The UK welcomes scientists and students from all over the world to study and work at UK institutions. Depending on where you come from, and your plans, you may need a visa to enter the UK.
If you are a national from a country in the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland you do not need a visa to come to the UK. If you are from outside the EEA you may need a visa, depending on where you come from and what you intend to do while you are in the UK. The UK Border Agency (UKBA) is the authority responsible for managing immigration and entry to the UK, including the issuing of visas.
The information below is intended as an initial guide rather than definitive advice. Please check the UKBA website for more detailed and up-to-date information: www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk.
The following countries are in the EEA: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Irish Republic, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.
Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway are not members of the European Union (EU) but citizens of these countries have the same rights to enter and live in the United Kingdom as EU citizens.
If you are planning to give lectures or be an examiner for a fee you may be eligible for a Visitor (permitted paid engagement) visa for up to one month.
If you are a researcher or professor planning to visit the UK to attend a meeting, conference or workshop, do site visits, negotiate deals or sign contracts, then you may be eligible to enter as a business visitor for up to 6 months.
Alternatively, if you are taking a sabbatical from an academic institution outside the UK then you may also be eligible to stay for up to 12 months on an academic visitor visa. This is for private research only (such as for a book), or for taking part in a formal exchange, to share knowledge and experiences, or attend meetings and conferences. It is not for undertaking a formal research project or collaboration involving experimental work. You will need to provide documentation including from a host institution and evidence of funding. For more information see the section below on Visitors (business/academic) visas, and also consult the UKBA website.
If you have funding to do research in the UK (including learning new techniques) whether for a short duration of days or weeks, or for longer, you are likely to require a Tier 5 government authorised exchange visa which lasts for up to 24 months. This applies to formal research projects or collaboration at a UK research institution that is willing to act as your sponsor, and includes research as part of a PhD or postdoctoral fellowship. You will need to apply either as a “sponsored researcher” hosted by a UK university or a “Sponsored Scientific Researcher” hosted by a non-university research institution.
Alternatively, if you have an offer of an internship to gain experience and skills with a UK organisation you may be eligible for a Tier 5 intern visa (for up to 12 months).
If you have had a visa application refused, it may be because you did not provide adequate information about your planned activity, or that your intentions are better suited to a different visa category. It is therefore worth applying again under a different category.
For more information see below, and consult the UKBA website.
If you have funding (including a research fellowship) to do research or learn new techniques in the UK – during your PhD studies, postdoctoral or more senior stage of your career, you can apply for a Tier 2 (General) skilled worker visa if the fellowship is for longer than 2 years duration, or for a Tier 5 government authorised exchange visa is for less than 2 years. The Tier 5 visa allows you to do a formally arranged research project or collaboration for anything from a number of days to 24 months. You may be hosted either by a UK university (as a “sponsored researcher”) or by a non-university institution (as a “Sponsored Scientific Researcher”). You may not use this route to take up a job offer.
Sponsored Researcher at a UK university
You may apply to do research at a UK university under the Tier 5 government authorised exchange scheme as a sponsored researcher for up to 2 years if the university agrees to provide a Certificate of Sponsorship. This applies only if the research is in addition to that normally being done and is not a job offer.
Sponsored Scientific Researcher at a Research Council or private institution
You may apply to do research at a non-university institution funded by the UK Research Councils (for example, the John Innes Centre), or at privately funded organisations such as Cancer Research UK under the Tier 5 government authorised exchange scheme sponsored scientific researcher initiative. This may also apply if you plan to do research as part of a university-based UK Research Council funded project. The Research Councils UK can act as the overarching sponsor to provide a Certificate of Sponsorship so long as you are not taking up a job offer.
If you plan to take up a job in the UK as a post-graduate, postdoctoral researcher, lecturer, professor, or other senior-level researcher, you will need to apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa which lasts for up to 3 years. Your UK employer will need to provide documentation and evidence that there is no suitable candidate already in the UK.
However, if you are internationally recognised as a leader in your field, or with the potential to be a world leader, then you do not need a job offer to work in the UK. You may instead apply for a Tier 1 Exceptionally Talented category. Your application must be endorsed, however, by the UK Royal Society or the Royal Academy of Engineering (see Tier 1 (Exceptional talent visa).
If you are a scientist (at any level) who is visiting the UK for less than one month) to do a fee-paid activity, for example, to give lectures or act as an examiner, then you can apply for a Visitor (permitted paid engagement) visa. You will not need a Certificate of Sponsorship, but you will need a formal letter of invitation from your host institution.
If you are planning to attend a conference, meeting or workshop you may apply for a Visitor (business) visa which lasts for up to 6 months.
If you are at an academic institution outside the UK and planning to take a sabbatical, you may be eligible to enter the UK on a Visitor (academic) visa. This only applies if you are not planning to take up employment or do experimental work (including learning new techniques).
If you plan to take up employment in the UK, you must apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa for skilled workers, which lasts for up to 3 years (initially).
If you wish to do research, such as experimental work or the learning of new techniques (but not take up a job offer), then you may apply for a Tier 5 Intern (for up to 12 months), or Tier 5 government authorised exchange scheme (for up to 24 months). The Tier 5 category is an option even if you are only planning to be in the UK for a few weeks.
If you are a scientist planning to develop a business in the UK you do not need an offer of employment but you will need to apply instead for a Tier 1 Student Entrepreneur or Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa, depending on whether you are a student or more senior researcher and if you are applying from within or outside the UK. See Tier 1 Student Entrepreneur visa, and Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa.
If you are coming to the UK to begin a Masters or PhD studentship at a UK university then you will need to apply for a Tier 4 (student) visa.
If you are already studying for a Masters or PhD degree at a university outside the UK, and you wish to do research in the UK as part of your studies, then you will need to apply for a Tier 5 government authorised exchange visa. A Visitor (permitted paid engagement) or Visitor (Business or academic) visa does not apply if you are conducting experiments or learning new techniques.
You will need to check whether you will be hosted by a university as a sponsored researcher, or hosted by a non-university research organisation (eg the UK Research Councils, a charity or other privately-funded organisation) as a sponsored scientific researcher. This applies to any form of experimental work or the learning of new techniques. The Tier 5 GAE visa can be for any length of time up to 24 months.
Researchers from non-EEA countries will need a visa to enter the UK to study, do research or take a job. The following visas are possible options depending on the intended activity, length of time, and source of funding or sponsorship:
Visitor (Permitted paid engagement visa) – up to 1 month
Visitor (business) visa – up to 6 months
Visitor (academic) visa - - up to 12 months
See below for an outline of the requirements of each visa.
See also our powerpoint on visa routes for researchers (274KB -ppt), and visit the UKBA website for the most up to date and complete information.
Visitor (permitted paid engagement) visa
If you are a scientist (at any level) who is visiting the UK for less than one month) to do a fee-paid activity, for example, to give lectures or act as an examiner, then you can apply for a Visiting visa. You will not need a Certificate of Sponsorship, but you will need a formal letter of invitation from your host institution.
If you are planning to do research for any length of time, then you will need to apply instead under the points-based system for a Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 5 category of visa (see below).
Visitor (Business or academic) visa
If you are a researcher or professor planning to visit the UK for activities other than experimental research you may be eligible to enter as either a business visitor or academic visitor depending on your planned activity:
Business visitor (maximum of 6 months)
A researcher can apply to enter the UK as a business visitor to do any of the following activity (but not research work): attend meetings, interviews, or conferences, arrange deals or negotiate or sign contracts, undertake fact-finding missions, conduct site visits.
Academic visitor (maximum of 12 months)
If you are taking a sabbatical from an academic institution outside the UK then you may be eligible for an academic visitor visa. This lasts for up to 12 months and is for private research (such as for a book) or to take part in a formal exchange, share knowledge and experiences, attend meetings and conferences.
To apply for an Academic Visitor visa you do not require a Certificate of Sponsorship, and there is no cap on the number of Academic Visitors permitted.
Applicants must not:
The academic visitor visa does not apply if you are planning to do experimental work, including learning new techniques, or taking part in a formal research project or collaboration. If you plan to do experimental work, or learn new laboratory techniques, or participate in a formal research project or collaboration. If you plan the latter then you should apply for a Tier 5 government authorised exchange visa which lasts for up to 24 months See the UKBA website on Visiting the UK, and the UKBA list of permitted business activities.
If you are a scientist on sabbatical from a private company in a non-EEA country then you must apply for a visa through the points based system (see Tiers 1 to 5 below).
Longer term or paid visits
If you intend to come to the UK for longer than 12 months, or will be paid for more than one month, or take part in a research project or collaboration, then you will need to get a visa through the points based system.
The points based system is the entry route for people who need a visa and wish to work in the UK. It is split into five tiers and the most common routes for researchers to use are Tiers 2 and 5 (Government Authorised Exchange), and to a lesser extent, Tier 1 (academic visitor, or Exceptional talent). Points are awarded for different attributes (for example, your qualifications, age, previous earnings, English language skills, employment status and source of funds). You will need a certain number of points depending on the tier under which you apply. You can perform a self-assessment online to determine how many points you might be awarded. For Tier 1 you do not need a job offer, but for Tier 2 or Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange scheme) you will need a certificate of sponsorship from the organisation where you will be based. You should discuss with your employer or host organisation which visa is best for you.
You can calculate your points here:
Full details, and online application forms, can be found on the UKBA website.
Entrepreneurs – must have either £50,000 or £200,000 minimum funds accessible in the UK, depending on the source of funding. Additional points will be gained for your application for various criteria including whether you have created employment in the UK. See the UKBA website for full details.
Graduate entrepreneurs – for graduates (including PhDs) already in the UK on a Tier 4 student visa that want to stay in the UK to develop a business. Only designated higher education institutions (HEIs) can select and nominate candidates who have developed innovative ideas or entrepreneurial skills (see also Tier 4 Student visas). This visa is for a 12-month period (with the potential to extend by another 12 months).
Applicants must have:
Designated HEIs have an allocation for how many students that they can sponsor. The London School of Economics, for example, can sponsor a maximum of 10 students between April 2013 and April 2014 to apply for a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa. Graduate Entrepreneurs are permitted to work for up to 20 hours a week while they are setting up their business.
This is separate from the Tier 2 work visa option open to non-EEA and non-Swiss graduates already in the UK (see Tier 2 visas below). A person on a Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur visa has the option to extend their stay further as a Tier 1 Entrepreneur (see above).
For further information see the UKBA website.
Tier 1 (Exceptional talent) is for individuals who are internationally recognised as leaders in their field, or show exceptional promise, and wish to come to the UK to work but do not have a job offer. This covers individuals from science, humanities, engineering and the arts. A limit of 1000 visas is available each year under this visa category, starting from 6 April 2012 to 5 April 2013. Each application must be assessed and endorsed by one of the following four bodies:
For natural and medical sciences - The Royal Society
For engineering - The Royal Academy of Engineering
For humanities and social sciences research – The British Academy
For artists – Arts Council England
The maximum stay for researchers under Tier 1(Exceptional talent) is 3 years and 4 months, with the possibility of extending this for another 2 years. The eligibility criteria can be found on the UKBA website.
To apply under Tier 2 (General) you must have a certificate of sponsorship (CoS) from your UK employer who should indicate the basis for the job offer (either because your position is on a list of shortage occupations or because they been unable to find a suitable candidate locally, according to the Resident Labour Market test).
The Tier 2 (General) category is for skilled workers (including postgraduates, postdoctoral scientists, lecturers, readers, professors). You can either apply outside the UK, or from within the UK if you are a student on a Tier 4 (General) student visa.
Tier 2 – applicants from outside the UK
Researchers wishing to take a job in the UK can apply through Tier 2 (general) if they have:
This permits work in the UK for 3 years, which can be extended for a further 3 years, beyond which it may be possible to apply for leave to remain.
The UK government has put a cap of 20,7000 visas to be allocated for Tier 2 skilled workers each year from April 2012 to April 2013, and from 2013 to 2014. However, for workers with a salary of £150,000 or more there is no limit on numbers.
See the Tier 2 register of approved sponsors.
See the UKBA website on Working in the UK, and for the shortage occupation list.
Students completing their undergraduate or post-graduate studies in the UK (currently on a Tier 4 (General) student visa – see below) may apply to switch to a Tier 2 visa to work for up to 12 months. It may be possible to then extend the work period for another 12 months. (This is a new arrangement following the closure of the Tier 1 Post-Study Work visa in April 2012.)
The student must have:
NB. For students to switch to a Tier 2 work visa there is no need for employers to pass the Resident Labour Market test, and no cap on visa numbers.
This Tier 2 work visa for students finishing their studies is distinct from the Graduate Entrepreneur visa (see above), which requires graduates to be nominated by their HEI for having developed innovative ideas or entrepreneurial skills.
A new post-study work visa is due to be introduced in April 2013 specifically for Ph.D. students wishing to find work or start a business in the UK.
See the Tier 2 register of approved sponsors.
See the UKBA website for the shortage occupation list.
See the UKCISA Working in the UK after your studies
Non-EEA students must apply for either a Student visitor visa (for up to 6 months – see above) or a Tier 4 (General) student visa for longer.
Student visitor visa
Students wishing to do a short course of 6 months or less may apply for a Student visitor visa (except in the case of English language courses for which students may stay for 11 months). This does not allow a student work or apply for an extension, but the student may apply to switch to a Tier 2 (General) visa for skilled workers (see above) while still in the UK.
Tier 4 (General) student visa
Students who intend to study for more than 6 months must apply for a Tier 4 (General) student visa. This can cover up to 5 years of undergraduate study, or longer for certain subjects such as medicine or law. A student visa may cover up to 6 years for a Masters and up to 8 years for a Ph.D. Students must have visa clearance before travelling to the UK.
If you are searching for a PhD Research position in the UK (for example through the website www.findaphd.com, check whether advertised positions are open to non-EEA candidates. Some positions specify funding for UK and EU graduates only while others are also open to International Students.
The Tier 4 (General) student visa application requires:
Students who are nearing the end of their studies on a Tier 4 (General) student visa have the option to apply either for a Tier 2 (General) visa if they have a job offer from a UK employer (see above, Tier 2 (General) visa), a Tier 5 (government authorised exchange) scheme (see below), or a Tier 1 (Graduate entrepreneur) visa if they have been selected by their HEI for having developed innovative ideas or entrepreneurial skills and wish to stay in the UK to establish a business (see above).
For full details see the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), including notes on working in the UK after your studies. UKCISA also has an international student advice telephone service on (+44) 20 7107 9922 (Monday - Friday from 13.00 - 16.00, GMT).
See the UKBA guidance on Studying in the UK, including a quick guide to immigration categories and online application forms.
See also the Tier 4 register of approved sponsors (education providers).
If you wish to do research temporarily in the UK without a job offer you may apply for a Tier 5 Temporary Worker visa either as an intern (for up to 12 months), or as part of a government authorised exchange scheme (including sponsored researchers and scientists for up to 24 months).
Academics wishing to do private research or other invited activities may enter on a Visitor (business) visa for up to 12 months (see above), without a Certificate of Sponsorship.
Tier 5 Intern programme
The Tier 5 Intern programme is suitable for undergraduates or graduates from outside the UK to gain work experience in UK industry.
Tier 5 Intern applicants require:
This Tier 5 scheme is employer-led: potential host employers must request a COS on behalf of an intern from GTI Recruiting Solutions Ltd . Tier 5 government authorised exchange
To apply under Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange Scheme) you must have been issued with a certificate of sponsorship from an authorised host organisation. This entry route is designed to share best practice without harming the resident labour market and so could be appropriate for sponsored researchers or academics visiting for longer than one month (for less than one month the academic visitor visa may be more appropriate). The maximum stay under this route is 24 months and you will need to score a certain number of points to be eligible, and prove that you have sufficient funds to support yourself.
Several different schemes are operating under the Tier 5 (Temporary worker – government authorised exchange) category.
A scheme to enable higher education institutions to sponsor researchers and academics for up to 24 months, to do university-hosted research which is supernumerary (not filling a vacancy), or to give lectures or act as an examiner.
See, for example, the University of Oxford website on Tier 5 temporary workers.
NB. Researchers who plan to do research that will be hosted by any of the UK Research Councils, their units or institutes, or private institutions (eg charities), should first explore sponsorship through the Sponsored Scientific Researcher Initiative (below).
Sponsored Scientific Researcher Initiative
The Sponsored Scientific Researcher Initiative (SSRI) is led by Research Councils UK (RCUK), with the backing of the UK government Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), and set up to assist scientists whose visit to the UK is hosted by institutions that are principally non-university funded, for example the UK Research Councils, charities and foundations. The aim is to engage overseas postgraduate scientists in formal research projects or collaborations for up to 24 months with an internationally recognised host institute/laboratory. Each sponsorship request is assessed on a case-by-case basis. The SSRI is not an alternative to the Visitor (Business) visa for academics visiting for less than 12 months to do private research or the Tier 2 (general) visa for taking up employment (see above).
Visa holders are not permitted to switch Tiers once in the UK – for example to accept a job offer and apply for a Tier 2 skilled worker visa. Anyone wishing to do so must leave the UK and apply again from outside.
For further information, see the RCUK SSC Briefing Notes and Tier 5 FAQ, or contact the SSC Immigration Team by email Tier5@ssc.rcuk.ac.uk.
See also the See the UKBA website for full details of the government authorised exchange programme, and a list of approved Tier 5 government authorised exchange schemes and the register of sponsors licensed under the points based system for Tier 5, including some academic societies and science and technology companies. There is no cap on the numbers of Tier 5 temporary workers permitted.
Further assistance may be obtained from a Regulated Immigration Adviser.
Legal advice can also be sought from legally qualified professionals who are regulated by designated professional bodies such as the Law Society of England and Wales.
This will depend on your immigration status. UKCISA: The UK Council for International student Affairs provides advice on when students can and cannot work legally in the UK. If you would like to know more about studying in the UK visit our Education UK website for information on finding a course, funding, and working whilst studying.
Although the UK is no longer going to introduce ID cards for all citizens, some foreign nationals will still need a biometric residence permit (previously known as an ‘identity card for foreign nationals’). Initially this only applies to people from outside the European Economic Area who apply for an extension of their stay in the United Kingdom under certain categories. For more information visit the UK Border Agency website.
Residence documents for European nationals
If you are an EEA or Swiss national, you can apply for a registration certificate. This is a document which confirms your right of residence in the UK under European law. Under European law, you do not need to obtain documentation confirming your right of residence in the UK if you are a national of a country in the EEA.
However, if you want to support an application for a residence card by any of your family members who are not EEA nationals, you can find more information on how to do so here.
There are strict regulations about bringing animals into the UK. Visit the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs website for more information.
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