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 I 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.
Following the end of EU free movement, EU citizens coming to the UK for short or longer term work purposes now will in most cases 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.
What are the different types of UK work permit?
There are various different types of UK work permit, including:
- Skilled Worker visa
- Start-up route
- Innovator route
- Health & Care Worker visa
- Intracompany transfer visa
- Frontier worker permit
- Global Talent visa
- Tier 1 investor visa
- Temporary Worker visa
- Sole representative visa
Skilled Worker visa
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.
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.
Tier 1 Investor visa
If you are from outside the EEA or Switzerland looking to work in the UK on a self-employed or freelance basis, you will need to apply for a visa under one of the business routes. This includes either the Start-up visa or the Innovator visa.
You can also come to the UK under an Investor visa, and would need to have £2 million available funds to invest in a UK business.
Find out more about the Tier 1 Investor visa here.
Temporary T5 worker visa
The Temporary Skilled Worker category, known as a Tier 5 visa, is primarily for those with a job offer in the UK from a UK licensed sponsor for a role on a short-term basis, and contains six sub-tiers of temporary worker:
- Creative and Sporting Workers: if you have been offered work in the UK as a sports person or creative worker
- Charity Workers: if you want to do unpaid voluntary work for a charity based in the UK
- Religious Workers: if you want to do religious work, such as preaching or working in a religious order in the UK
- Government Authorised Exchange Workers: if you want to come to the UK for a short time for work experience or to do training, an Overseas Government Language Programme, research or a fellowship through an approved government authorised exchange scheme
- International Agreement: if you will be contracted to do work covered by international law while in the UK, for example, working for a foreign government or as a private servant in a diplomatic household
- Youth Mobility Scheme: if you are aged 18 to 30 and looking to travel to the UK for a working holiday, although this is limited to those with certain types of British nationality or from certain countries.
With the exception of those applying under the Youth Mobility Scheme, to qualify under the Temporary Skilled Worker route you will need to be assigned a certificate of sponsorship by your UK licensed sponsor.
Read more about the Tier 5 visa sponsorship here.
Frontier worker permit
The frontier worker permit grants EU workers permission to remain in the UK following the end of the implementation period on 31st December 2020, providing they were already working in the UK by this date. It should be appropriate for those who do not want to, or are not eligible to, apply for long term status under settled status or an ICT visa.
For more information on the frontier worker permit scheme, click here.
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 I 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 I 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 I need a work permit for a training placement or volunteering?
If you are working for an overseas employer you can be transferred to a UK branch as a graduate trainee. However, you will need to apply for the Intra-Company Transfer route.
If you want to come to the UK for work experience or to undertake training through an approved exchange scheme, you will need to apply for a Temporary Worker visa under the Government Authorised Exchange route.
Even for those looking to undertake unpaid voluntary work for a UK-based charity, you will need a Temporary Worker visa under the Charity Worker route.
UK immigration is undergoing significant reform, making it critical to take professional advice in line with current rules and future changes.
DavidsonMorris’s 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, speak to us.
UK work permit FAQs
How can I get work permit in UK?
Non-EEA or Swiss nationals will usually need to apply for a visa under the UK's points based immigration system. 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: 12 January 2021