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Obtaining a UK Work Visa

There is no doubt the UK is one of the most popular destinations for those looking to live and work in a new country. This popularity is fuelled in part by a relatively healthy economy, decent wages, a demand for workers in a wide range of business and industry, and a culture that, by and large, respects freedom and diversity.

While there are some questions on how immigration and work rules will change after Brexit is complete, many people feel that the basic immigration framework as it exists now will remain basically in place.

UK Immigration System Overview

The UK’s immigration system is viewed as somewhat restrictive and is based on a points-based visa system which was phased in and completed in 2010.  The system measures work and study visa applicants on a number of criteria to determine their eligibility.

Applicants are then placed into groups and may apply for a visa based on the tier that best describes them.

  • Tier 1: This tier is for “high-value migrants” from outside the EEA. Investors, entrepreneurs, and those deemed to have “exceptional talent” are eligible for Tier I visas.
  • Tier 2:  This tier of visas covers a fairly large group of “skilled workers”.  Some examples of those eligible for Tier 2 visas includes sportspeople, ministers, those transferred to the UK by international companies, and skilled workers in a profession where there is a shortage of workers in the UK.
  • Tier 3: Tier 3 visas were established to cover low-skilled workers needed for temporary labour shortages.  Regulators must have had specific situations in mind, but to-date no Tier 3 visa have been issued.
  • Tier 4: Tier 4 covers students over 16 who have been accepted at a registered UK educational institution.
  • Tier 5:  Tier 5 is a fairly board category that has six sub-tiers. This visa applies to temporary workers and includes those involved with creative and sporting pursuits, as well as charity and religious workers and those that participate in the youth mobility scheme.

Visitor, Family, and Business Visas fall outside of the five-tier visa system and must be applied for separately

Who Needs a Visa

Currently citizens of the EEA which includes the European Union (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein do not require visas to live and work in the UK.

Those who meet the following criteria also do not need a visa to work in the UK.

  • Those with Permanent Residence Status or Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.
  • Those who are the spouse of an EEA national who lives in the UK.
  • Spouses of holders of Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 4 visa, and the spouses of those with Representative of an Overseas Business or an Ancestry Visa.  Those who are “partners” of those holding the same visas who have lived with the visa holder for at least two years prior to the visa being issued and who are not allowed to legally marry.
  • Commonwealth citizens with partiality or ancestry visas. These visas are available to Commonwealth citizens with one grandparent who was born in the UK. These visas cover a four year time period and are applied for at the British High Commission in their home country. At the end of the four-year visa period, the visa holder is generally eligible for permanent residence status.
  • Those with pending asylum claim in the UK.

Applying for A Visa

It should be noted that the rules for applying for a visa have undergone regular updates and refinements since the points-based system was completely in place in 2010. Those changes are certain to change.

Fortunately for those looking to work in the UK and in need of a visa, the UK government website is possibly one of the most concise and user-friendly sites in the world.  The information is written in plain easy to understand English and guides visitors through the various steps and documents.  

There are a number of reputable third party institutions who will assist with visa applications for a fee.

You will find both of those and other useful and relevant sites in our helpful links section below.

Helpful Links

TransferGo  Checklist for Moving to the UK – provides basic information for all aspects of moving to UK including more on visas.

Work Permit – This is a long establish immigration consultancy service. The website offers information and host discussion boards designed to inform those looking to migrant. The company offers a wide range of services.

Gov.UK – This is the official website of the UK government. The site is easy to navigate and easy to use. The site offers clear easy to understand instructions and provides links to online forms and online submissions.

Expatica – This is another independent immigration consultancy service.

Internations – The Internations website contains a great deal of useful information for those looking to migrate to the UK and covers a wide range of topics in addition to jobs.  Users must register to become members; membership is free, however members are screened for suitability.


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