The UK visa system works on a 5 Tier (five layer), Points-Based System Wiki PagePoints-Based System (PBS), for people living outside the European Economic Area (EEA). The main visa applications relate to Skilled Work, Study and Religion, with the Marriage Visa Web PageMarriage Visa being a separate (non-PBS) visa.
Visa Fees Web PageVisa Fees are quite expensive (i.e. work visa from £400+ to £1,000+), with many visa applications taking up to 3 Months (if not longer) to process, demand a certain level of eligibility (including the ability to speak, write and understand English) and are limited by time (i.e. valid up to 2 Years).
TIER 1 is mainly for potential Entrepreneurs Visa Web PageEntrepreneurs, Investors Visa Web PageInvestors (investing in the UK) and people with Exceptional Talents Visa Web PageExceptional Talents (in the fields of Engineering, Medicine and Science for example).
TIER 2 includes the Skilled Job Visa Web PageWork Permit (for a Sports Person Visa Web PageSports Person and Minister Of Religion Visa Web PageMinister of Religion).
TIER 3 was meant for Unskilled Migrant workers, but was never used and has since been abolished.
TIER 4 is used for the Student and Parents of a Student (Student Visa Web PageStudent, Parent Of A Child Student Visa Web PageParent Of A Child Student and Child Student Visa Web PageChild Student).
TIER 5 is used for the Temporary Worker (which includes a Charity Worker, Creative Worker and Sports Worker) and the Youth Mobility Scheme Web PageYouth Mobility Scheme (which replaces the former Working Holiday Visa). The Youth Mobility Scheme is for young people wanting to work, live and travel within the UK for a period of up to 2 Years.
As each type of visa application is unique to the circumstances of the person applying for it, it is impossible for anyone to say with certainty whether or not a visa will be granted and how long the process will take; especially if you have complex scenario, in which case you should contact a visa lawyer and/or the UK government directly (via an embassy for example) for advice.
If you think your circumstances are "normal", you just need to apply online; as opposed to Visa Application Downloads Web Pagedownloading a visa application form that you have to fill out and post (the slow process).
The point-based visa system, as used by the Youth Mobility Scheme (Tier 5) for example, is only available to countries which have a special reciprocal agreement with the UK. Namely: Passport holders from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Monaco and Taiwan. It also applies to a British overseas citizen, a British overseas territories citizen and a British national overseas.
Taking the Youth Mobility Scheme as the example: If you are applying for that visa from Australia for example (30 points), are aged between 18 and 30 years (10 points) and have maintenance funds of £1,890 available (10 points), you will have the qualifying 50 points needed to continue with your visa application. Qualifications and Future Expected Earnings are other point scorers.
NOTE: As of April 2016, the government no longer uses a PBS Calculator to get initial information from you about your eligibility for a visa. You now have to go through the NARIC (National Academic Recognition Information Centre) 'Visas & Nationality' system - Visa & Nationality Check Web PagePBS Calculator - to check if you are eligible for the visa type you want to apply for.
NOTE: With the Youth Mobility Scheme you must have the maintenance funds in your bank account at the time of your visa application, otherwise your visa application will be refused. When applying for other types of visa, their requirement might be that you have had those maintenance funds in your bank account for the last, consecutive, 90 days.
If you want to visit the UK from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, perhaps for business and/or pleasure reasons (such has a Holiday, to visit to relatives and/or friends, to take part in a sports or other creative event, receive private medical treatment), you may need a Standard Visitor Visa Web PageStandard Visitor visa.
NOTE: The Standard Visitor visa has since replaced the following visas:
NOTE: With the Standard Visitor visa you:
If you plan on settling down in England (UK), you first need to Settle Down In The UK Web Pagecheck your eligibility for settling down in the UK; known as: Indefinite Leave To Remain (ILR). IRL means you can stay in the UK without any time restrictions.
Some of the requirements/reasons of eligibility relate to whether or not you have a partner who is a British citizen, you have lived (and perhaps worked) in the UK permanently (without gaps abroad) for the last ten years (known as: Long Distance), you have a child who has lived in the UK for at least seven years (Remain With Family Web PageFamily Visa), you are or have been in HM Forces and/or you have settled in the UK before. There are other requirements/reasons.