Alternative Visa Options for Non-EEA Workers


Since the introduction of the Tier 1 – 5 visa routes, many organisations are overlooking alternative visa options for non-EEA workers when on-boarding new hires or transferring existing staff to the UK.

Selecting the Best Visa Option

As part of your global mobility programme, it is important to ensure all non-EEA hires and transferees are thoroughly assessed, to ensure the visa being sought is the most suitable.

Consideration of all available visa options can help ensure selection of the most cost and time effective routes of entry to the UK for your employees. These can include:

  • Van der Elst visa
  • Youth Mobility visa
  • Exceptional Talent visa

Van der Elst visa

If a non-EEA employee’s work activity falls outside the terms of a business visitor visa, they may still be eligible to work in the UK via a Van der Elst visa.

Van der Elst visas allow non-EEA nationals who are working for an employer within the EU to provide services within other EU member states without the need for a work permit.

To be eligible, the employee must meet the following criteria:

  • They lawfully reside in the EU member state where their employer is established.
  • They are lawfully and habitually employed by an employer who is temporarily providing a service in the UK.
  • They must leave the UK once the services have been provided.
  • They must not take up any other form of employment during their time in the UK.

To apply, employees are required to complete an online application form, provide supporting documentation (originals) and submit biometric data.

The benefits of a Van der Elst visa

Unlike other routes of entry, under a Van der Elst visa there are no stipulations around the seniority or skills of the employee. Employers therefore can potentially use Van der Elst visas across their workforce.

Employees should be able to satisfy the ‘habitual employment’ requirement within only a matter of months, making it a relatively accessible option.

Also, there is no application fee.

For non-EEA and Swiss national workers of Swiss companies, there is a similar exception to Van der Elst for gaining entry to the UK to provide services temporarily on behalf of their Swiss employer.

A time limitation does however apply of a total of 90 days in one calendar year. Visas – and therefore the period of the applicant’s intended stay in the UK – must therefore be limited to a maximum of 90 days.

Youth Mobility visa

The Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa is open to 18-30 year olds from Australia, Canada, Japan or New Zealand. It enables applicants to travel to the UK for up to 2 years and work legally while here.

The following criteria apply:

  • Applicants must have no dependent children.
  • They must have £1,890 savings.
  • They must not have held a youth mobility visa or UK working holiday visa before.
  • They must not set up a business or provide services as a professional sportsperson or a doctor in training while in the UK.

Note also that spouses and partners of Youth Mobility participants are not permitted to enter the UK as dependants. They must obtain their own permission, either via Youth Mobility or a suitable, alternative visa.

Benefits of Youth Mobility visa

For employers, the Youth Mobility visa offers an opportunity to mobilise talent from specific regions via a relatively faster, cheaper application process.

It grants a right to work in the UK for up to two years, usually a sufficient timeframe to satisfy short to medium term assignments or projects.

Exceptional Talent visa

The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa route is available for exceptional people in the fields of natural, medical and social sciences, engineering, digital technology, humanities and the arts, who wish to enter or remain in the UK.

To qualify, applicants must demonstrate:

  • they are a recognised world leader in their field (exceptional talent); or
  • they have the potential to become a world leader in their field (exceptional potential).

The application process has two stages. The first seeks to obtain an endorsement by a Designated Competent Body on the basis of the applicant’s skills, experience and achievements.

Following endorsement, they must then apply to the Home Office for Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) leave to enter or remain.

This route is particularly popular among academics, medical practitioners and digital technology specialists.

Applicants are not however permitted to work as a doctor or dentist in training, or a professional sportsperson or sports coach.

Benefits of Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa

The Exceptional Talent visa offers holders a great deal of flexibility and freedom to work in the UK. They are able to work in any sector, either as an employee, contractor or self-employed.

The flipside for employers of bringing an individual to the UK on an Exceptional Talent visa is that the holder does not have to seek additional approval from the Home Office if they change employers; unlike for example the Tier 2 visa, with its strict sponsorship requirement.

There is no maximum limit on the time holders can spend in the UK under an Exceptional Talent visa. Applicants can choose how long they wish to apply for to stay, up to a maximum of 5 years, and can apply to extend your leave or seek to obtain settlement.

Dependants are also permitted to follow visa holders if they meet the requirements.

Visa management

Reviewing the full range of visa options open to your employees can result in more efficient processing, lower application costs and ultimately a better fit for your particular immigration need.

Once you have identified the appropriate visa, it is important to ensure you follow the appropriate application process. This requires knowledge and understanding of Home Office procedures to minimise the risk of delay or even rejection of an application.

It is also crucial for employers to manage their visas on an ongoing basis, to ensure compliance with granted permissions and avoid any potential for a civil penalty for illegal employment.

We are highly experienced in advising international organisations on global mobility strategies and visa options to meet their business immigration requirements. To find out how we can help with your mobility needs, please contact us.



Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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