The United Kingdom is one of the most inclusive and welcoming societies in the world, and is proud to be home to citizens from many different cultures. Part and parcel of these many different cultures is a wide variety of faiths, and in many cases these religions aren’t catered for by indigenous UK priests; as faiths other than Christianity begin to grow, a need for overseas religious ministers becomes evident. Because the religious well-being of Britain’s subcultures is important to the continued integration of cultures the country, the UK Government has provided a pathway which religious minister from overseas can use to enter the country.
The Tier 2 visa system is largely based around the provision of employment; for “general” and “transfer” visas, the candidate must demonstrate that they will be working in a particular position when they arrive in the UK, and possess sponsorship from their employer. However, religious ministers are unable to meet these requirements, as the responsibilities of priesthood rarely come with corresponding financial rewards.
Instead, a specific allowance must be made, which is the reason for the specialised Tier 2 Minister of Religion visa. This article will deal with the general requirements of this type of visa, and point out which areas applicants must be aware of in order to submit an appropriate request for entry. As always, this guide provides a useful overview, but applicants will need to thoroughly read the relevant documentation on the Government’s Immigration website before proceeding with an application.
With a specific pathway like this, it’s important first to understand how the conditions of the visa vary from those associated with other Tier 2 visas. These are some of the most important points that bear consideration, and which applicants must be aware of:
- Applicants must have a certificate of sponsorship number, which details the role they’ll be filling while in the UK
- Entrants can remain in the UK for the length of their employment plus one additional month. This cannot exceed three years and one month in total
- While in the UK, successful candidates may take on a second job, and may study (so long as they can still carry out their primary job)
- This visa allows individuals to leave and re-enter the UK at will
Entering the UK on a minister of religion visa brings with it certain rights and responsibilities, and the relative freedom which it imparts is dependent upon the applicant fulfilling several important criteria.
Minister of Religion Visa Requirements
The central requirement for this type of visa is the provision of a certificate of sponsorship reference number. This is a number provided by the sponsoring organisation (which will be providing the applicant’s employment once in the UK), that gives information on the job they’ll be performing. It will give details of the type of work they’ll carry out, what the salary (or equivalent benefits) are, and how long the employment will last. This sponsorship number can be sought at any point, and there’s no need for applicants to wait before requesting this from their employer. However, it’s important to bear in mind that a sponsorship number is only valid for three months after it’s issued, and may only be used once.
In addition to a certificate of sponsorship number, applicants will need to provide proof that they can meet the minimum required level of English language skills. This can be provided by successfully passing a test upon application, or by holding a prior qualification demonstrating knowledge of the English language. This requirement will be waived if the applicant is applying from an English-speaking country (such as Australia, New Zealand or America; a full list is available on the Government’s website).
Because immigrants are not entitled to receive public funds, visa applicants must demonstrate that they have enough money to support themselves in the country upon arrival. In many cases this means that they must hold at least £945 in their bank accounts, but applicants for a Minister of Religion visa are likely to have this requirement waived if the organisation which is employing them intends to provide a living for them.
Taking a Second Job
This form of visa is specifically geared to a small subsection of immigrants, those who provide important services for religious organisations in the UK. As such, it must come with certain requirements that restrict what applicants can do once they enter the country; if successful applicants could simply decide not to take up their posts as faith leaders in the community, this specialised visa would have no purpose. Therefore, if a minister of religion wants to take up a second job they must re-apply for their visa, with a second certificate of sponsorship number from their second employer. They may not begin working in this new role until they receive permission, and they must also have begun work in their primary employment.
The only exception to this is if they’ll be working in a role for which there is a skills shortage in the UK. Ministers of religion may take on work in a Shortage Occupation without submitting a second application - a full list of Shortage Occupations is available from the Government’s Immigration website.
For the purposes of fulfilling the visa requirements, volunteer work is not considered to be employment, so ministers may carry out unpaid volunteer tasks with no fear of repercussions.
Costs and Timeline
As with most visa applications, a Tier 2 Minister of Religion visa usually takes 8 weeks to process, and may be applied for up to 3 months in advance of the minister’s employment commencing. Because a certificate of sponsorship reference number may be applied for at any time, it’s a good idea to secure this well before submitting the application, to avoid unnecessary delays.
The cost of a tier 2 visa application is £574 if applied for from outside the UK, and £664 for applicants within the UK. A 10-day “premium” service may be used, but this costs an additional £500.