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The five UK Visa tiers in the UK immigration system

Introduced in 2008, the UK Government uses a points-based immigration system that assesses applicants for a UK visa according to various attributes such as age, occupation, skills, education, UK experience, English language ability, funds available for settlement, and income.

There are a number of different tiers for which an applicant can apply for a UK visa, depending on the purpose of the visit and personal circumstances.

There is a UK visa for studying in the UK, working in the UK, and for partners and families of migrants. Generally speaking, if you are coming to the UK as a visitor you are allowed to stay for up to six months in most cases without a UK visa.

However, if you intend to stay in the UK for longer than six months you should look at a UK visa for residency, working or studying. If you are a citizen of a Commonwealth country and you have a grandparent who was born in the UK, including the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, you may be eligible to apply for a UK ancestry visa.

If you successfully apply for an ancestry UK visa you will be able to live and work in the UK for up to five years, and then apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain and later UK Citizenship.

Tier 1 General Skilled Migration of the system relates to UK visas for highly skilled workers, investors and entrepreneurs. Successful applicants with a UK visa under this tier are able to live and work in the UK for three years, and apply for renew the visa for a stay of another two years. After five years a migrant can then apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

Under this UK visa applicants do not have to have a job offer, but must be able to demonstrate that they are highly skilled, have money to support themselves and can speak English.

Skilled workers who have been offered a job are able to apply to migrate to the UK under a Tier 2 UK visa in one of the four Tier 2 categories: general; minister of religion; sportsperson; or intra company transfer.

To apply for this UK visa if you are a national of a country outside the EEA or Switzerland (excluding Turkey) you must have a job offer from an licence sponsor and a valid certificate of sponsorship, and pass the points-based assessment.

Under the Tier 2 UK visa category, all business wanting to hire a worker from outside the Union or to extend the work permits of current employees must have an Employer Sponsorship Licence.

This Tier 2 UK Visa requirement requires employers to ensure they are licensed to hire migrants and comply with current immigration regulations; issue certificates to foreign workers to allow the worker to apply for entry clearance to the UK and to ensure that any foreign workers employed by the business are fully compliant with UK immigration law.

UK visas under Tier 3 are for workers of a temporary nature, and lower-skilled workers to come to the UK to fill a specific job shortage, for example, a construction job that requires workers from abroad for a limited period because of local labour shortages. This tier is currently suspended by the UK Border Agency.

The UK has many internationally renowned universities and higher education providers, and as such attracts many student applicants for a UK visa every year under Tier 4 of the immigration system.

The UK has a number of different student visas including a UK visa: for students aged between 4 and 17 years olds who intend to be educated at an independent fee-paying school; Child visitor aged 17 years or under and want to study in the UK for up to six months; general UK visa for adult students for post-16 education; student visitor for those ages 18 years or over to study for up to six months; and a UK visa for prospective students who wish to come to the UK to decide upon a course to study.

There are a number of requirements that students must meet to be issued a UK visa under this category, and successful applicants must adhere to the UK visa student conditions.

If you are applying under Tier 4 (General) UK visa to study a course that is below degree level and is not a foundation degree, you may only work 10 hours per week.

If you are applying under Tier 4 (Child) UK visa and you are 16 or 17 years old, you may only work 10 hours per week during term time.

If you are applying to study a course under Tier 4 (General) UK visa for six months or less, you are not able to bring your family members.

If you are applying to study a course lower than degree level (excluding foundation degree courses) under Tier 4 (General) UK visa, your dependants will not be able to work (unless they qualify to work in their own right under a UK visa in Tier 1 or Tier 2 of the points-based system).

Temporary workers and young people wanting a working holiday can apply for a UK visa under Tier 5 of the new system. Temporary workers, including the category that was previously named the Working Holiday UK Visa, are able to apply for a visa to live and work in the country for a limited amount of time.

Categories under their tier include: creative and sporting; charity workers; religious workers; government authorised exchange; international agreement; as well as the Youth Mobility Scheme (or working holiday visa).

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