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What are my options for getting a U.K. visa?
September 27, 2012 1:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm a U.S. Citizen and want to get a U.K. Visa, but I have to keep my U.S. job. What are my best options?

My girlfriend lives in London and we'd like to spend some time there (more than 6 months) before possibly moving back to the States. I have a job in the U.S. that I want to keep and can do from anywhere (I'm a programmer). I've been reading the UK Border Agency website and it seems like my options are:

1. Stay for up to 6 months with no Visa (not sure how many times you can do this).
2. Get married or enter into a Civil Partnership.
3. Quit my job and try and get a visa through a U.K. job.

Does anyone have any experience with a similar situation. Does anyone have any recommendations on who to talk to to get advice about this (the Border Agency website says they don't offer advice on which Visa to apply for).

Any help would be great, thanks!
posted by thepalephantom to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
For 2, it is needful to know whether your girlfriend is a UK or US citizen.
posted by Jehan at 1:14 PM on September 27, 2012


As for option 2, a Civil Partnership is only available to same-sex couples, so marriage would be your only option if you want to follow that route.
posted by essexjan at 1:24 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


1. Stay for up to 6 months with no Visa (not sure how many times you can do this).

Back when I was in a relationship with a UK citizen, the answer was "once."
posted by roger ackroyd at 1:29 PM on September 27, 2012


A civil partnership is only open to same-sex couples but the UK does have a visa for unmarried couples of any combination who can prove they have been living together for more than two years - either outside the UK or inside with the non-citizen there on another valid visa (eg studying).

With the obligatory IANAL disclaimers etc, I'd say you're pretty much correct on your options unless you want to go back to school, or can get citizenship of another EU country (giving you the right to live and work in the UK)

The answer to 1. is not that many, and you'll never know how many until you get turned away, after which you'll have serious problems in the future.
posted by crabintheocean at 1:30 PM on September 27, 2012


Well, as I'm sure you've seen, spousal visas are rather complicated to get, and also take forever.

Another option would be to enrol in some kind of higher education program in the UK, and stay in the country on a student visa. Whether you'd be allowed to keep your US job then I have absolutely no idea.

A good online for visa questions is the UK Yankee Forum, and sometimes you can get answers on the UKBA Facebook page.
posted by harujion at 1:34 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, as I'm sure you've seen, spousal visas are rather complicated to get, and also take forever.

If your girlfriend is in London because she is a citizen of another EU country, a spousal visa in that case can be very simple and rapid. We were married in mid-February. On April 5, I flew into London with a visa that entitled me to live and work there.
posted by vacapinta at 1:37 PM on September 27, 2012


Thanks for the answers so far everyone! I should have included this in the original question, but my girlfriend is a US citizen with indefinite leave to remain, and will be applying for citizenship in March.
posted by thepalephantom at 2:05 PM on September 27, 2012


Well, as I'm sure you've seen, spousal visas are rather complicated to get, and also take forever.

Not necessarily. My American wife was approved less than six weeks after we applied for her visa. It was a lot of paperwork and quite a lot of money, but we were surprised how fast it was and how simple (compared to the nightmarish US immigration system). YVMV.
posted by crabintheocean at 2:27 PM on September 27, 2012


Stay for up to 6 months with no Visa (not sure how many times you can do this).

1. Fly to London, get a 6 month tourist visa
2. At the end of 6 months, fly to Dublin and get stamped with a standard 3 month tourism visa. Congratulations, you have just departed the UK in compliance with your visa.
3. Take the train from Dublin to Belfast. There is no immigration control. Congratulations, you have just re-entered the UK legally.
4. Stay another six months, or 9 at a push (because you can claim you were in Dublin for the full three months prior to returning to the UK by train.)

Total elapsed time: 12 - 15 months. Downsides: this will get you through passport control without bother but if you ever apply for a residency visa, this passport will be under more scrutiny.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:41 PM on September 27, 2012 [4 favorites]


Stay for up to 6 months with no Visa (not sure how many times you can do this).

The rule of thumb is apparently "six months in twelve". But, obviously, people will sometimes get that stamp multiple times in a twelve month period without trying to game the system. In fact (pulling out old passport to check dates), I have. However, they will notice--the immigration official remarked on me having a stamp from almost exactly a year earlier and 'teenager visiting their grandad for a week' probably isn't a profile that rings immigration alarm bells, whereas 'adult staying with girlfriend for a few months' is.

This forum post has someone giving a thorough (and hopefully accurate) explanation of what the rule actually means. Unlike the Schengen Zone, there doesn't seem to be a clock you can reset because it's not a hard rule (which is presumably why this information isn't on the UKBA site).
posted by hoyland at 8:12 PM on September 27, 2012


For what it's worth, I also moved to the UK and kept my US job being paid in US dollars to my US bank account, and I still had to have a visa that allowed me to work in the UK. (Even if the company is in the US, they now interpret freelancers and telecommuters to be "working in the UK") After extensive research and discussion with immigration lawyers, the only way for me to do it was to get legally married.

I probably could have done it under the radar as others have suggested with the tourist visa and Ireland but the nature of my partner's and my jobs made that a bad idea. Just something to think about, depending on what you hope to do career-wise.
posted by olinerd at 12:56 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


And immigration-wise. My partner and I will have various immigration issues in a couple different countries over the course of our marriage and we wanted to make sure our records of income, residency, and travel were squeaky clean to avoid any future potential for visa denial.
posted by olinerd at 12:58 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


DarlingBri: "1. Fly to London, get a 6 month tourist visa
2. At the end of 6 months, fly to Dublin and get stamped with a standard 3 month tourism visa. Congratulations, you have just departed the UK in compliance with your visa.
3. Take the train from Dublin to Belfast. There is no immigration control. Congratulations, you have just re-entered the UK legally.
4. Stay another six months, or 9 at a push (because you can claim you were in Dublin for the full three months prior to returning to the UK by train.)

Total elapsed time: 12 - 15 months. Downsides: this will get you through passport control without bother but if you ever apply for a residency visa, this passport will be under more scrutiny.
"

Please do not do this. UK Border Agency can and will deport you if they think you are attempting to get around Visa Waiver Programme stay limits.

Seconding UK Yankee, it's a fantastic forum with lots of great advice.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:16 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please do not do this. UK Border Agency can and will deport you if they think you are attempting to get around Visa Waiver Programme stay limits.

Skirting laws comes with risk. Sometimes, for people without other options, the rewards outweigh the risks. The did for me; I did the above dance in a more elaborate configuration for seven years until I was able to get a visa. The world is filled with illegal aliens but in my experience the reality is that if you an innocuous middle class American, you do not fit the profile that raises eyebrows at immigration. The poster's mileage may vary.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:23 PM on September 28, 2012


My American wife was approved less than six weeks after we applied for her visa. It was a lot of paperwork and quite a lot of money, but we were surprised how fast it was and how simple (compared to the nightmarish US immigration system). YMMV.

Having done it both ways around too, my mileage was fairly similar -- getting a fiancee visa to enter the UK was substantially simpler than getting an IR1 visa to enter the US.

Although the fiance visa only lasts six months also; for us this meant a shotgun marriage so that we could apply for indefinite leave to remain.

You could maybe stretch to 12 months by entering as a tourist then applying to remain another 6 as a fiance? Although you would be misrepresenting the nature/history of the relationship somewhat -- depends how you feel about the squeaky-clean thing.

(Pinch of salt: my experience is 15 years out of date and I don't know how the wrinkle of your girlfriend being a non-citizen affects things.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:21 PM on September 28, 2012


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