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    Religious Worker Visa

    There are several grounds on which foreign citizens can move to Great Britain. One of the options for working adults is the UK Religious Visa that is becoming increasingly popular. Let us discuss what this visa is, who is eligible for it, and how to apply for the UK Religious Worker Visa in 2024.

    What is a Religious Worker Visa?

    This is a temporary visa designed for those who wish to live in the UK and work in the religious sphere by supporting local religious institutions (on a non-pastoral position, as a member of a religious order, or as a visiting religious consultant). This visa has recently replaced the UK Tier 5 Religious Worker Visa.

    Overseas religious workers who plan on moving to the UK can stay in the country for up to 24 months. They can also study (provided that this does not interfere with their main job). Visa holders also can find a second job: either in the same sector and on the same level as their main occupation or if such a job is included in the Shortage Occupation List that has recently been expanded to include some new healthcare roles for skilled professionals. In either case, the secondary employment can be part-time only (for up to 20 hours per week).

    While the British Religious Visa grants considerable freedom in terms of occupation, it still imposes a number of restrictions. For instance, visa holders shall have enough money to provide for themselves while staying in the country, and shall have no access to public funds.

    Who Qualifies as Religious Workers?

    To be considered a religious worker, a candidate shall be officially employed in the religious sphere without engaging in pastoral activities. There are three types of religious work that allow acquiring such a status:

    • Individuals performing supportive activities. Applicants may engage in minor religious activities but they are not allowed to lead a congregation or preach the essentials of the creed.
    • Members of religious orders. These can be various monastic communities formed by monks, nuns or other religious workers.
    • Visiting religious workers. A foreign citizen shall have an ongoing religious employment in his home country that he wishes to continue after immigrating to the UK.

    Note: if your religious work implies performing core duties (such as celebrating masses) or if you plan on staying in Great Britain for more than two years, you shall consider the Minister of Religion Visa instead.

    Eligibility requirements

    To be able to obtain a temporary Religious Worker Visa in the UK, a candidate shall meet a number of legal and economic criteria. The most essential one is the Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). It is an official paper issued by your employer (a recognised religious institution or a licensed sponsor organisation). The CoS has a unique reference number and sets out the description of your future job duties. The document shall prove that your future activities are official, useful, and corresponding to your knowledge and experience. Please keep in mind that your work in the UK shall be closely related to the sponsor’s activities and shall be in line with it in terms of its goal, scope, and social gains. The sponsorship can be provided for the entire duration of your stay in the UK or for a shorter period of time. In the latter case, you will be able to stay in the country for up to 28 days more after your CoS expires.

    The second requirement is financial independence. Candidates shall present a bank statement or another financial document issued in their name that proves the availability of an amount equal to at least £1,270. This will serve as proof of your ability to sustain the necessary expenses whilst in Great Britain. It should be borne in mind that financial means cannot be on paper only: you are not allowed to credit your bank account for the purpose of the visa application and then withdraw the money once the documents are accepted. The required balance shall remain for at least 28 days in a row within one month starting from the application date.

    Other requirements include:

    • Age (18 years or more as of the date of application);
    • Minimum annual salary (your future salary cannot be smaller than the National Minimum Wage and shall also be similar to a salary that a UK employee could expect to be paid for the same kind of job);
    • Individual requirements that can apply to you based on your country of origin, planned job, legal and financial background, etc.

    Applicants for the UK Religious Worker Visa are not required to prove their command of the English language. However, if you intend to subsequently extend your visa, the government authorities may assess the degree of your integration in British society, and this includes how well you speak English, how many local acquaintances you have made, whether you participate in local social activities, etc.

    How to apply?

    UK Religious Work Visa applications can be submitted up to 3 months prior to your planned date of departure. Candidates are invited to fill in and submit the online application form.

    As part of your application process, you will be required to prove your identity following a procedure that depends on your ID document type. In some cases, applicants have to visit the visa application centre personally (for example, to provide biometric data such as fingerprints or a retina scan).

    If your application form contains omissions or mistakes, or if some documents are missing, you will be required to introduce corrections or provide the necessary papers. Once the application is accepted, the only thing to do is to await the Home Office’s decision. The overwhelming majority of applicants receive a response within 3-4 weeks. When applying from inside the UK, the waiting time can be up to 7-8 weeks.

    Required documents

    Apart from the application form, the following set of documents shall be prepared:

    • passport or another national identity document with at least one blank page for the visa to be printed on it;
    • Certificate of Sponsorship (or just its reference number);
    • bank statement or another financial evidence;
    • tuberculosis test (only for individuals from countries where such a test is required);
    • personal papers of your partner or children if they are applying for a visa with you;
    • proof of your relationship with family members that you are bringing along to the UK.

    How much does a visa cost?

    The application fee is £298 for each applicant notwithstanding the age. Candidates also have to pay a healthcare surcharge (typically £1,035 per year). This surcharge serves for obtaining access to the UK’s National Healthcare System (NHS). Sometimes visa application centres offer extra service (faster decisions, etc.). Such services can be paid directly during the document submission procedure.

    Can I bring my family with me?

    The Religious Worker Visa route implies that immediate family members can apply for a visa as well. These include:

    • the dependent spouse (or the partner who has lived with the principal applicant for at least two years);
    • children below the age of 18. They must live with the principal applicant (unless they are away for study reasons) and be financially dependent. Besides, they cannot be married or in a civil partnership and cannot have kids of their own.

    The family can either travel to the UK with the principal visa holder or join him (or her) later on. Their visa will have the same validity as that of the partner or parent. Family members are free to study and engage in any kind of working activities in Great Britain, including self-employment and volunteering (except as a professional athlete or a sports coach).

    How long can I stay in the UK?

    Religious Worker Visa holders can move to Great Britain up to 14 days prior to their job start date.

    After the visa expiry it can be extended but only if the original visa was issued for less than 24 months. To be eligible for the extension, immigrants shall continue to meet all the initial requirements (such as ongoing employment, valid Certificate of Sponsorship, adequate savings, etc.). The UK Religious Work Visa can be extended for up to 24 months. If your CoS is issued for a shorter period of time, the visa will cover the duration of CoS plus 14 days.

    Can the Religious Worker Visa be the first step to permanent residence?

    Unfortunately, no. This visa route allows a temporary stay only, and, despite the opportunity to extend the visa, cannot lead to settlement. If you plan on moving to Great Britain on a permanent basis, you shall switch to another visa category that allows applying for Indefinite Leave to remain (ILR).

    How can we help?

    The Religious Worker Visa application process is a rather complex and time-consuming enterprise. To maximize your chance of a successful application, it is highly recommended to seek the assistance of a qualified immigration lawyer. Sterling Law is a professional law firm that has vast experience in immigration matters.

    Our lawyers will assess whether you are eligible for this type of visa, what pitfalls can exist in your particular case, and what documents shall be prepared for you and your family members for a successful visa obtainment. We will also help you fill out the application form to avoid potential mistakes and guide you through the entire visa process.

    Let your immigration run as smoothly as possible – entrust the UK Religious Work Visa application to Sterling Law experienced immigration solicitors.

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