Expanding your company abroad and into the United Kingdom requires a team of skilled employees. Whether you already have a trusted team at your parent company ready to move and work in the UK or you’re opening up positions to people around the world, you need to know about the United Kingdom’s work permits and visas.
Many companies already handling a global expansion don’t have time to learn about work visas, permits, and how to obtain them.
The Tier 2 work permit category forms a core component of the UKBA’s points-based system for managed migration.
How to Get a Work Permit
Before you can apply you must satisfy the following work permit requirements:
- Have received a confirmed offer of employment from a licensed UK employer who will act as your sponsor; and
- Be in possession of a Certificate of Sponsorship issued by your sponsoring employer; and
- Pass the points-based assessment, details of which can be found on the category specific work permit pages listed below.
The work permit application process is led by the employer who is responsible for issuing you (the applicant) with a Certificate of Sponsorship.
Employers who want to know more about Tier 2 work permits are advised to read our section on Tier 2 visa information for employers.
UK Work Permits (General Category) & Permanent Residency
As a UK work permit holder you can qualify for permanent residence if you have lived and worked in the UK for a minimum of five years. Once you have satisfied the five year requirement you may qualify for Indefinite Leave to remain in the UK, which can be then be followed by British Naturalisation as a UK citizen.
Intra-Company Transfers & Permanent Residency
As a UK work permit holder under the ICT category, you can qualify for permanent residence if you have lived and worked in the UK for a minimum of five years and was granted a Tier 2 intra company transfer visa under the rules in place before 6th April 2010 or had previous leave as a qualifying work permit holder. Once you have satisfied the five year requirement you may qualify for Indefinite Leave to remain in the UK (ILR), which can be then be followed by British Naturalisation as a UK citizen.
Changes of Employment
If you wish to change employers you must get a new Certificate of Sponsorship from a licensed employer. You will also need to undergo a reassessment against the current points test and the position will need to satisfy the advertising requirements of the resident labour market test (if applicable).
Types of Work Visas in the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom’s main immigration route is through the Points Based System (PBS). First, migrants outside the European Economic Area (EEA) apply to one of five tiers based on their desire to work, study, invest, or train in the country. They must pass a points-based assessment focused on the conditions, entitlements, and entry requirements for each tier. Applicants have to get a sufficient number of points based on age, qualifications, language, earnings, and funds to get entry clearance or remain in the United Kingdom.
All five tiers encompass certain visas:
- Tier one: These visas are meant for highly skilled workers, entrepreneurs, investors, and graduate students living outside the European Union (EU) and EEA. These candidates do not need a job offer to apply.
- Tier two: Skilled workers, professional sportspeople, and clergy members outside the EEA can apply for a visa within tier two when they have a job offer and can fill gaps within the country’s labor force.
- Tier three: Tier three visas were meant for low-skilled workers providing temporary labor. However, the government decided not to accept immigrants from outside the EU for tier three positions and have since removed these visas.
- Tier four: Students over age 16 from outside the EEA should apply for a tier four visa if they want to study at a school, college, or university in the country.
- Tier five: This category has six sub-tiers of temporary workers related to creative and sporting positions, charity, religious workers, and young people who work in the UK on working holidays.
Requirements to Obtain UK Work Visas
The requirements for a United Kingdom working visa vary based on which tier and visa your employees need. Tier two encompasses most long-term visas except for the special talent mentioned in tier one. The tier two general UK work visa is the most common for companies expanding, as it’s for people outside the EEA and Switzerland who have a job offer in the UK.
All general work visa applicants must have an employer or a licensed sponsor. Although the requirements vary by type of work permit, the most common include:
- An application form
- Two color photographs taken within the past six months
- A valid passport
- Proof of financial means to cover UK living costs
- Proof of accommodation
- Detailed travel itinerary
- Tuberculosis test results
- Biometric information
- A visa invitation letter if the individual is staying with a friend or family member
- Paid UK visa fees
- Certified translations of any document that’s not in English or Welsh
Your employees should apply for a UK visa three months before they want to begin working for you. Visa application processing can take up to three weeks, so it’s important to apply early at an application center or online through the UK Home Office Visas and Immigration Services website. The PBS system means the requirements and evaluations change for each tier, and some categories may have additional requirements, so make sure your employees know what they need to apply.
The UK has announced plans to fully digitize their immigration process and permissions by 2025.
Conclusion Other Important Considerations
There are other ways for people to work in the UK besides the traditional work permit and visa routes. For example, Commonwealth citizens with a British grandparent can apply for an ancestry visa to work in the country if they meet other eligibility criteria. These citizens may also have a right of abode to live in the UK. If your company has an employee that left the UK for more than two years through indefinite leave to remain (ILR), they may need only a returning resident visa to come back and work.