There are various temporary immigration routes available in the UK to be able to lawfully undertake work as an overseas national. However, for those specifically looking to perform a short-term voluntary job role within the charitable sector, they will probably need a UK charity worker visa.
The following essential guide looks at the different aspects of this visa, from what this is and what it allows to whether a charity worker can settle in the UK.
What is the charity worker visa?
The charity worker visa is the permission needed for overseas voluntary workers aged 18 or over who would like to come to the UK to undertake temporary and unpaid charity work for a recognised charitable organisation. However, this is a sponsored work route, where the UK charity must be approved by the Home Office to sponsor this category of worker.
This visa has replaced the Temporary Worker – Charity Worker visa (T5) under the old rules, and is sometimes referred to as the volunteer visa UK.
What does the charity worker visa UK allow?
The charity worker visa will allow the successful applicant to come to the UK to undertake a job role with a licensed sponsor for a period of 12 months or, alternatively, for the time granted on the applicant’s Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) plus 14 days. However, all activities undertaken in the UK must be temporary, voluntary and involve no remuneration.
The immediate family of a charity worker can apply to accompany or join them in the UK on this route, where any grant of leave will reflect that of the principal applicant or primary visa-holder. This includes the partner of the charity worker, or dependent children under 18, provided they meet the relevant requirements, including a relationship requirement.
In the context of dependant partners of charity workers, if not married, they must have been living in a relationship akin to marriage for at least 2 years. The relationship between the applicant and charity worker partner must also be genuine and subsisting, and they must intend to live together throughout the applicant’s stay in the UK. For any children, they must be under 18, unless last granted leave as the dependent child of their parent(s) and, if the applicant is aged 16 or over, they must not be leading an independent life.
Who is eligible for the charity worker visa UK?
The charity worker visa is designed for foreign nationals aged 18 or over with the offer to do voluntary work for a licensed UK sponsor for no more than 12 months. To be eligible for a licence to sponsor charity workers, an organisation must be either a registered, excepted or exempt UK charity in line with the applicable legislation in force in the relevant part of the UK, or an ecclesiastical corporation which has been established for charitable purposes.
Those coming to the UK as a standard visitor can also undertake volunteering during their stay, but only if this lasts no more than 30 days and is for a charity registered with either the Charity Commission for England and Wales, or for Northern Ireland, or the Scottish Charity Regulator. However, anyone who enters the UK as a visitor cannot switch to the charity worker route while they are in the UK. This means that if they would like to work in an unpaid voluntary role for more than 30 days, they will need to leave the UK and apply for entry clearance from overseas on the charity worker route instead.
Charity worker visa requirements
The specific requirements relating to the charity worker visa UK are set out under ‘Appendix Temporary Work – Charity Worker’ of the UK’s Immigration Rules. As such, for people wanting to come to the UK on the charity worker route, they must:
- be aged 18 years old or more on the date of application
- have a valid CoS issued by an approved UK sponsor to do eligible charity work, where that work relates to the work of the sponsoring organisation
- meet the financial requirement under the rules
- genuinely intend and be able to undertake the voluntary role for which they are being sponsored to do in the UK
- not intend to undertake employment, other than the charity work for which they are being sponsored and any additional voluntary work that meets the relevant requirements
- not fall for refusal under the general grounds for refusal.
The applicant must also not be subject to the ‘cooling-off period’. The cooling-off period applies if, during the 12 months prior to an application for entry clearance, the applicant was in the UK with permission on either the charity worker or religious worker route. This means that a charity worker who has already had leave to work in the UK on this route for a 12-month period cannot leave the UK and immediately re-apply on the same route.
If the cooling-off period applies, the applicant will not be eligible for a further grant of entry clearance until 12 months have passed since either the date their last permission on the charity worker or religious worker route expired, or the date they last left the UK, if this was earlier than the date their permission on the charity or religious worker route expired.
When it comes to ‘eligible charity work’, the work must meet three criteria. First, it must be voluntary fieldwork directly related to the sponsor’s charitable purpose, where this does not include routine activities such as back-office administrative work, or retail and fund-raising roles. Second, the work must be unpaid, except for reasonable expenses. Finally, the worker must not be filling a position, even temporarily, which is required on a permanent basis.
In the context of any additional work, this is permissible under this route for up to 20 hours per week, provided any second job is in the same sector and at the same level as the main job. However, a charity worker visa-holder cannot receive any payment for this work, take a permanent job role or access public funds, including benefits or a state pension.
Charity worker visa financial requirement
Under the financial requirement for a charity worker visa UK, an applicant will usually need to have at least £1,270 available funds to show that they can support themselves on arrival.
For any partner or children applying to follow or join the charity worker, the following additional funds will be required under the financial requirements for dependants:
- £285 for a dependent partner
- £315 for the first dependent child
- £200 for any other dependent child
Importantly, the funds required for a dependant applicant must be held in addition to any funds needed for the charity worker to meet their own financial requirement. These funds must have been held for a period of at least 28 days in a row prior to the application(s) being made, where day 28 must be within 31 days of applying for a charity worker visa UK.
How to apply for a charity worker visa
An application for a charity worker visa UK must be made online from outside the UK. This is because it is not possible to change immigration category to the charity worker route, where switching into or between any of the subcategories of temporary worker is not usually allowed. This means that if a prospective charity worker is already in the UK on another route, they must leave and apply for entry clearance on this route from overseas.
As part of the application for a charity worker visa, the applicant must pay a fee, together with the immigration health surcharge (IHS) to enable them to have access to the UK’s NHS during their stay. They must also provide a passport or other valid travel document to establish their identity and nationality, together with any documentation in support. This could include, for example, evidence that they have enough personal savings, together with their tuberculosis test results if they are from a country where they have to take the test. In some cases, additional documents may be needed, depending on their circumstances.
The way in which an applicant can prove their identity will depend on where they are from and the type of passport that they hold. They may need to have their fingerprints and photo taken at an overseas visa application centre to enable them to obtain a biometric residence permit. Alternatively, they may be able to use the UK Immigration: ID Check app.
How much does it cost to apply for a charity worker visa UK?
The cost of applying for a charity worker visa UK is £259. This fee is the same for each person applying, so including both the principal applicant and any dependants.
In addition to the application fee, each applicant will also be liable to pay the IHS. For applicants aged over 18, the surcharge cost will be £624 in total for a 12-month stay, reduced to £470 for those under 18. These costs are in addition to the applicant, and any dependants separately, being able to prove that they have enough personal savings to support themselves on their arrival in the UK. However, the UK sponsor can instead certify maintenance for the whole family on the applicant’s sponsorship certificate.
How long does it take to get a charity worker visa?
An application for a charity worker visa UK can be made up to 3 months before the day the applicant is due to start work in the UK. This date will be listed on the CoS. As part of their application, they will need to prove their identity and provide their documents, where the applicant may need to allow extra time if they need an appointment to do this. They will find out if they need to attend an appointment when they start their visa application.
The length of time it will take to get a charity worker visa UK is typically up to 3 weeks, although it may be possible to pay for a faster decision. Having been granted a visa, the successful applicant can enter the UK up to 14 days before the start date of their job.
Can a charity worker visa UK be extended?
The charity worker visa route is a temporary work route, where 12 months is the maximum permitted period in the UK on this route. This means that a charity worker visa-holder cannot apply to extend this visa beyond one year. However, if they were initially granted leave for less than 12 months, they may be able to apply to extend their stay, although an application must be made prior to expiry of their existing visa. They must also be in the UK when applying to extend and continue to meet the relevant requirements of this route.
When applying to extend permission under the charity worker route, the applicant will be told if they can use the ID app or whether they will need to schedule an appointment at a UK Visa and Citizenship Application Services (UKVCAS) service point. Having proved their identity or attended any appointment, an extension application will normally take up to 8 weeks, although it may again be possible to pay for a faster decision. The fee will be £259.
Importantly, permission for any partner and/or dependent children in the UK will not automatically extend in line with that of the charity worker, where they will also need to apply to extend. If they do not extend their permission to stay on this route, their grant of leave will be valid until the original end date of their existing visa.
Can a charity worker visa-holder apply to settle in the UK?
The charity worker visa route is not a path to settlement, which means a charity worker visa-holder cannot apply for indefinite leave to remain. However, they may be eligible to switch to a different immigration route with the possibility of applying to settle at a later date.
DavidsonMorris are UK business immigration specialists. We advise employers and their workforce on visa options to work temporarily in the UK, including the Charity Worker visa. For expert advice, contact us.
Charity worker visa FAQs
How do I get a UK work visa for charity?
To obtain permission to work in a voluntary role for a UK charity, you must apply for a charity work visa. However, you will first need the offer of work from a recognised UK charity licensed to sponsor temporary workers.
What is a Tier 5 charity worker visa?
A Tier 5 charity worker visa is the predecessor visa to the charity worker visa under the UK’s Immigration Rules, allowing overseas nationals to come to the UK to work in a sponsored charitable role for up to 12 months.
Who can sponsor charity worker visa?
To be eligible to sponsor charity workers, an organisation must be either a registered, excepted or exempt UK charity or, alternatively, an ecclesiastical corporation, either corporation sole or body corporate, which has been established for charitable purposes.
What is new UK Tier 5 charity work visa?
Prior to the 11 October 2021, the charity worker route was previously known as the Tier 5 or T5 (Temporary Worker) Charity Worker route. However, the new visa still allows charitable workers to undertake temporary chartable work in the UK.
Last updated: 28 March 2023