Remember the days when even us plain old South Africans with no ancestral claims could get into the UK for a holiday without having to go through the rigours of applying for a visa. Aaah, yes, those were the days when our Commonwealth status still meant more than just being able to participate in a tournament of games every two years. But sadly, since 2009, setting foot on UK soil has become just as hard as (if not harder than) gaining permission to touch down in Schengen territory.
So, if you've never been, haven't been in the past two years or are about to go through the whole tiresome process once again, we've put together a little UK Visa application quick guide and a check-list to make things a slight bit easier for you.
Why the Visa?
Before 3 March 2009 South African nationals did not require a visa to enter the UK for short holidays or visits of up to 6 months. Apart from this convenience, there was also the wildly popular 2-year working holiday visa that gave local youth between the ages of 18 and 30 the perfect break from the banality of the school-study-work-marry-have kids cycle. According to reports an average of 17 000 young South Africans entered the UK on this visa every year between its launch in 1994 and its final termination in 2008. It is now known as a Tier 5 UK visa and only open to people between 18 and 30 from Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand.
So, what happened? Why the sudden change?
Well, in what has come to be known as one of the greatest immigration security clampdowns world-wide in the past 45 years or so, the UK government decided to review their visa rules and strengthen their borders by encouraging countries with unsatisfactory passport and immigration security of their own to sharpen up or ship out of the "non-visa nationals" fold.
Despite alleged warnings South Africa missed the cut-off and, along with countries like Lesotho, Swaziland, Bolivia and Venezuela, got relegated to the dreaded "Visa-nationals list."
Types of Visas:
Point-based system - Soon after these various changes took place, the UK's visa system underwent a major overhaul, transforming it into a 5-tier points-based structure to simplify the application process.
In the mean time the Tier 1 visa aimed at highly skilled foreign workers looking to take up employment in the UK has been entirely abolished, as has Tier 3, aimed at temporary low-skilled workers looking to seek employment in the UK.
Thus only Tier 2 visas for skilled workers with an offer of employment and Tier 4 visas for students remain available to South Africans. In both cases, there has to be sufficient proof of employment and sponsorship from the organization or institution.
Apart from these, there is quite a plethora of visitor visas to apply for when wanting to gain access to the UK, however the "Visitor in transit" and the "General visitor" are the two most commonly applied for and also most easily granted.
Nonetheless, see the extended list below:
• General visitor visa: your intention is to holiday rather than to work for no more than 6 months, you have sufficient proof of this and you can maintain yourself financially throughout your stay.
• Visitor in transit: If you are stopping over in the UK for up to 48 hours, you will need one of these, and if you stay even an hour longer you will have to apply for a General Visitors visa. Check out the UK Border Agency website for a comprehensive explanation of this visa.
• Child visitor: you are under 18 years of age and meet all the "General Visitor" requirements.
• Business visitor: the requirements are similar to the "General visitor visa," in that you do not intend to stay for longer than 6 months and have sufficient financial backing but with added proof of your business itinerary of meetings etc. For more information check out Migration Expert.
• Student visitor: the student visa enables you to study while staying in the UK with the added benefit of being able to do part-time work. Before applying you will need to demonstrate that you have been accepted to study a UK-recognised qualification and that you can pay for your course, accommodation and keep. For more in-depth information on the student visa check out 1st Contact Visas' website.
• Academic visitor: If you qualify for the requirements of a visiting academic, conducting academic work without receiving any funds for this work, you can remain in the UK for up to 12 months. For more information visit Visa For UK.
• Sports visitor: the requirements are largely the same as for a "General visitor" visa, but you will have to provide proof of the particular sporting/charity event or tournament you will be participating in, the amateur team you are joining without the possibility of payment, the fact that you are support staff or an official etc. For more information visit the UK Border Agency website.
• Entertainer visitor: once again, you need to fulfill the requirements of a "General visitor" visa, and have to provide additional proof of the performances, events, festivals etc you will be participating in. For more info visit the UK Border Agency website.
• Visiting for the purpose of getting married: you must have been granted a visa to the UK for six months or more, and you must have at least three months remaining on the visa. If you are not from the UK, but intend on getting married there, you will have to obtain a certificate of approval (COA) from the UK Home Office, which is a time-consuming process you can find out more about on 1st Contact's website.
• Visiting for the purpose of private medical treatment: You need to meet the requirements for the General visitor visa. You also have to prove that there is no danger to public health, your course of treatment is only for a limited period of time, you have made satisfactory arrangements for your treatment, you can pay for the treatment yourself and are intending on leaving the UK at the end of your treatment. For more specific requirements take a look at Visa For UK's summary.
How do I know if I qualify for ancestral?
Of course there are those lucky South Africans who are exempt from the strict rules and regulations due to that golden pass - the Ancestral Visa. Want to join the club? Check if you fulfill the following requirements: you are a Commonwealth citizen, have at least one grandparent who was born in the UK, intend to seek work there and are over 17 years of age.
An ancestral visa is normally issued for up to 5 years, and if during that time you lived in the UK continuously, you may apply for indefinite leave to remain.
Where to apply?
All UK visa applications have to be done in person at one of the Visa Application Centers (VACs) across the country. Here you will have to provide scans of your fingerprints and have a digital photo taken.
If you belong to a "Visa-nation" like South Africa, and want to visit the UK on one of the visitors visas listed above, you will have to prove a few things first, of which your intention to leave the UK at the end of your visit is probably the most important.
Apart from this you will also have to prove that you do not intend to take up any form of employment (paid or unpaid), produce goods, provide services, or study and that you are able to maintain and accommodate yourself with sufficient funds.
Because each of the visitor's visas require a different set of additional documentation, we will only be listing those applicable for the General Visitors visa and the Transit Visa. Follow the links under each of the visitor's visa for more specific information.
General Visitors check list:
- 2 colour passport size photos
- Marriage certificate if you're married
- Letter of current employment
- Bank statements up to 6 months
- Payslips up to 6 months
- Details of accommodation and return travel documents
- A planned itinerary i.e. Flight details, confirmed hotel bookings if you're staying at hotels etc
- If you're staying with friends, you need a letter of invitation as well as the immigration status from the person.
- Proof of payment of Visa fees
Transit visa checklist:
- Necessary visa for the country you are travelling to
- Proof that you will be allowed entry to that country
- Have no intention of staying on in the UK
- Proof that you are travelling to a country outside the UK, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or the Republic of Ireland
For all "General visitors" visas as well as most other visitors visas listed above you will have to pay a fee of R912, and for a transit visa R612. For more specific information visit the VFS-Global visa price listing.
Not sure what the difference between the UK, Great Britain and England is? Check out this video: