Visitors to the UK have to ensure they follow strict rules on entry and permissible activities.
In this guide to the UK standard visitor visa, we explain how the UK visa multiple entry requirements work, including the express prohibition under the rules against living in the UK for extended periods through either frequent or successive visits. We also look at how to apply for a multiple entry visa, including the procedure, cost and wait time involved.
What is the UK multiple entry visitor visa?
The UK standard visitor visa is for visa nationals looking to visit the UK for the purposes of tourism, seeing friends and family, undertaking unpaid business trips, engaging in a short course of recreational study or other permitted activities under the visitor rules. Other permitted activities could include, for example, private medical treatment.
It is also possible to get married or form a civil partnership in the UK under a visitor visa, or give notice of a marriage or civil partnership, although this is treated as a separate visitor category in its own right. Other categories of visitor visa include the permitted paid engagement (PPE) visa and the transit visa. The PPE visa is for experts in their field coming to the UK to undertake specific paid engagements for up to one month, while the transit visa is for those wanting to transit the UK en route to another country for up to 48 hours.
A standard visitor visa will usually be granted for a maximum period of 6 months. However, visitors may apply for a visa with 2, 5 or 10 years validity, provided each stay in the UK does not exceed the permitted length of stay endorsed on the visa, usually 6 months. This is known as a multiple entry visa where, within the period of validity, you may enter and leave the UK multiple times. However, you can also depart and re-enter the UK multiple times under a standard 6-month visitor visa, unless the visa has been endorsed as either single or dual entry.
Who needs a multiple entry visitor visa?
If you plan to regularly visit the UK you can apply for a long-term visitor visa, allowing for multiple entries over several years, instead of a standard visitor visa over just 6 months. You may be looking to visit the UK on a regular basis for all sorts of permissible reasons.
When visiting the UK to see friends and family, especially loved ones who are living in the UK permanently, or temporarily working or studying in the UK under a visa themselves, a multiple entry visitor visa can be an ideal way to make a number of planned visits over the coming years. For example, you might have a spouse or partner working for their overseas employer in a UK branch, or studying for their degree at a UK university, where you have been unable to relocate at the same time, but still want to regularly visit and spend time with them. You might also have adult children, siblings or other relatives who have settled in the UK.
Equally, when visiting the UK for the purposes of business, the rules provide an extensive list of permitted activities, many of which will necessarily require visiting the UK on more than one occasion. This could include, for example, where you regularly need to visit the UK for business meetings, conferences and seminars. It could also be where you need to undergo work-related training in the UK or attend various different trade fairs, or you are involved in protracted business negotiations that are likely to require more than one attendance.
UK visa multiple entry rules for visitors
The visitor route is described under the rules as for visa nationals wanting to temporarily stay in the UK, for periods of up to 6 months at a time, for things like tourism, visiting family and friends, carrying out a business activity or undertaking a short course of study. The visitor route is therefore clearly designed for, and typically limited to, short-term visits.
However, the rules recognise and make provision for the fact that many visa nationals will be looking to visit the UK on a regular basis for legitimate reasons. It is therefore possible to apply for a multiple entry visa, provided you can satisfy UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) that you meet the eligibility requirements for the duration of visa that you are applying for. This means that you must be able to satisfy the UKVI caseworker dealing with your application that you are able to meet the ‘genuine visitor’ requirements for a multiple entry visa lasting either 2, 5 or 10 years. Under the visitor rules, to be classed as a genuine visitor, you must:
- be genuinely seeking entry or stay for a purpose that is permitted
- will not be undertaking any of the activities that are prohibited under the rules, such as accepting paid employment
- have enough funds to cover all of your reasonable costs in relation to your UK visit without either working or accessing public funds, including the cost of your return or onward journey
- be intending to leave the UK at the end of your stay
- not be living in the UK for extended periods of time through either frequent or successive visits, nor be planning to make the UK your main home.
What are ‘frequent or successive visits’ under the visitor rules?
To overcome the UK visa multiple entry rules, you must be able to show that you are a genuine visitor, despite the fact that you are planning to regularly visit the UK, potentially on several occasions over several years. In any application for a long-term visitor visa, the UKVI caseworker will be alert to the fact that the rules can be easily exploited by the visa-holder by living in the UK for extended periods through either frequent or successive visits. This is because it is not uncommon for applicants to look for loop-holes in the rules, including making the most of the UK visa multiple entry allowances to live in the UK on a long-term basis.
The phrase ‘frequent or successive visits’ has no definition within the rules, although the Home Office ‘Visit guidance’ (published 06 October 2021) advises UKVI caseworkers to check the visitor’s travel history, including how much time they have previously spent in the UK and how often they are returning. The caseworker must assess if you are, in effect, living in the UK through frequent or successive visits, or making the UK your main home, having regard to:
- the purpose of your visit(s) and intended length of stay stated
- the number of visits you have made over the past 12 months, including the length of stay on each occasion, the time elapsed since your last visit, and if this amounts to you spending more time in the UK than in your home country or country of residence
- the purpose of return trips to your home country or country of residence, and if these appear to be used only to quickly seek re-entry to the UK
- the long-term links you have with your home country or country of residence, such as being registered for tax purposes
- any evidence that the UK is your main place of residence, for example, if you have registered with a UK doctor or if you send your children to a UK school
- your history of any previous applications, for example, if you have recently been refused leave under the family rules, or any other immigration route, and subsequently want to enter the UK as a visitor on a multiple entry visa.
There is no specified maximum period of time that you will be allowed to spend in the UK in any period under a multiple entry visa, such as ‘6 months in 12 months’, provided each visit does not exceed the maximum period for that visit. However, if it is clear from your recent travel history that you are seeking to stay in the UK for extended periods, or making the UK your main home, your application for a multiple entry visa will be refused.
Coming to the UK as a visitor
In the case of first-time visitors, the use of frequent or successive visits to live in the UK for extended periods of time cannot easily be judged in advance. However, a number of factors will be used to assess if you are a genuine visitor, not only on your initial application but also each time you enter the UK. This is because the grant of a multiple entry visitor visa will not guarantee you being allowed into the UK on each and every occasion, where it will be for Border Force officers to make their own determination on your arrival at a port of entry.
In assessing if you are a genuine visitor, the following will be considered:
- your previous immigration history, including any visits to the UK and other countries
- the duration of previous visits to the UK compared to what was stated on your visa application form or on arrival in the UK
- your financial circumstances, as well as your social, economic and family background
- any personal and economic ties to your home country or country of residence
- the cumulative period of time that you have spent in the UK and your pattern of travel over the last 12 months, and whether this amounts to ‘de-facto’ residence in the UK
- whether, on the balance of probabilities, the information and reasons given for your visit are credible, and correspond to your social, economic, family and personal background.
As a visitor, you can undertake multiple permitted activities whilst you are in the UK, although you must be able to explain what your main reason for coming to the UK is at the visa application stage and on entry at a UK port. Equally, if you are granted a multiple entry visit visa valid for 2, 5 or 10 years, it is likely that your reason(s) for visiting will differ over time. This is permissible, provided you continue to intend to undertake one or more of the permitted visitor activities. This means that you can enter the UK to do different permitted activities, but you will still be expected to have a main reason or reasons for visiting, for example, for business purposes or visiting family, and be able to provide details on arrival.
Importantly, your visitor visa may cancelled if it becomes apparent from your travel history, following the grant of a multiple entry visitor visa, that you are exploiting the rules by living in the UK for extended periods through either frequent or successive visits.
How to apply for a UK multiple entry visa
An application for a UK multiple entry visa must be made online. As part of the application process you will be required to attend an overseas visa centre to enrol your biometric information. Once your application form has been submitted online, you will be able to upload your supporting documents and book an appointment. You must also pay the visa fee.
The cost of applying for a short-term standard visitor visa is £100 for up to 6 months. For a long-term standard visitor visa, with multiple entries, the cost is £376 for a 2-year visa, £670 for a 5-year visa and £837 for a 10-year visa. However, you may be given a shorter visa than requested if UKVI believe that you cannot meet the eligibility requirements for the duration of the visa that you have applied for. You will also not get a partial refund of the application fee.
It will usually take up to 3 weeks from the date of your appointment for a decision to be made, although you may be able to pay for a faster decision. If you are successfully granted a multiple entry visa over either 2, 5 or 10 years, you will be permitted to visit the UK over the validity period of the visa, but will only be able to stay for a maximum of 6 months on each visit.
UK Visa Multiple Entry Rules FAQs
Is UK standard visa multiple entry?
A UK standard visitor visa will be multiple entry, allowing several visits to be made to the UK within the period of validity, unless the entry clearance has been endorsed by UKVI as either single or dual entry.
How many times can you enter UK on visitor visa?
Unless endorsed as single or dual entry, there’s no limit to how many times you can enter the UK on a visitor visa, but it mustn’t be used to live in the UK through either frequent or successive visits.
How many times can I enter UK in a year?
The number of times you can enter the UK in a year will depend on your visa type and any endorsements, for example, a visitor visa may be endorsed as a single or dual entry visa only.
Can I visit the UK for 6 months every year?
It is possible to visit the UK for 6 months every year under a visitor visa, or visa-free if you are a non-visa national, provided you do not exploit the rules to make the UK your main home.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.