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The Isle of Man immigration system can be complex: this article is designed to help you understand some of the basic terms and the paperwork you are likely to need to move to the Isle of Man, and the help that is available.
What is a visa?
The term “visa” is often misunderstood by the majority of people, who have only ever been abroad as a tourist or business visitor, and may never have needed to apply for immigration permission in advance of travelling to another country. Don’t confuse it with VISA, which is a multinational financial services company which facilitates credit and debit card payments!
A visa is a loose term, and a visa can take several forms legally speaking, and be produced in different ways. In the Isle of Man immigration system, we are most likely to refer to a visa to enter the Isle of Man for the first time as “leave to enter”, while one for an extension of stay is called “leave to remain”.
A visa can be documented in different ways. Leave to enter the Isle of Man is usually documented by a visa vignette, which is a sticker that takes up a whole page of your passport. The vignette is issued by UK Visas and Immigration or its agents, acting on behalf of the Isle of Man Immigration Officer.
When you extend your leave to remain in the Isle of Man, your visa will be documented by way of stamps placed in your passport to record the duration and any major conditions of your leave.
Permanent residence in the Isle of Man is called Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). ILR is documented by way of stamps placed in your passport.
In the UK, after the initial entry on a visa vignette, leave is documented by way of a credit-card sized identity document called a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). The Isle of Man does not issue BRPs: if you have applied for leave to enter the Isle of Man and have collected a BRP, this is not a valid Isle of Man immigration document, and you should seek advice as soon as possible on how to get this fixed.
Does everyone need a visa?
Citizens of many countries are what immigration lawyers call “non-visa nationals”. This does not mean they never need a visa for the Isle of Man; instead, it means they are allowed to travel to the Isle of Man without prior permission in the form of a visa, to carry out permitted short-term Visitor activities like tourism, attending business meetings, and visiting family.
Non-visa nationals include the citizens of EEA countries, as well as countries like the USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and Singapore.
The citizens of all countries (except Britain and Ireland) still need visas in order to stay in the Isle of Man long-term, or if they wish to do things like work, get married or enter into a civil partnership.
There is an Electronic Visa Waiver programme for citizens of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as an alternative to obtaining a visa vignette in advance.
British citizens and Irish citizens never require visas; the holders of other forms of British nationality such as British National (Overseas) are non-visa nationals, but are likely to need visas to stay, work or study long-term.
What types of Isle of Man visa are there?
The most popular type of Isle of Man visa is the Worker route, which allows people with a qualifying job offer from an Isle of Man employer to come to work in the Isle of Man for up to six years. It is a potential route to ILR after five years, and thereafter to British citizenship.
Other work routes include the British Ancestry route (for Commonwealth citizens) and the Representative of an Overseas Business route. These are also potential routes to ILR after five years, and thereafter to British citizenship.
For business founders and entrepreneurs, the Innovator route is the fastest route to settlement, currently taking only three years to achieve ILR, and thereafter British citizenship. For less-experienced founders and entrepreneurs, there is the Start up route, which leads into the Innovator route, taking a total of five years to achieve ILR and thereafter British citizenship.
There are also visas for people joining family members such as British or settled partners, spouses or parents of minor children in the Isle of Man.
Each type of visa has a different list of requirements for a successful application, in terms of the questions you will have to answer, and the supporting documents you will need to provide.
If I get a visa, does it mean I have permission to work in the Isle of Man?
Not necessarily. The Isle of Man operates a system of Control of Employment, often called “Work Permits”, in addition to the immigration system. The Work Permit requirement also applies to British and Irish citizens, and other people with ILR or settled status.
The aim of the Work Permit system is to protect the local labour market by preventing people not connected with the Isle of Man through birth or family from taking jobs that could be done by available, similarly-qualified people with an existing Isle of Man connection.
A Worker visa is never referred to as a Work Permit, as they are different documents issued under different laws. However, the holder of a Worker visa is likely to be exempt from the Work Permit requirement, along with the holders of Innovator and Start up visas, provided they comply with their terms.
If you have a family visa, for instance as the partner or spouse of a British citizen or settled person, or are on a British Ancestry visa, you may well need a Work Permit in addition to your immigration visa, depending on your circumstances and the job you propose to do.
What help is available?
The only people competent and qualified to advise you on Isle of Man immigration are regulated and insured Isle of Man law firms like Kinley Legal. We can assist with all immigration matters including preparing your first immigration application, helping with your further immigration applications, advising you if your situation changes, and representing you in court should you need to appeal against an immigration decision. We can also assist with making a correct nationality application (registration or naturalisation) when the time comes.
Lawyers qualified in other jurisdictions, as well as unqualified advisers, frequently offer to help people with Isle of Man visa applications. These people are unlikely to be insured to advise you about Isle of Man law or immigration, meaning that if something goes wrong, you may not be able to obtain compensation for your loss.
Sometimes, people familiar with the UK procedure will offer to advise you on Isle of Man applications, saying “the law is the same”. This simply isn’t true: UK lawyers and non-lawyers registered with OISC in the UK are not qualified to advise on Isle of Man immigration matters; while Isle of Man immigration law and procedure was originally based on that in the UK, there are now many differences.
Remember that everybody’s personal circumstances and immigration position is different: the Immigration Rules change regularly, and other people sharing their immigration experiences on social media are unlikely to have been in precisely the same situation as you.
General guidance on immigration applications is published by the Isle of Man Immigration Service. While the Immigration Service maintains a public counter at its Douglas offices and publishes e-mail and telephone contact details, Kinley Legal always advises its clients never to attend the public counter or to contact the Immigration Officer without legal advice. This is because the Immigration Officer is the decision-maker in relation to immigration matters, meaning that they cannot provide advice on what you should do about your immigration position. Saying the wrong thing could have potentially catastrophic consequences for your ability to remain in the Isle of Man.
If you would like to make an appointment for a call, in-person meeting or online meeting to discuss your situation please get in touch by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or complete our simple contact form, and we would be pleased to help.