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, including the UK work permit requirements and UK work permit costs.
Can I work in the UK without a permit?
As a citizen from outside the EEA and Switzerland, 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.
During the Brexit transition period until 31 December 2020, EU citizens are free to live and work in the UK without a permit or visa, as long as they hold a valid passport or national identity card issued by their country of origin.
From 1 January 2021, European nationals will need to apply for a UK visa to come to the to work, in the same way as non-EEA nationals do.
EU citizens already living in the UK by 31 December 2020 are to apply for settled status by 30 June 2021 to secure their ongoing rights to live and work in the UK.
What are the different types of UK work permit?
There are various different types of UK work permit or UK work visa for those from outside the EEA and Switzerland who are looking to come to the UK to work. The main immigration routes for workers include:
Skilled Worker visa
The Skilled Worker category, known as the Tier 2 visa, is for those with a job offer in the UK from a UK licensed sponsor and covers four different sub-tiers of skilled worker:
- General: this enables skilled workers to accept an offer of a job that cannot be filled by a suitably qualified or skilled settled worker
- Intra-Company Transfer: this enables existing employees of an international company or organisation to transfer to a UK branch
- Sportsperson: this enables elite athletes and coaches who are internationally established to be based in the UK
- Minister of Religion: this enables religious workers to undertake employment within a faith community in the UK.
To qualify, you will need to be assigned a certificate of sponsorship by your UK sponsor. It is also not sufficient to be offered any type of job, where your new role must meet certain salary and skill levels for which you are suitably qualified.
Temporary Skilled 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, albeit 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.
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 need to 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.
What are the UK work permit requirements?
The UK work permit requirements will vary depending on the type of visa that you apply for. You should always consult any guidance for your category of visa.
In many cases you will be required to prove your knowledge of English, as well as your ability to support yourself on your arrival in the UK. These are known as the English language and maintenance requirements.
English language requirement
To satisfy 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
Find out more about the English language testing here.
To satisfy the financial requirement you will need to prove that you have sufficient personal savings to support yourself on your arrival in the UK. For a short-term visa under the Youth Mobility Scheme, you will be required to show you have £1,890 in savings. In most other cases, where applicable, you will need to have had £945 in your bank account for a period of 90 days.
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, using the Certificate of Sponsorship assigned by your sponsor.
In the case of the Global Talent visa, Innovator and Start-up routes 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 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.
For example, the visa application costs to apply from outside the UK are currently as follows:
- Skilled Worker visa: £610
- Temporary Worker visa: £244
- Global Talent visa: £456 to be endorsed & £152 for a visa
- Start-up visa: £363
- Innovator visa: £1021
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.
Under the UK’s new immigration system, from 1 January 2021, there will be no immigation route for lower skilled roles. This system will apply to both non-EEA nationals and EU citizens arriving in the UK after 31 Davember 2020.
Can I work in the UK as a self-employed individual or freelancer?
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, although you would need to have £2 million available funds to invest in a UK business.
Do I need a work permit for a training placement or volunteering?
If you are a non-EEA or Swiss national working for an overseas employer you can be transferred to a UK branch as a graduate trainee. However, you will need to apply for a Skilled Worker visa under 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.
Can I work in the UK with a student visa?
If you are coming to the UK under a Tier 4 visa as an international student, 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.
If you are planning to move the UK for work, speak to us. UK immigration is undergoing signifcant reform, making it critical to take professional advice in line with current rules and future changes.
DavidsonMorris’s team of business immigrationm specialists are on hand to advise on the visa options for your circumsatnces, 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.
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.