may be necessary to cease to become a citizen of China if it is desired to take the further step of taking British citizenship. For this reason, some Chinese may prefer to gain indefinite leave, but without UK citizenship. Others have taken citizenship and accept that visits to China then require a visa.


For those of our clients seeking more detailed advice or services related to UK immigration, we can put you in touch with qualified immigration advisers who can assist further. For those requiring a visa to come to the UK, there are, of course, many visa agencies based in China who aim to provide visa services for Chinese seeking entry to the UK.

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