People from some countries (for example the USA, Japan, Brazil) do not need any visa to come to the UK for a visit. And nationals of the EEA countries and of Switzerland do not need any visa to come for a visit either, because they can enter the UK without restriction under European free movement principles.
The countries such as the USA are called “non-visa national” countries because their nationals do not require a visitor visa but nationals of other countries (“visa national” countries) do require one. This category, of over one hundred countries, includes countries such as Russia, Ukraine, China, India and South Africa. Nationals of any of these countries cannot enter the UK as visitors without a visitor visa, which is granted by the British diplomatic authorities.
A visit visa allows the migrant to carry out certain types of activity, for example tourism, seeing the sights, visiting friends and relatives, or visiting for a specific occasion, for example to take an exam or attend a ceremony or conference or a court hearing.
There are some specialist visitor visas, for example to receive private treatment, to perform as an artist for a “permitted paid engagement”, or to marry/form a civil partnership.
But a visit visa does not allow work, in either employment or self-employment, and a visit visa holder who works would be in breach of conditions. However, it does allow peripheral working activities, such as attending meetings or negotiating and signing business contracts or giving or receiving work-based training.
Visitor visas may be granted for a period of up to six months. Long-term visitor visas may be issued for periods of one year, two years, five years or ten years but, very importantly, there is a “no more than six months in 12 months” rule, and this rule applies both to visa nationals who hold visitor visas and non-visa nationals who come to the UK on the basis of their nationality.
The rule is to the effect that a visitor must not spend more than six months in the UK in a 12-month period or, to look at it in another way, they must not spend more than half their time in the UK. There is a logic to this: if a person is spending more than half their time in the UK they are not really visiting – they are residing. So a visitor must not be making the UK their “main home”.
Visitors – whether coming on visitor visas or as non-visa nationals – must show that they intend to return to their country of origin when the visit is over. If they cannot show this then they are deemed not be meeting the relevant requirements. Similarly, all visitors must show that there will be sufficient finance and accommodation for them in the UK during the period of their visit.
Visitor visa applications are sometimes refused because the relevant requirements are deemed not to be met. And if a non-visa national attempts to enter the UK for a visit then similarly they can be refused leave to enter at the UK border because the requirements are deemed not to be met.
So, for this reason, non-visa nationals who are worried about whether they will be admitted to the UK as visitors (because, for example, they have a bad previous immigration history) may choose to apply for a visitor visa. If the visa application is refused then at least they will know where they stand, and it is far preferable to travelling to the UK and not being given leave to enter. In this situation they would be sent back to the country they came from and, additionally, this would put a “black mark” on their immigration history.