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Switching from one immigration category to another, from inside the UK, is not always straightforward. Many categories will have restrictions on who is permitted to switch, and these lead to mandatory refusal of visa applications which breach them. Below is a summary of who can and who cannot switch, and into which categories. This is not exhaustive of all scenarios under the Immigration Rules, so if you would like to speak to an expert about your specific circumstances, you can call us on 1061 234 6800 (Manchester and London offices) or 0151 305 9600 (Liverpool office).

Visitor (all sub-categories)

This is a short-term visa which restricts travel to the UK to 6 months per trip. It covers travel for personal reasons, tourism and limited business reasons.

What can you switch to?

It is generally not possible to convert your status from a visitor to any other immigration category. There are some (very limited) exceptions, but for most individuals who entered as a general tourist, there is no scope for switching. It may be possible to extend your time in the UK, but only if there are compelling medical or other reasons.

What can’t you switch to?

There are almost no immigration categories which expressly permit a visitor to switch to them, including a marriage visitor who has married here and now wishes to stay. Note however that time in the UK as a visitor is lawful residence, and so may be included in a calculation of an individual’s long residence in the UK.

Family visas (partners, children, parents, adult dependent relatives)

Longer-term visas which permit applicants to be reunited with family already settled in the UK. Leave to enter can be indefinite in some routes, but for those with limited leave it is usually granted 2.5 years at a time. All routes lead to settlement upon completion of qualifying residence.

What can you switch to? 

It is possible to switch amongst these family routes. For example, an applicant who enters as a partner could secure an extension as a parent if the marriage breaks down but there is an ongoing relationship with a child. It is also possible to secure leave based on private life rather than family life, but only where the specific private life requirements are met.

What can’t you switch to?

Applicants in these categories will find themselves unable to switch to economic categories (eg worker or entrepreneur). A fresh overseas visa application would be needed instead.

Economic categories (highly skilled, investors, entrepreneurs, workers, temporary workers and students)

Longer-term visas which allow applicants to enter the UK for a specific economic purpose (eg to work or to study). Leave is usually granted for anything from 6 months to 5 years, and settlement can be attained in some categories.

What can you switch to?

Switching between these categories may be permitted, but numerous restrictions apply. For example, Tier 4 students generally may not switch into the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route, but are permitted to switch to Tier 2. It is also possible to switch from these categories to the family and private life categories; a worker who establishes a qualifying relationship with a British citizen may switch to rely on their relationship instead of their work, for example.

What can’t you switch to?

Some categories are very restrictive, an example being Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfer). Note that Tier 2 options not only have difficult switching requirements (where it is even possible), but also impose a 12-month ‘cooling off period’ preventing a new UK Tier 2 visa application for a year after departure in the Tier 2 category. There are very limited exceptions to the cooling off principle.

PBS dependants

This visa category allows the family members of economic migrants to accompany them to the UK.

What can you switch to?

Switching is possible for some categories, but often the individual simply wouldn’t qualify for other options in any event. A notable exception is the ability for a student dependant to switch into the worker category – this is possible, but difficult requirements are imposed.

What can’t you switch to?

Switching to other economic routes is restricted. The general principle is that the individual will remain a dependant of their PBS sponsor, and their leave will remain ‘tied’ to that of the sponsor.

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