The United Kingdom's significant digital tech sector employs millions of individuals and contributes billions of dollars to the country’s economy each year. However, young Brits are receiving less formal education, which means employers may become more reliant on foreign talent to fill highly-skilled roles.
With high costs of living in major cities and a shaky economy with evolving immigration laws post-Brexit, some people may not be entirely convinced they can build a life in the UK.
For those who are ready to make a move to the and for employers looking to hire candidates who plan to relocate to the country, one of the most significant considerations to factor in is the process of meeting the United Kingdom visa requirements.
Continue reading this guide to better understand how to obtain the necessary UK work permits and visas employees will need to work in the country compliantly and what requirements employees and employers will need to meet to navigate the United Kingdom immigration system successfully.
Types of work visas and permits in the UK
Applying for work visas in the United Kingdom requires some research ahead of time, as there are five tiers of visa applications, all of which applies to different groups of people who will be working at different levels and in different industries while living in the country.
While it can be challenging to know which work visa you'll need to apply for when relocating to some countries, the process is relatively straightforward in the UK. This is because the tiered system offers five unique work visa entitlements, with tier one representing the most uniquely skilled members of the workforce and tier five representing temporary workers.
Not only is it essential to know which tier you should apply for to obtain the correct work visa, but each tier has its own application and documentation requirements and entitlements, which means applicants will need to provide different information depending on their tier.
The five work visa tiers are explained below.
The tier one visa, also called an entrepreneur visa, is a visa reserved for individuals planning to establish or grow an existing business in the UK. With this visa, an individual can own a business but cannot be an employee, which is why it comes with strict requirements, including:
- A business plan
- Proof of financial solvency
This visa used to be called the tier two (general) visa but is now called the skilled worker visa. This long-term visa entitles individuals with specialized skills to move to the UK for up to five years if they meet the eligibility requirements and are offered a job with an approved employer.
Visa holders must work in an eligible field, such as teachers, medical practitioners, and solicitors.
The tier three visa is not currently available but was once used to encourage individuals without specialized skills to live and work in the United Kingdom when the country was experiencing labor shortages. With this visa, individuals could enter the country and obtain a low-wage job.
The graduate visa, also called the tier four visa, is reserved for student visa holders who have recently graduated but want to continue living in the UK. The tier four visa is valid for up to two years.
The tier five visa is a temporary work visa that is available to six categories of workers:
- Charity worker visa: The visa holder can live in the UK while volunteering with a nonprofit or charity
- Creative worker visa: The visa holder can live in the UK while employed in a creative field (e.g., acting, graphic design, etc.)
- International agreement visa: The visa holder can live in the UK while working in a government or international-related field
- Government-authorized exchange visa: The visa holder can live in the UK while working for a government-authorized exchange scheme
- Youth mobility scheme visa: Provides individuals of certain nationalities under 30 the opportunity to live and work in the UK
- Religious worker visa: The visa holder can live in the UK while working in the religious sector
With a tier five visa, the employee can live and work in the UK for a period of up to 24 months, depending on the visa category for which they apply.
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The UK work visa requirements
Although the tiered visa application system makes it relatively easy for workers and employers in the United Kingdom to determine which work visa will best meet their needs, it can make understanding the fundamental requirements to obtain a work visa in the UK a little less apparent. For example, the United Kingdom visa requirements for a student are significantly different than those for an entrepreneur.
The best system to ensure you meet the requirements of the work visa for which you're applying is to go to the United Kingdom immigration department's website and look at the list of requirements specific to your visa.
Alternatively, you can apply for a work visa with your local UK embassy, where you will receive tailored guidance on which permit you should apply for and what requirements are associated with that visa. If you choose to proceed with this route, you should be prepared for the possibility of setting multiple meetings and dragging the application process out longer than you otherwise might have.
While the list below may not cover all the United Kingdom visa requirements for your specific work visa (or may include requirements not relevant to your UK work visa), it is intended to provide a framework for the types of requirements you should expect to fulfill when applying for a UK work visa:
- A valid and non-expired passport (depending on the country your passport was issued from, you may be required to have at least one blank page in your passport)
- Proof that you can speak the minimum required level of English
- A certificate proving UK company visa sponsorship from the employer
- Information relevant to the position you'll be filling while living in the UK, including the following:
- Your annual salary
- Your agreed-upon job title
- The occupation code for your eligible career field
- Relevant employer information, including but not limited to the following:
- Company name
- Tax identification number (TIN)
- Sponsor license number
- Proof of financial stability
- Relevant educational history
- Licenses and certifications that prove you're qualified to perform the job you're being hired for
- Health certifications, including a negative tuberculosis test
- Biometrics information
- Proof you have a clean criminal history (this is only relevant if you work in certain industries, such as healthcare, education, and social services)
How to apply for the UK work visa and permit
Now that you've determined which UK work visa you're applying for and ensured you meet the eligibility requirements, it's time to submit your application. Note that the specific requirements to apply for each visa will differ slightly, but you can use the steps listed below to start the application process: Apply for your work visa online.
- Obtain your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) (if required). Although it sounds complicated, a biometric residence permit is simply a way for the UK government to verify your identity. To receive your permit, go to a visa center near you to have your photo taken and thumbprints recorded.
- Receive visa decision. Upon receiving the necessary applications, documents, and fees, simply wait to hear whether your visa application was approved or denied. In some instances, a representative may contact you to fix any issues with your application.
Note: All documents included in the application must either be initially in English or Welsh or officially translated into one of these two languages.
Application processing time
The exact processing time for work visas in the United Kingdom varies, so there's no guarantee you'll have your visa approved in a specific amount of time. However, the United Kingdom immigration website states that visas are typically approved or denied within three weeks of being officially submitted.
Although this is the standard timeframe for getting your visa approved, it's best to prepare for unforeseen complications that may affect your visa application processing time (such as missing documents) and apply for your visa as early as possible.
Planning to hire or work in the UK? Here's how Skuad can help
If you're a worker planning to relocate to the United Kingdom, possessing the necessary documents that indicate you're legally entitled to live and work in the country is essential to ensuring you don't face any legal repercussions.
Similarly, employers will need to prove their ability to hire employees living in the UK and ensure the employee is legally entitled to work, or they may share in the liability.
Whichever group you belong to, when you find the right company or candidate to build a functional working relationship with, you don't want to let arbitrary factors like which country the employee lives in stand in your way.
Skuad is here to help. So get started hiring top talent in the United Kingdom today.
United Kingdom immigration and visa FAQs
Below is a list of frequently asked questions about how to successfully navigate the United Kingdom immigration system and what you can expect when applying for UK visas.
How can I get a work permit in the UK?
To get a work permit in the United Kingdom, you will need to meet all the minimum eligibility requirements and submit a formal application.
The process of applying for a work visa in the United Kingdom differs based on the type of visa you apply for, but generally, you can choose to apply either online via the UK immigration website for your specific visa or in person through your local UK embassy.
Although the requirements vary based on the type of visa you apply for, some eligibility requirements include the following:
- Proving you’re qualified to perform the job you’re being hired to do
- Confirming you meet the minimum financial requirements to move to the United Kingdom
- Proving UK work visa sponsorship
- Obtaining your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP)
Is it difficult to get a work permit in the UK?
How difficult it is to get a work permit in the United Kingdom depends on the type of visa you’re applying for. While some visas are relatively attainable, others have very stringent requirements that limit eligibility to individuals with high levels of formal education, work experience, and skills.
Navigating the United Kingdom immigration system can be complicated, and there are five tiers of UK work visas that you will need to choose between when applying.
Can I work in the UK as a U.S. citizen?
If you’re a U.S. citizen, you can live and work in the UK as long you obtain the necessary residence and work entitlements.
It’s illegal to work in the United Kingdom without a work visa, and American citizens will need to apply for the appropriate visa that will allow them to perform their job duties and live in the country for the necessary amount of time.
You should be aware that obtaining a work visa may require a UK company visa sponsorship, which means proving you’re employed by a business legally entitled to operate within the United Kingdom.
American-based companies may need to utilize an employer of record or establish a local entity before relocating an employee to the UK.
How do I get a work visa for the UK from the U.S.?
The process of obtaining a UK work visa is essentially the same for American citizens as foreign nationals from other countries.
Most U.S. citizens will apply for the skilled worker (tier two) visa. This process will require you to prove you have an employer in the United Kingdom interested in hiring you, and you will need to meet the other minimum eligibility requirements.
Once you have gathered all the necessary documents and meet the requirements to apply for the relevant visa, you can submit an application either online or at your local embassy.