Getting into the UK


On arrival in the UK to take up employment or residence, your first task is to battle your way through immigration and customs which, fortunately for most people, presents no problems. British customs and immigration officials are usually polite and efficient. You may find it more convenient to arrive in the UK on a weekday rather than during the weekend, when offices and banks are closed.

When you arrive in the UK, the first thing you must do is go through Passport Control, which is usually divided into two areas: ‘European Union (EU)/EEA Nationals’ and ‘All Other Passports’. Make sure you join the right queue. Passport control is staffed by immigration officers who have the task of deciding whether you’re subject to immigration control, and if so, whether or not you’re entitled to enter the UK. You must satisfy the immigration officer that you’re entitled to enter the UK under whatever category of the immigration rules you’re applying to do so. Present your passport to the immigration officer with the following, as applicable:

  • Entry clearance (visa, entry certificate or letter of consent);
  • A work permit; (which may count as entry clearance in the case of some non-visa nationals, although this is being phased out over the next few years);
  • A completed landing card (all non-EEA nationals);
  • A letter from a bona fide educational establishment stating that you’ve been accepted on a full-time course of study;
  • A letter stating you’ve been offered a position as an au pair, trainee or voluntary worker;
  • Evidence that your qualifications for a job or a course of study are adequate, e.g. certificates or diplomas;
  • Evidence that you’re able to support yourself and any dependants during your stay without recourse to public funds, e.g. a bank statement or letter from a bank, or evidence of financial support such as cash, travellers cheques and credit cards;
  • If your stay in the UK is for a short period only, you may need to give an assurance that you will leave at the end of that period.

If you leave the UK for any reason after your initial entry, e.g. for a holiday, you will be required to produce the same documents for re-admission. If you’re entering the UK from a country other than an EEA member state, you may be required to have immunisation certificates. Check the requirements in advance at a British Diplomatic Post abroad before arriving in the UK.

The immigration officer may also decide to send you for a routine (and random) health check, before allowing you to enter the UK. After the health check, you must return to immigration to have your passport stamped. The UK has strict regulations regarding the entry of foreigners whose reason for seeking entry may be other than those stated. Generally, the onus is on anyone visiting the UK to prove that he’s a genuine visitor and won’t infringe the immigration laws. The immigration authorities aren’t required to establish that you will violate the immigration laws and can refuse your entry on the grounds of suspicion only.

The treatment of foreigners by immigration officers varies, but some people complain of harassment and have trouble convincing officials that they’re genuine visitors, e.g. people from Africa and the Indian subcontinent. Immigration officers are trained to assume that everyone who isn’t an EEA national is trying to enter the UK illegally. Young people may also be liable to interrogation, particularly those travelling lightly and ‘scruffily’ dressed. It’s advisable to carry international credit and charge cards, travellers cheques, return or onward travel tickets, student identity cards, or a letter from your employer or college stating that you’re on holiday. Visitors arriving from ‘exotic’ regions (e.g. Africa, South America, the Caribbean, the Middle and Far East) may find themselves under close scrutiny from customs officials looking for drugs.

Be extremely careful how you answer seemingly innocent questions from the immigration authorities, as you could find yourself being refused entry if you give incriminating answers. Whatever the question, never imply that you may remain in the UK longer than the period permitted or for a purpose other than that for which you’ve been granted permission. For example, if you aren’t permitted to work in the UK, you could be asked: “Would you like to work in the UK?” If you reply “Yes”, even if you have no intention of doing so, you could be refused entry.

This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.

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