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Constituents sometimes have trouble getting visas for family members to visit from abroad. While visa decisions depend on the individual circumstances, there are some common pitfalls that may explain a visa being refused. These include failing to provide enough evidence of meeting the criteria.

The main UK visitor visa available is called Standard Visitor. This allows people to come to the UK for up to six months at a time to visit family and friends, for tourism and for some other short-term purposes.

Certain business activities are permitted, but visitors cannot work (employed or self-employed). Nor can they switch onto a residence visa, such as Skilled Worker, while in the UK. If someone visiting the UK wants to stay long-term, they must leave and apply for the new visa from abroad.

Who needs a visa to visit the UK?

Not everyone needs to apply for a Standard Visitor visa in advance. There are three different ways of entering the UK as a visitor, depending on nationality.

Citizens of countries on the ‘visa national list’ must get a visa (technically called entry clearance) before travel. These include Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan and South Africa. Applying involves filling in an online form, paying £100, submitting supporting evidence and attending an appointment at a visa application centre abroad.

Citizens of any country not on the visa national list can travel with just their passport and request entry at the border. These include Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. The same Immigration Rules apply as for entry clearance and refusal of entry is possible. Such people may therefore wish to bring evidence of being a genuine visitor (see below).

Citizens of certain countries not on the visa national list can enter using automated passport ‘egates’, where available. In effect, the egate automatically grants the user a six-month visitor visa (they must leave by then even though they have no passport stamp). This is allowed for citizens of the EU, United States, Canada, Australia and several others.

Non-visa nationals will soon need advance permission to travel nevertheless. The Home Office plans to introduce Electronic Travel Authorisations in 2023.

Why might someone be refused a visitor visa?

The criteria for being granted entry as a visitor (whether entry clearance or at the border) are in the Immigration Rules.

Among other things, applicants must demonstrate that they are a “genuine visitor” (paragraph V 4.2 of the Rules).

A common reason for refusal on this basis is that the immigration official is not satisfied that the person will leave the UK at the end of the visit. A core concern for the Home Office is that people may stay on in the UK illegally. Another common issue is failing to show proof of “sufficient funds” to cover the cost of the stay (which may indicate an intention to work while in the UK).

Home Office guidance gives more information on possible red flags for immigration officials. These include not being able to give a main reason for the trip; previously overstaying a visa in the UK or elsewhere; and lack of family and economic ties to the person’s home country (particularly if they have close family in the UK).

How does someone prove they are a genuine visitor?

The onus is on the person applying to show that they are a genuine visitor (and otherwise meets the requirements).

A supporting letter from the applicant’s UK-based family or friends may be helpful but is not decisive. Home Office guidance states that third-party support (including from an MP) “cannot be considered as a guarantee” that the person will leave at the end of their visit.

Simply asserting that the applicant has a strong incentive to return home after the visit – for example, because they run a business or own property there – may not be enough. Hard evidence should be provided, such as a letter from an employer or business registration documents.

The same applies to proof of sufficient funds, whether this is being covered by the applicant or the person they are visiting in the UK. Copies of bank statements would be relevant evidence, for example. There is “no set level of funds” required.

Do refusal rates vary by nationality?

Yes. The Home Office stresses “all applications are considered on their individual merits”. But, statistically speaking, some nationalities are less likely to get a visitor visa than others.

Between 2017 and 2021, nationals of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had the highest grant rates for visitor visa applications (both at 99.4%), closely followed by Oman, Qatar, Kuwait. The lowest grant rate was found among nationals of Botswana (41%) and Guinea-Bissau (43%), followed by Somalia, Eritrea, and Afghanistan.

A full breakdown of visas issued by nationality can be found in table Vis_D02 of the Home Office’s Immigration statistics.

Source: Home Office, Immigration statistics quarterly: September 2022, table Vis_D02
Notes: Nationalities with fewer than 50 visa applications processed during the time are not shown but are included within the total. Withdrawn and lapsed visas are excluded here, so the grant rate refers to issued visas out of the total of issued and refused visas.
Highest and lowest visitor visa grant rate, by nationality
Visas issued in the years 2017-2021
Highest Lowest
Country of nationality Visas issued Grant rate Country of nationality Visas issued Grant rate
Saudi Arabia 411,690 99.4% Botswana 53 41.1%
United Arab Emirates 15,437 99.4% Guinea-Bissau 200 43.1%
Oman 2,858 99.1% Somalia 662 43.5%
Qatar 19,145 99.1% Eritrea 1,267 45.2%
Kuwait 21,652 98.8% Afghanistan 4,393 45.2%
Bahrain 43,351 98.7% Namibia 84 45.4%
Russia 451,834 97.8% Gambia, The 3,883 45.7%
South Africa 314,353 97.6% Benin 1,231 47.1%
Korea (North) 117 97.5% Yemen 5,847 49.8%
China 1,827,868 97.3% Sao Tome and Principe 78 50.0%
Serbia 46,912 96.9% Syria 7,190 50.8%
Belarus 42,659 96.4% Mauritius 121 51.7%
All 7,651,257 86.6%

Can an MP support a visitor visa application?

There is nothing to stop a Member writing a letter in support of a visa application. But this carries no particular formal weight. The guidance says an MP’s letter “will be taken into account together with all other available evidence”.

Can people appeal if refused?

Routine appeals against visitor visa refusals were abolished in 2013. An appeal may still be possible in limited circumstances where the refusal threatens to breach the family’s human rights. It is also possible to apply for judicial review (a separate and more expensive process).

In most cases, a formal legal challenge would require disproportionate cost and effort. People refused visitor visas can always reapply; this may work where the problem was a lack of evidence that can be remedied in a new application. The Free Movement website has more information on reapplications, appeals and judicial review.

MPs cannot instruct the Home Office to reverse a refusal decision. They can draw attention to an administrative oversight (such as relevant evidence being overlooked) using the dedicated correspondence channel.

As a last resort, an MP can request that the Home Secretary issue a visa under discretionary powers, although this is unlikely to happen except in rare and compassionate cases. Library briefing Constituency casework: asylum, immigration and nationality has more information.

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