There is a ceremonial element to the role, and the visitor may also be called upon to give advice where an institution expresses doubt as to its powers under its charter and statutes. However, the most important function of the visitor was within academic institutions, where the visitor had to determine disputes arising between the institution and its members.

The position has also existed in universities in other countries which have followed the English and Welsh model (there being no such office in Scotland), although in many countries the visitor's role in complaints has been transferred to other bodies.

The Governor of Victoria is the visitor to all Victorian universities, but has only ceremonial duties.