Home to one of the world’s most important financial centers, the United Kingdom is now seeing new startups pop up in areas such as insurtech, edtech, and alternative finance. It’s too early to know how Brexit will affect the United Kingdom in the long run. Regardless, many employers are still interested in hiring people based in the country. The United Kingdom’s impressive education system and diversity make it one of the most appealing countries to find top talent.
Working and living in the United Kingdom as an expat is generally an easy process, especially compared to some of the other countries in Europe. As a foreigner, you will need to hone in on your skills and understand which of the 5 tiers of UK work visas to apply for, as well as knowing which category you qualify for.
Businesses, on the other hand, need to make sure that employees meet all of the qualifications to apply for a UK work visa. This requires knowledge about immigration laws.
Here is a general breakdown of everything employers and employees need to know about work visas and permits in the United Kingdom.
In the United Kingdom, the main route of immigration is through a points-based system. Expats outside of the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA) need to apply for one of the 5 tiers of visas available. UK visa types are based on work, study, investment, and other reasons for being in the country.
For part of the UK visa application, you must pass a points-based assessment focused on the conditions, entitlements, and entry requirements for the tier that you’re applying for. To be approved, applicants must receive a sufficient number of points based on their age, qualifications, earnings, and funds.
The 5 tiers of work visas available for foreigners in the United Kingdom include:
Tier one: For highly skilled workers, entrepreneurs, investors, and graduate students. These individuals do not need a job offer to apply.
Tier two: For skilled workers, professional athletes, and clergy members. This group must have a job offer in hand and be able to fill a specific gap in the country’s labor force. This visa also acts as a religious worker visa.
Tier three: Only meant for low-level workers that provide temporary labor. This is not for immigrants outside of the EU and EEA. This UK visa allows seasonal work.
Tier four: For students over the age of 16 that are outside the EU and EEA. People must apply for this visa if they want to study at a school, college, or university in-country. This UK visa also works as a student visa.
Tier five: This category is specific and has 6 sub-tiers for temporary workers. The work must be related to creative sporting positions, charity, religious work, or young people who want to work in the UK for holidays.
A work permit in the UK must be applied for by the employer and allows for UK immigration for work and residency. This application should be completed in tandem with the visa process.
Tier 1 and tier 2 work permits are good for 5 years. After working in the country for 5 years, foreigners can apply for a permanent residence visa if they plan to live and work in the country indefinitely.
Government requirements for visa applications vary based on which tier and visa you plan to apply for. Most long-term visa applications for expats fall under the tier 2 category, unless the applicant has a specialized skill that qualifies them for tier 1.
All UK visa applications must have an employer or sponsorship that begins the work permit and visa process.
Requirements vary, but you will probably need to provide most or all of the following:
Completed application form
2 color photos taken within the last 6 months
Proof of financial means to cover the cost of living in the UK
Proof of living accommodation
Detailed travel itinerary
Tuberculosis test results
Visa invitation letter if the applicant is planning to stay with a friend or family member
Paid US visa fees
Certified translations of documents that are not in English or Welsh
Most visas and permits are good for 5 years, and can be extended depending on the duration of employment and with approval from the employer.
To find a job in the United Kingdom as a foreigner, you can use job sites like LinkedIn and job boards like Indeed where businesses are actively seeking applicants. In addition to job sites, you can also study at a university in the UK, with many universities offering internships and fellowships to foreigners.
Employers should encourage prospective employers to apply for a visa and begin the work permit application 3 months before the start of employment. All employees will need a permit in order to be approved for a visa. Remember, that as the British employer, you will begin the UK visa application process for your employee.
Visa applications can take from a few weeks to a month to process, so beginning the process early will ensure that all of the necessary steps for approval are completed in time for the start of employment.
Future employees can apply at an application center or online at the UK Home Office Visas and Immigration Services website. Requirements for each visa will depend on which tier employees fall into, so make sure you let your employees know what they need in order to apply for the right visa.
Tier 2 visas are the most common for businesses that plan to expand in the UK. Tier 2 visas normally apply to those outside the EU and EEA who have pending job offers.
Companies want to hire employees in the UK, but are unsure of how to navigate the tiered visa system. Via makes hiring UK talent seamless. With our-easy-to-use platform, Via manages the local HR processes for employment such as work visas and permits, benefits, payroll, background checks, and more. Our team of local labor lawyers and on-the-ground experts ensure that your company remains compliant while expanding abroad. As your employer-of-record/entity in the UK, Via assumes responsibility for employment liability, so that you can focus on what matters: recruiting and managing your team.
With Via’s transparent pricing, you can pay full-time employees or contractors across borders with no hidden set-up fees, no foreign exchange or transaction fees, and no minimums–start with 1 employee and scale up at your own pace.
There are 5 types of work visas in the United Kingdom. Each tier of work visa depends on the skill sets of the individual who is planning to live and work in the UK. - Tier one: For highly skilled workers, entrepreneurs, investors, and graduate students. These individuals do not need a job offer to apply - Tier two: For skilled workers, professional athletes, and clergy members. Candidates must have a job offer and be able to fill a specific gap in the country’s labor force - Tier three: Only meant for low-level workers that provide temporary labor. This is not for immigrants outside of the EU and EEA. - Tier four: For students over the age of 16 that are outside the EU and EEA. Applicants must apply for this visa if they want to study at a school, college, or university in-country. - Tier five: This category is specific and has 6 sub-tiers for temporary workers. The work must be related to creative sporting positions, charity, religious work, or young people who want to work in the UK for holidays.
The work permit that you will need to apply for in the UK will depend on which visa tier your skills fall into when applying. Employers complete work permit applications while employees go through the visa approval process.
The process of getting a work visa in the UK isn’t necessarily easy. You will need to prove that you fall into one of the tiers to qualify for a work visa as well as complete an assessment that demonstrates how you will contribute to the labor market.
A UK work visa is valid for 5 years. After 5 years, you can apply for a permanent residence visa, if you still plan to work and live in the UK.