There are a number of work permit and visa options for non-UK residents.
Obtaining a work permit for the UK will depend on a number of factors, including your nationality and the type of work you intend to do.
In this guide, we look at the different types of UK work visa and work permits for foreign nationals applying for entry clearance, or to remain in the UK, including the UK work permit requirements and UK work permit costs.
Do you need a UK work permit?
As a non-UK resident, you will only be able to work in the UK having been granted an appropriate UK work visa or work permit to do the type of work that you are planning to undertake. The length of permission to stay in the UK will vary depending on the nature of your leave.
Do EU nationals need a UK work permit?
Following the end of EU free movement in December 2020, EU citizens coming to the UK for short or longer term work purposes now need to apply for a UK visa.
While the UK’s new immigration rules allow EU nationals to visit the UK for up to 6 months without needing a visa, visitors are prohibited from carrying out paid employment during their stay. Limited business-related activities are, however, permitted, such as attending meetings, events and conferences.
EU nationals who were already the UK by 31 December 2020 can remain in the UK and retain their Right to Work provided they have been granted pre-settled or full UK settled status.
What are the different types of UK work permit?
The UK’s immigration system has both sponsored and unsponsored work visa routes.
Sponsored UK work visas
For sponsorship visas, the worker must have a job offer for a qualifying role from an employer with a valid sponsor licence.
- Skilled Worker visa
- Health & Care Worker visa
- Global business mobility visas
- Scale up visa
- Temporary Worker routes
Unsponsored UK work visas
Unsponsored work visas allow indivduals to work in the UK without the need to be sponsored by an employer.
- High Potential Individual
- Start-up route
- Innovator route
- Global Talent visa
- Graduate route
- Frontier worker permit
- Youth mobility scheme
Sponsored UK work permits
Skilled Worker visa
The Skilled Worker category, which replaced the Tier 2 General visa in December 2020, is for individuals in skilled occupations who have a job offer in the UK from a UK licensed sponsor.
It is also not sufficient to be offered any type of job for the Skilled Worker route. The role must meet certain salary and skill level requirements, and you must be able to evidence English language ability.
Find out more about the Skilled Worker visa.
Health & Care Worker visa
The Health and Care Worker visa allows fast-tracked entry to the UK, together with reduced visa fees and exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge.
Qualified doctors, nurses, health professionals and adult social care professionals are eligible to apply for the Health and Care Worker visa.
It is open to individuals applying under the skilled worker route for entry clearance or leave to remain who and will be taking up a job offer in one of the occupations specified within a prescribed list of Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes.
As well as the role coming under one of the above SOC categories to qualify for the visa an applicant must also have been offered employment from a licenced sponsor. The sponsoring organisation must also either be an NHS body or trust, a medical services provider to the NHS, an organisation providing adult social care, or one of several other medical and social care organisations listed in the official guidance.
As part of the eligibility criteria, you will need to meet the salary requirement, which is to either over the minimum salary threshold or the appropriate rate for the job you have been offered, whichever is higher.
Find out more about the Health & Care Worker visa
Global Business Mobility visas
The Global Business Mobility route comprises five different visas for different categories of workers. They allow the overseas workers to carry out specific types of work or assignments in the UK for a llimited period of time.
None of these options lead directly to permanent residence as they are intended only to enable the deployment of professionals to the UK to serve particular projects or business requirements.
Global Business Mobility visa Senior or Specialist worker visa – a category of visa under the UK’s points-based immigration system that replaces the old Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) visa. Applications for an ICT visa will no longer be accepted, although existing ICT visa-holders will not be affected. It allows certain overseas workers to move quickly and easily between the UK and international offices. is specifically for senior or specialist employees looking to transfer to a UK subsidiary or branch of their overseas employer.
Global Business Mobility visa Graduate Trainee visa – companies in the UK with foreign operations that have graduates in training and who require specialised training in order to obtain experience in a work placement in the UK that will lead to a specialised function or senior management post
Global Business Mobility visa UK Expansion Worker visa – replaced the Sole Representative Business visa, allowing overseas companies to deploy multiple representatives to the UK in order to establish and expand UK-based operations.
Global Business Mobility visa Service Suppliers visa allows employees of an overseas service provider (or contractual service suppliers) and self-employed people established outside the UK (or independent professionals) to temporarily come to the UK if the work is under a contract to supply services covered by one of the UK’s international trade agreements.
Global Business Mobility visa Secondment Worker visa – for overseas workers who are looking to undertake work assignments in the UK on a temporary basis, where the worker is due to be seconded to the UK as part of either a high value contract or investment by their employer overseas. Unlike some of the other routes under the GMB umbrella, which replace and reform previous routes, this is a brand new route, designed to facilitate trade and boost the UK economy.
Find out more about the Global Business Mobility visas
Scale up visa
The scale up visa is due to open on 22 August 2022.
It is a sponsored work visa for foreign workers who have been recruited by a UK scale up sponsor, and who have the skills necessary to enable the sponsor’s business to continue growing.
Scale up workers will be permitted to work full-time at any skill level, although the applicant must be employed in the job for which they’re being sponsored for the first 6 months of their grant of leave.
Study is also permitted under this route, subject to the ATAS condition — this is a requirement to obtain an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate before studying certain sensitive subjects at postgraduate level.
Under this route, visa holders can become eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK, provided they meet the eligibility requirements for settlement.
Find out more about the Scale up visa.
Unsponsored UK work permits
High Potential Individual route
The High Potential Individual Route is aimed at foreign graduates from certain non-UK universities to come to the UK to work. Graduates must have graduated from one of a select group of overseas universities within the previous five years to qualify. Applicants don’t need to have a job offer or be sponsored by a UK employer.
Under the High Potential Individual route, visa holders can stay for two years, or three years if they have a degree that is comparable to a UK PhD.
This visa cannot be extended but visa holders may be able to apply to switch into a different category, such the Skilled Worker visa, to remain in the UK for a longer period.
Find out more about the High Potential Individual visa.
The UK’s graduate route is for international graduates of UK universities, allowing them to stay in the country for up to two years—or up to three years if they earn a PhD—after graduation.
There are no restrictions on the kind of work that graduates can take on under this route, and graduates do not have to be sponsored by an employer.
It is not possible to extend graduate route status, meaning visa holders have to apply under a different visa category to remain in the UK with lawful status. For example, this could mean switching into the Skilled Worker visa, provided the employee and the role meet the requirements for the visa, and the employer is a registered sponsor.
Find out more about the Graduate route.
Global Talent visa
The Global Talent category is for those who have exceptional talent or promise in a qualifying field, such as the sciences, medicine, humanities, engineering, the arts or digital technology. To qualify for a Global Talent visa, you will either need to hold a ‘prestigious prize’ for your occupation, or be endorsed by an organisation that is related to your qualifying field as either:
- A recognised leader, ie; showing you have exceptional talent
- An emerging leader, ie; showing you have exceptional promise
Read more about the Global Talent visa requirements here.
The start-up category is aimed at prospective entrepreneurs who want to establish a business in the UK for the first time. To qualify the new business must be innovative, viable and scalable.
This means you must have an original business idea that is different from anything else on the market, with potential for growth. It will also need to be endorsed by a UK higher education institution or approved industry body. Read more about the start-up route here.
The Innovator category is for more experienced business people coming to the UK to set up an innovative, viable and scalable business.
As with the Start-up visa, the business must again be endorsed by an authorised body. You must also have at least £50,000 to invest in a new business, although the funds can come from any source. Where the business is already established and has been endorsed for an earlier visa you do not need any investment funds.
Find out more about the Innovator route here.
Youth Mobility Scheme
The Youth Mobility Scheme is aimed at workers aged between 18 and 30 to come to the UK for up to 2 years to work.
The route is open only to certain types of British Nationality or those from certain countries or territories.
You can work in most types of jobs, or you can study or be self-employed and set up a company, provided your premises are rented, your equipment is not worth more than £5,000 and you do not have any employees and you do not need to be sponsored by an employer. You do, however, have ot show that you have at least £2530 in savings, among other eligbility criteria.
While your visa is still valid, you are free to come and go from the UK whenever you like.
If you turn 31 while in the UK, you can remain in the country for as long as your visa is valid.
You are not allowed to work as a professional sportsperson, or extend your visa or bring in family members with you as dependants – they would need to apply separately for their own visas.
Find out more about the Youth Mobility Scheme.
Temporary work visas
The Temporary Skilled Worker category is primarily for those with a job offer in the UK from a UK licensed sponsor for a role on a short-term basis
To qualify under the Temporary Skilled Worker route, workers need to be assigned a certificate of sponsorship by a UK licensed sponsor.
The Temporary route comprise the following sub-tiers of temporary worker:
Temporary Work Charity Workers visa for workers who have been given an unpaid or voluntary job offer and assigned a CoS by a charity in the UK with a valid Temporary Work sponsorship licence. The role being undertaken must relate directly to the sponsor’s work.
Temporary Work Creative visa for highly skilled individuals who have a job offer as a creative worker—such as an actor or musician—in the UK and a CoS from a UK business who holds a current Temporary Work sponsorship licence.
International Sportsperson visa is for elite, recognised sportsperson or coach to work in the UK to develop their sport here at the highest level. First, they must obtain a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) from the Governing Body for their relevant sport. You must then apply for entry clearance or permission to stay in the UK under the international sportsperson visa route.After the GBE has been issued, the sportsperson must be provided with a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) by their sponsoring club.
Temporary Work Government Authorised Exchange visa for employees who enter the UK via a government-approved exchange programme. This visa enables the worker to engage in academic research, a fellowship, work experience, training, and Overseas Government Language Programs.
Temporary Work International Agreement visa for workers providing a service covered by international law. Examples of eligible roles include private servants in diplomatic households or employees of overseas governments and international organisations.
Temporary Work Religious Worker visa for workers offered a role, such as preaching or working in a monastery or convent, by a religious order in the UK.
What are the UK work permit requirements?
The UK work permit requirements will vary depending on the type of visa that you apply for. The rules are subject to frequent change, and applicants are advised to ensure they are working to the latest guidance for the category of visa to ensure eligibility and that they are following the correct application process. Some of the routes are points-based and will require applicants to attain a certain number of points based on meeting certain attributes, while others routes rely on criteria such as endorsement.
In most cases, you will usually need to show you meet the English language requirement, where applicable, you can prove your knowledge of English when you apply for a UK work permit by either:
- Passing an approved English language test with at least CEFR level B1 in reading, writing, speaking and listening, or
- Having an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised by UK NARIC as being equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or PhD
- You will not need to prove your knowledge of English if you are a national from a majority English-speaking country, such as America, Australia or New Zealand
You may also need to satisfy a financial requirement as part of your application, by proving you have sufficient personal savings to support yourself on your arrival in the UK.
The level of funds and any applicable exceptions vary by visa route.
In some instances, such as with the general Skilled Worker visa, your UK sponsor may be allowed to provide you with a guarantee that they can cover your costs for the first month following your arrival in the UK, although your sponsor must confirm this on your certificate of sponsorship.
How to apply for a UK work permit
To apply for a UK work permit under the points-based system, you will need to submit an online application and provide your supporting documentation to prove you meet the visa eligibility requirements.
Specific rules apply for each visa, for example, Skilled Worker applicants will need to use their Certificate of Sponsorship as assigned by their sponsor, to make their Home Office application.
In the case of the Innovator and Start-up routes, and in some cases the Global Talent route, the application process is two-stage; first requiring endorsement of your application by an approved body, before you can make the visa application to the Home Office.
The documentation in support of your application will vary depending on the category of visa that you require. Your documents could include:
- A current passport or other travel document to prove you can travel
- Expired passports or travel documents to show your travel history
- Proof of your knowledge of English, where applicable
- Proof of your personal savings, where applicable
- Proof of your investment funds, where applicable
- Your tuberculosis test results if you are from a listed country
- A criminal record certificate from any country you have lived in for 12 months or more in the last 10 years, where you are planning to work with vulnerable people
You will also be required to attend a visa application centre local to you to enrol your biometric information, ie; your fingerprints and a digital photo of your face. This will enable you to get a biometric residence permit on your arrival in the UK.
What are the UK work permit costs?
The cost of a UK work permit or UK work visa will vary depending on the category of visa that you apply for and where you are from. The application fees will also vary depending on if you apply from outside or within the UK.
As well as the Home Office application fee, there may be other costs you will need to cover, such as the Immigration Health Surcharge. Again, these will depend on the visa category you are applying under.
If you are being sponsored under Tier 2 or 5, your sponsor will also incur immigration-related costs when hiring you.
Can you get a work permit for a low-skilled position?
As a non-EEA or Swiss national, it is not currently possible to work in the UK in a low-skilled position, save except where you are applying for a visa under the Youth Mobility Scheme and wanting to travel to the UK for a working holiday.
Otherwise, work visas are not currently available to undertake casual or low-skilled employment in the UK. Instead, you will need to satisfy all of the necessary requirements under the skilled or temporary worker categories.
Can you work in the UK with a student visa?
If you are in the UK under a student visa, you may be able to undertake paid employment to supplement your savings, as long as your visa conditions permit this. Your conditions of leave will depend on the type of course you are enrolled on and the sponsor you will be studying with.
Where you are permitted to undertake paid employment, there will be a limitation placed on the number of hours that you will be allowed to work each week. In many cases, you will be able to work up to 20 hours a week during term time and full-time during vacation periods, although there are certain jobs that you will be prohibited from doing, such as filling a full-time permanent vacancy.
Do you need a work permit for a training placement or volunteering?
If you are working for an overseas employer you may be able to get transferred to a UK branch as a graduate trainee under the Graduate Business Mobility visa.
If you want to come to the UK for work experience or to undertake training through an approved exchange scheme, you could look at the Temporary Worker visa under the Government Authorised Exchange route.
Those looking to undertake unpaid voluntary work for a UK-based charity would need to apply under the Temporary Charity Worker visa.
DavidsonMorris’ team of immigration specialists are on hand to advise on the visa options for your circumstances, and can guide you through the complexities of the Home Office application process, taking the hassle away from you and improving your chances of being successful. We can also advise on the visa options for any family members looking to come with you to the UK. If you are planning to move to the UK for work, contact us.
UK work permit FAQs
How can I get work permit in UK?
Foreign nationals will usually need to apply for a visa to work in the UK. Applications are usually made from outside the UK, or in some cases it will be possible to switch from a different immigration category from within the UK.
How much is a work permit in the UK?
The cost of a UK work permit will vary depending on the category of visa, where you are from and whether you are applying from outside or within the UK. You should always consult the up-to-date guidance for your category of UK work visa.
How long does it take to get a UK work visa?
The length of time it takes to get a UK work visa will depend on the category of visa and whether you are applying from outside or within the UK. Where your application is correct and complete, you should expect to get a decision from the Home Office within a few short weeks.
Do EU citizens need a work permit for UK?
From 1 January 2021, all foreign nationals coming to the UK, including EU citizens, will need a visa to come to the UK to work.
Last updated: 22 January 2023