If you are a foreign national from a non-European Economic Area (EEA) country wanting to work in the UK, you will need to apply for a UK work visa. This is the official permission required, not only to enter and stay in the UK, but to be able to work in the UK lawfully.
Your right to work in the UK will primarily depend upon the type of work that you are planning to undertake. UK work visas are not currently available for casual or low-skilled employment.
Below we look at the different types of visa for skilled workers, the criteria that must be met and how to apply.
Types of UK Work Visa
Tier 2 of the points based system is the primary immigration route for skilled workers from outside the EEA and Switzerland wanting to work in the UK.
There are four different categories of visa under Tier 2:
- Tier 2 (General) – this enables skilled non-EEA migrant workers to accept an offer of a job by a licensed UK employer.
- Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) – this enables existing foreign employees of an international company or organisation to transfer overseas to a UK branch.
- Tier 2 (Sportsperson): this enables elite athletes and coaches who are internationally established to be based in the UK.
- Tier 2 (Minister of Religion): this enables religious workers to undertake employment within a faith community in the UK.
In most cases, as a non-EEA national looking to work in the UK, you must secure an offer of a job from a licensed UK employer who is prepared to sponsor you.
Below we look specifically at the criteria required to apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa, one of the most common types of visa for non-EEA skilled nationals.
Sponsorship criteria for a UK Work Visa
When applying for a Tier 2 (General) visa, any offer of a job to work in the UK must be from a licensed sponsor. A Tier 2 sponsor licence is the permission granted to a UK employer to sponsor a skilled foreign worker.
To ascertain whether or not an employer is licensed to sponsor you, you will need to refer to the Home Office Register of Sponsors Licensed Under the Points-Based System.
The list is regularly updated and currently shows over 29,000 UK employers who are registered as licensed to sponsor non-EEA workers.
Having secured the offer of a job from a licensed UK employer, your prospective employer will then need to provide you with a certificate of sponsorship. Your sponsor must carry out various checks to ensure that you are suitably qualified for the job in question before issuing the certificate.
The Tier 2 (General) visa only enables skilled non-EEA migrant workers to accept an offer of a job that cannot be filled by a suitably qualified or skilled settled worker. As such, your application will only be successful if the job you have been offered will not displace a UK based worker.
Unless a job is on the shortage occupation list, ie; where there are not enough workers in the domestic labour market to meet demand, the UK employer will be required to advertise any job offered to a non-EEA migrant worker. This is known as the resident labour market test.
This will also help to prove to the Home Office that a job is genuine and that there is a genuine requirement for the intended role.
Your certificate of sponsorship will need to confirm that the resident labour market test has been completed.
It is not sufficient to be offered any type of job, it must meet the Tier 2 skill and salary levels.
The required level of skill can vary depending on the nature of the job. Typically, however, the minimum salary requirement is at least £30,000 per annum, or the appropriate rate for the job that you have been offered, whichever is higher.
Your certificate of sponsorship will need to confirm that the job is at the required skill and pay level to comply with the Tier 2 (General) requirements.
Under the points based system, your eligibility for a Tier 2 (General) visa will also be determined by the following:
- proof of your knowledge of English
- proof of your personal savings.
The English language requirement
When applying for a Tier 2 (General) visa you will need to prove your knowledge of English. If you are a national of an English speaking country, eg, Canada or New Zealand, you will be exempt from this requirement.
Otherwise, you will either need to show that you have an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised as being equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree, or you will need to take an approved English language test in reading writing, speaking and listening.
The maintenance requirement
You must also satisfy the Home Office of your ability to support yourself on arrival in the UK. You will need to provide documentary evidence from your bank or building society to show that you have had at least £945 in your bank account for a period of 90 days before you make your application.
Alternatively, you can ask your licensed sponsor to guarantee support that will meet this requirement, although this will need to be shown on your certificate of sponsorship.
How to apply for a UK Work Visa
Having been assigned a certificate of sponsorship you will have a period of three months within which to submit your application for a Tier 2 (General) visa.
A certificate of sponsorship holds your personal details and information about the job that you have been offered. It is an electronic record and will include a unique reference number that will need to be included on your application form.
Your application will also need to be supported by various other documents or records, including a current passport or travel document, proof of your English language ability, as well as evidence of your ability to support yourself financially.
For those of you who will be undertaking work in the education, health and social care sectors you will need a criminal record certificate. You may also need tuberculosis test results if you are from a listed country.
As part of your application, you will be required to provide your biometric information. This includes a digital photograph of your face and a scan of your fingerprints.
This will enable you to obtain what’s known as a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). A BRP is required if you plan to work in the UK for more than six months.
The Home Office will assess your application on the basis of how many points you have accumulated under the points based system for your category of visa.
Under Tier 2 (General) you must gain a minimum of 70 points. This is calculated as 50 points for attributes, 10 points for the English language requirement and 10 points under the maintenance requirement.
The 50 points for attributes comprises 30 points for a valid certificate of sponsorship from a licensed sponsor who has passed the resident labour market test, and 20 points for earning the appropriate salary.
The Home Office will also consider any general grounds for refusal, such as any relevant criminal history or previous immigration violations.
Please note that a valid certificate of sponsorship does not guarantee that your visa application will be successful. You must still meet all the necessary criteria under the points based system and not fall foul of any of the general grounds for refusal.