A Guide to UK Working Visas

Posted by Parc Ellis on 21-02-2018

Our Guide to UK Working Visas

Firstly I would like to say that we have assisted in several work permit applications over the years. Recently for the UK, in the past across Europe, America and Africa, the one thing you have to be is patient. Resident labour tests take time and have to be done in a very specific way, people change their circumstances and their mind, it can be daunting but it is not impossible and it will most likely become more commonplace as the next few years roll on.


We hope to be as comprehensive as possible, but we are limited as to how much information we provide without turning this into War and Peace, so please take this as a general guide and if you want the complete picture then visit the UK Border Agency’s website at http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk.


It’s impossible for us not to start without mentioning Brexit. As the experts in charge of negotiating the UK’s exit from Europe hash out the details of the divorce, the skilled negotiators in charge of securing trade deals with countries far and wide, bargains will be struck that will include a variety of visa exemptions. As we write this guide, we cannot so to whom they will apply.


There are some exceptions for the need to apply for a visa, for example you might be a Turkish citizen, in which case currently the European Community Association Agreement with Turkey would probably apply. Other exceptions exist but for brevity they won’t be mentioned in this article.


Broadly speaking there are five types of visa available to allow workers into the UK. Most have been subject to significant change over the last five years and, as mentioned, Brexit will impact them again in the coming years. They are:

 1.       Tier 1, High Value Migrants

 2.       Tier 2, Skilled Workers

 3.       Tier 5, Temporary Workers

 4.       Other categories

 5.       UK Ancestry

 We will not be providing information about UK ancestors visas and other categories as they relate less directly to seeking employment in the UK, but we shall address them in-depth at a later date.

High Value Migrants - Tier 1


The Tier 1 visa has been designed for what the government describes as “high value migrants”, those who can bring certain skills, abilities, education and/or training to the UK which might be thin on the ground or that the economy might benefit from.  There are five categories of Tier 1:

Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)


The visas are available to individuals recognised as “existing global leaders or promising future leaders in the digital technology, science, arts and creative sectors” and must be recognised as such by one of five organisations:

  • Tech City UK
  • Arts Council of England
  • The British Academy
  • The Royal Society
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering

This category is currently restricted to 2,000 applicants per year. Each institution is given 200 places to allocate each year with the remaining 1,000 allocations provided as required by need.


 Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)

Anyone wanting to invest in and emigrate to the UK by “setting up or taking over, and being actively involved in the running of, a business”. It’s a points-based application and applicants must satisfy certain criteria to reach the 95 points to be considered. Initially applicants must have access to investment funds (25 points) which must be:

  • not less than £200,000, or;
  • £50,000 or more provided by a venture capitalist that is registered with the FCA; or an entrepreneurial seed funding competition that has been endorsed on the UK Trade and Industry website; or funding provided by the government that has been designated to help establish or grow a UK business, or;
  • £50,000 or more and be in the process of applying for leave to remain in the UK and have or were granted last a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa, or;
  • £50,000 or more and be applying for leave to remain and have or were last granted a Tier 1 (Post Study Work) visa and are or were registered with HMRC as a self-employed person or hold a directorship in a UK limited company for no more than 3 months prior to the application and be engaged in business activity (merely administering a company isn’t good enough for these purposes)
  • The funds must not be provided by another migrant holding a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa, or that migrant’s business or close family member - this is to ensure money is not recycled between applicants.

The business must provide employ a minimum of two full-time workers with settled status in the UK and the type of work an applicant undertakes has to be level 4 or above on the National Qualifications Framework i.e. the applicant must have a professional certificate/diploma/award, international diploma in computer studies or a City and Guilds Licentiateship.

Investing in property with a view to letting it is not permitted under this visa.

The available funds must be held in a regulated financial institution (25 points) and disposable in the UK (25 points). There is also the requirement that all applicants must meet English language minimum standards (10 points) and have enough funds to support themselves throughout their stay in the UK.


Tier 1 (Investor)

Sometimes known as a Golden Visa, this category is only for those high net wealth persons who can invest at least £2,000,000 in the UK. We have included this visa as it’s a popular route for investment and migration to the UK, but there is no requirement for the migrant to take up employment. However, the money must be invested in government bonds, share capital, or loan capital in trading companies - investment in dormant companies is not permitted. This is another points based entry visa and successful applicants must reach 75 points to be considered. You will reach the magical 75 points if:

  • You have £2,000,000 or more of your own money to invest in the UK and it is held in a regulated financial institution and be disposable in the UK;
  • The money belongs to the applicant, their spouse, or unmarried or same-sex partner.

It is worth noting that, unlike the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur), an applicant does not have to meet any particular standards of English language ability.


Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)

This category allows a person to stay in the UK after completing their studies (a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or PhD) to establish a business here. The business must stem from a credible and genuine business idea, but it cannot involve property investment or management.

Further, a qualifying higher education institution (QHEI) is an institution that has “established processes and competence for identifying, nurturing and developing entrepreneurs among their undergraduate and postgraduate population.” I.e. the applicant’s place of study must officially endorse the applicant as having a credible business idea.


Skilled Workers - Tier 2

All Tier 2 visas are awarded on a points-based system (70 points) and achieving all 70 points will not entitle a person to automatic entry. The general rule under Tier 2 is that you must secure a job offer from a licensed sponsor and that you pass the points based assessment. The Tier 2 is divided into four categories and awarded on a points-based system that applies to each category:

  • 50 points for the application’s attributes i.e. that there is a sponsor and a valid certificate of sponsorship,
  • 10 points for abilities with the English language. This means that an applicant must either be a national of a majority English    speaking country, have a bachelor's degree or equivalent that was taught solely in English or have passed an approved English examination,
  • 10 points for maintenance i.e. one has sufficient funds to finance your total stay within the UK.


Tier 2 (General)

Designed to help fill the void of skills in the UK employment market, a tier 2 (general) visa allows migrants to take up employment in a positions paying more than £30,000 per year, for applicants with experience in their profession. The Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) is applied to this category and the employer must first prove there is no settled worker available to fulfil the vacant position. For positions paying more than £159,500 per year, the RLMT test does not apply.

The position on offer cannot involve moving a “settled worker” out of a post so that the applicant may take up theirs. Further, the applicant must also not own more than 10% of shares on the sponsors company and must be over the age of 16 when the decision on their application is made.


 Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfers)

This category is for employees of multinational firms that already have an established presence in the UK and who will either be present in the UK on a long-term basis or for frequent visits to the UK. There are two active sub-categories for intra company transfers:

  1. Long-term staff: an employee who is established at the sponsor company (more than 12 months continuous employment), who is skilled and who will be in the UK for more than 12 months. The company must have already tried to find a candidate to fill the post from the local workforce before bringing an employee from overseas.
  2. Graduate trainee: for recent graduates taking up a graduate trainee programme who have worked for the company overseas for a minimum of three months.


Tier 2 (Minister of Religion)

For those who have been offered a position as part of a faith community as a Minister of Religion to undertake pastoral or preaching work. Missionaries and members of religious orders also fall under this category. For the purposes of this visa pastoral duties are prescribed as:

  • Leading worship
  • Providing religious education (whilst not being a teacher)
  • Officiating and weddings, funerals etc
  • Providing counselling and welfare support to the congregation
  • Training, recruiting and organising local volunteers and lay preachers

Missionaries don’t have to limit their activities to preaching and teaching (although if they want to be teachers they would need to apply for a Tier 2 (General)) and they can also organise missionary work (but not act as administrators) and be in control of certain functions such as IT and finances (without actually doing any of the work that those functions would require) and lastly they are permitted to translate religious texts.


Tier 2 (Sports Persons)

This category is open to all those elite sports persons or coaches who are internationally recognised at the highest level for their sport and “will make a significant contribution to the development of their sport” within the UK. A person’s application must be endorsed by the relevant sport’s governing body.

  Temporary Workers - Tier 5

 As with the Tier 2 this visa class is also points-based but developed for workers in the UK that are here only temporarily.


Tier 5 (Creative & Sporting)

this is for professional creative artists, sports people and entertainers who want to enter the UK and stay for up to 12 months (this can be extended by entertainers and creative artists by up to a further 12 months if they continue to be employed by the same sponsor).

Applicants must have a sponsor and a valid certificate of sponsorship and their sponsor must also have an endorsement from the respective sporting governing body e.g. the Grand National Archery Society, the British Council for Chinese Martial Arts, or if a professional footballer wants to play a game, then the Football Association. Multiple entry visas are also available under this category for people who need to visit the UK frequently.


Tier 5 (Charity Workers)

Work being sought must be unpaid and relate directly to the work that the sponsor undertakes. The visa will be valid for up to 12 months and to be successful an applicant must evidence that they have a sponsor, a valid certificate of sponsorship and sufficient funds to maintain them whilst in the UK. Applicants must also have a minima of £945 in a bank account, unless the sponsoring organisation is A-rated and can evidence that they will support the applicants stay in the UK.


Tier 5 (Religious Workers)

Applicants must be entering the UK for preaching, pastoral and non-pastoral work. An applicant must show that they are working within an order or community that has a “permanent commitment” to their faith. For example a nunnery or monastery would demonstrate permanent commitment to a faith. If an individual visits the UK to attend, for example, a conference then they would also be permitted to preach provided they don’t seek any other employment. It is valid for up to 24 months.

This also applies to religious novices whose training involves taking part in the ordinary business of the order’s everyday life. To qualify the applicant must have a sponsor, a valid certificate of sponsorship and sufficient funds to maintain them whilst in the UK.


 Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange)

This classification of visa is aimed at improving sharing of knowledge, experiences and best practices and for applicants to experience cultural and social life in the UK. The Government Authorised Exchange is an approved scheme and as such the only entities allowed to provide sponsorship are government departments or appointed higher education institutions; everyday commercial organisations and charities are excluded.


Tier 5 (International Agreement)

Individuals undertaking contract work governed by international law can apply to stay in the UK for up to 24 months (with certain exceptions, EU-Chile Free Trade Agreement is one example where an individual would only be permitted entry for up 6 months).

Typically this visa applies to:

  • Employees of overseas governments or international organisations
  • Private servants of diplomatic households
  • General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS)
  • Any similar bilateral or unilateral UK negotiated agreement


Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme)

Specifically designed to help young people from territories and countries that participate in the scheme, this permits the adventurous who want to experience life in the UK and operates slightly differently from the other visa categories. The government of the applicant’s home country acts as sponsor and the applicant, if successful, is allowed to work for any employer for up to two years.

This is a points-based system and points are awarded on age, nationality and a minimum of £1,890 in savings. This visa scheme is only open to people aged 18-30. Those who have previously held some form of working holiday visa would be barred from applying.

Only nationals from any of the following countries are eligible to apply:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Japan
  • Monaco
  • New Zealand
  • Republic of Korea
  • Taiwan

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