What Happens Next

Okay, so you’ve attended your biometrics appointment. You’re almost there!

Next you have to send all of the documentation in. Follow the directions of your immigration attorney exactly, and double check everything. If your application is rejected, you (or your new employer) doesn’t get that application fee back, so yeah, follow the rules. For example, you will need a passport photo, and the rules stipulate that you need to have your hair down, your glasses off, and not smile.

We decided that it was worth it to send all the documentation to the immigration attorney overnight. We shipped using UPS, and of course it didn’t actually get delivered the next day. And because it was near a holiday, it ended up arriving a full four days after we sent it. Considering it needs to be submitted within ten days of your biometric appointment, this could have been an issue. It wasn’t (it got there in plenty of time), but on the plus, side, UPS had to refund our money since they didn’t deliver as promised.

If all goes well, then within a week or so you should hear from your attorney that your visas have been approved! A couple of days later, you should receive a package with:

  • Your passport
  • Entry visas pasted into your passport
  • Letter to present at customs

Now you can book a flight!

The Biometrics Appointment

It’s called ‘biometrics’ because they take both your finger- and hand-prints as well as a photograph.

Plus it sounds super futuristic and kind of scary, so they probably like that.

Because it’s a necessary part of the visa process, I want you to know what to expect.

  1. Bring whatever the immigration attorney / website says to bring, including a letter with your appointment details. You’ll also need your passport.
  2. When you arrive you’ll check in, they’ll look at your appointment sheet and stamp it, and then direct you to sit in a certain place and give you a number. When your number is called, they’ll take your appointment sheet and enter some information into their system.
  3. They’ll take a picture of you, and then print you. They don’t ink up your hand anymore – they just put your hand on this glass thing that takes it all digitally

That’s it! I think we were done in maybe 30 minutes?

Also, random: be prepared to need to pay cash for parking at the location. We had no cash on us and almost missed our appointment. I don’t know how they get away with charging people to park at a government facility that they need to go to, but they do.

Documentation

Student

If you are applying for a student visa, you will need to provide your offer letter. You will also need a U.S. passport (make sure it doesn’t expire in the next six months) with at least one fully empty sheet that they can affix the visa to.

Work

If you are applying for yourself and your partner or dependent children, you’ll need passports for all, along with proof that they are related to you, or that you have lived together for a certain period of time. For us, that meant our marriage certificate. For those who aren’t married, there is other documentation you’ll need to prove you’re living together. We also had to include our name change order, because we both changed our last name when we married, which meant this version of us has only existed for a few years.

If you’re working with an immigration attorney, they might send you an internal form that asks all the questions that need to be completed on the application. Here are some of the things that we had to look up: you’ll save some time if you have this handy.

  • The birth date and birth place of your parents
  • The last five times you’ve traveled outside of the US
  • The addresses of the last ten places you’ve stayed in the UK (which was a giant pain for us, because we took a road trip through Scotland for our honeymoon)
  • If you’ve ever received medical care in the UK, and if so, where you received it
  • The last few places you’ve lived

I thought we’d need to do provide more, but I think our status as married made it easier than it would be for someone who has a partner they aren’t married to.

Visa Timelines

Let’s work backwards from when you want to arrive to figure out when you need to do what you need to do:

Student

Let’s say that classes start on October 1. You can move into your residence hall on September 25, so that’s your target arrival date.

The initial entry time for visas is 30 days. That’s it. You can enter on the first day, the 30th day, or any day in between, but if you show up 31 days after the visa start date, sorry, but they might not let you in.

I KNOW.

That sucks. So I strongly recommend that you don’t cut it close on the back end. If, say, you want to arrive on September 25, don’t apply for a visa with a start day of August 26. What if your flight is delayed or canceled, and you don’t arrive until September 27? Yikes. Don’t do that.

Instead, aim for a window that puts your target arrival day a week into the window when you want to arrive. So, in this example, the start date could be September 18. It’s possible that, even though you’d have to pay for a hotel for a couple of nights, the airfare from the US is so drastically cheaper if you arrive on September 23 that it’s worth coming in a little early. Or, if there’s a big storm, or a volcano erupts, you could arrive on September 29 or 30 and still be fine.

This site has some great resources and FAQs for student visas, but one thing I want to point out is that you need to apply at least six weeks before you want to go, but cannot apply more than three months before you want to go. So using the scenario above, here’s one possible timeline:

  • June 19 – Earliest possible date to submit visa application
  • August 7 – Last possible date to submit visa application
  • September 18 – Visa Start Date
  • September 25 – Residence Hall Move-In
  • October 1 – Classes Start

Worker

This one takes a little more time due to some of the rules around job offers and requirements to confirm that the non-UK citizen is indeed the only one who can do the job. As an example, here was our timeline:

  • October 16 – Accepted job offer
  • October 18 – Completed visa paperwork
  • October 16 – November 16 – Waiting period (for my partner’s new employer to re-post the job and ensure no UK-based candidates could be found)
  • November 21 – Biometrics appointment / shipping documentation to immigration attorney
  • November 30 – Visa application accepted!
  • December 1 – Passports with visas returned to us
  • January 2 – February 1 – Entry window
  • January 10 – Arrived in London
  • January 15 – My partner’s first day at work

A Note About Flights

As I type this, the UK is negotiating Brexit, e.g. leaving the EU. I think it’s absurd, and am holding out some totally misplaced hope that someone will exercise some common sense and reverse course. Regardless, at least through 2019, the UK is still part of the EU.

Why does this matter?

If at all possible, try to book a trip that does not include a flight connection through an EU country, because then you won’t be stopping at passport control once you arrive in the UK. And that’s a problem. One that I learned (almost) the hard way.

When I moved to London for graduate school, I booked a flight from NYC through Ireland. I went through immigration in Ireland, then transferred to my Ireland – London flight. When I arrived in London, I just went straight to baggage, collected my items, and headed to my residence hall.

Which meant my visa was never stamped. I’d essentially never arrived.

About six weeks later, a friend and I flew to Barcelona for the weekend (isn’t it so unbelievably cool that you can do that when you live in Europe?!). She headed back to the US and I returned to London. I showed immigration and border control my visa (which didn’t have the original entry stamp), and was confronted by a very stern immigration agent asking where my paperwork was.

It was in my residence hall, shoved on a bookshelf because I didn’t need it anymore, or so I thought.

After a bit of a talking to, the immigration agent asked whether I had my student ID with me. I did, and that served as sufficient proof for them. They stamped my visa and let me in.

Clearly you want to avoid that situation, especially for those coming on a work visa.

However, if the only way for you to arrive is via a connection through Europe, call your airline ahead of time and explain that you will need to pass through immigration when you arrive in the UK even though its not generally needed, and see how they can help make that happen.

Visa Basics

Hopefully you know that you need to secure a visa prior to moving to the UK. As someone with a US passport, you can visit the UK whenever, as long as you don’t stay for longer than six months, and provided you aren’t making money (I’m generalizing here; I’m not an attorney and rules change, so always check).

Students

If you’re a student, the information you need is on the US Embassy site. When I had my student visa, I believe it allowed me to work during school breaks, but only limited hours. Additionally, while I was allowed to make use of the NHS (National Health Service), I was not entitled to ‘benefits,’ meaning, for example, I couldn’t collect government income assistance.

Previous versions of the student visa allowed graduates to remain in the UK for up to two years after while working, although those two years didn’t count towards the number needed to apply for permanent residency. That benefit, sadly, no longer remains.

If you are applying for a student visa, it’s easy enough to do on your own. You need certain documentation and must follow all steps exactly, but generally speaking it’s pretty straightforward. If you have an offer at a legitimate institution of higher education, and aren’t otherwise disqualified (e.g you aren’t a convicted felon), it should be relatively simple.

Workers

Moving to the UK for work is another thing entirely. Generally speaking, the UK will issue a visa if a) you’re super wealthy and want to invest money in starting a company in the UK or b) you are a skilled or highly skilled worker in a field that has a dearth of potential employees.

The details of the steps involved in securing a work visa can be found on the UK government site.

In our case, my partner Austin applied for and was offered a position at a small video game company. Video game development is not as large an industry in the UK as in, say, Seattle, so they don’t have as large of a pool of potential employees to choose from.

I strongly recommend that, as part of your negotiations with your new company, you insist that they pay for both the visas and the visa process, as well as contract with an immigration attorney with experience in this field. There are a lot of ways to screw it up, and immigration attorneys do this for a living. It’ll remove a little bit of the stress from the process.