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I just finished my PhD and will be starting a postdoc in the US in September. I will be visiting the UK for 2 months for a research visit. My entire trip is covered by the professor, but while filling up the UK visitor visa form, they ask if I am a student/unemployed?

I don't mind putting in student, but later they ask me to provide a letter from my employer stating that I have permission to travel to the UK (this doesn't really apply to me). Is this letter necessary for the visa application process? Every other document of mine is perfect and ready!

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If you're neither a student nor employed, don't claim that you are. The visa authorities routinely take lying much more seriously than the thing you're lying about.

Just tell the truth, and make sure to document in your materials that you have a legit post-doc offer in the US that you're going to start on such-a-such date. This ought to be sufficient for the ECO to conclude that it wouldn't be attractive for you to immigrate illegally and settle as an undocumented menial worker.

However, if your host institution is covering not only your travel expenses, but also lodging and food, then I think there's a risk the immigration authorities will consider what you do to be working, which is not allowed on a visitor visa. If you haven't already, I'd strongly recommend getting in contact with the host institution's international office to make sure you're applying for the right kind of visa for your circumstances.

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    Yes - this whole post seems to be the prequel to one of the regular "I had this strange question when I landed, and they didn't let me in, and I don't understand why..." questions we see here. Strongly agree with your advice that the OP should avoid getting in to a situation that could create long-term difficulties. – djr Apr 2 '18 at 22:23

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