Work Visa UK 2024 Guide

Non-UK residents must have permission to work in the UK. In most cases, this means applying for a UK work visa.

The United Kingdom has a structured visa system designed to accommodate a wide range of employment scenarios, making it a prime destination for individuals seeking professional opportunities.

There is no general work visa or permit for the UK. Instead, the UK offers many different work visa routes, focused mainly on skilled workers and specific schemes designed to attract certain profiles of workers.

Whether you’re a skilled worker with a job offer, a leader in your field, or seeking temporary work experience, understanding the correct visa type for your situation is the first step towards a successful application.

With a myriad of visa types, each catering to specific employment scenarios, understanding the nuances of this system is not just beneficial; it’s essential. Selecting an inappropriate visa type or misunderstanding eligibility criteria can lead to application rejections, wasted time, and missed opportunities.

This comprehensive guide summarises the main UK work visa routes and the eligibility and procedural requirements you’ll need to meet to navigate the visa application process confidently.


Section A: Overview of the UK Visa System


1. General Information About the UK Visa System


The UK work visa system is part of the broader UK immigration system, which categorises visas based on the purpose of stay, such as work, study, visit, or family.

These visas are categorised primarily under the Points-Based System (PBS), which assesses applicants based on factors such as skill level, salary, and the nature of the job offer.


2. The Legal Framework Governing Work Visas in the UK


At its core, the UK work visa system is governed by a combination of immigration rules, policies, and regulations that aim to attract skilled workers while maintaining the integrity of the labour market.

The foundation of the UK’s work visa policy is the Immigration Rules, which the Home Office governs. These rules outline the requirements for entry into the UK for work, the conditions of stay, and the rights and responsibilities of visa holders.

The Points-Based System is a significant part of this legal framework, especially following the UK’s departure from the European Union, which led to the introducing of a new immigration system treating EU and non-EU citizens equally.

Key legislation and policies that impact the work visa system include:


a. The Immigration Act
This act provides the legal backing for the control of immigration and the regulation of entry into and stay in the UK.


b. The Points-Based System (PBS)
Introduced to ensure that only skilled workers are allowed to enter the UK for work purposes, this system requires applicants to score certain points based on predetermined criteria.


c. Sponsorship
UK employers looking to hire foreign nationals must have a Sponsor Licence, authorised by the UK Visa and Immigration (UKVI) department of the Home Office, ensuring that only legitimate and skilled employment opportunities are offered to non-UK residents.


3. Who Needs a Visa to Work in the UK


Following the end of free movement between the UK and the EU, with the exception of Irish citizens, all non-UK resident foreign nationals, including EEA and non-EEA nationals who are not settled workers or do not otherwise have permission to undertake work in the UK, need a visa and authorisation to work here.


4. Choosing the Right Work Visa


Under the UK’s points-based system, there are various immigration routes, both short and long-term, under which an overseas national can apply for leave to enter or remain in the UK for work.

Selecting the appropriate work visa is crucial for several reasons.

First, it ensures that applicants legally comply with UK immigration laws, avoiding potential issues such as application denials or deportation.

Second, the correct visa type aligns with the individual’s career goals and the nature of their employment, whether it’s a long-term position, a short-term assignment, or a unique role contributing significantly to their field.

The consequences of choosing an incorrect visa type can range from processing delays to the application’s outright rejection. Therefore, understanding each visa type’s specific requirements and conditions is essential.

This includes knowledge of visa fees, processing times, the application process, and any restrictions or rights associated with the visa, such as access to public funds, healthcare, and the ability to bring dependents.


Section B: Types of Work Visas in the UK


If you have a job offer in the UK

Skilled Worker Visa
Health and Care Worker Visa

If you don’t have a job offer in the UK

British National Overseas Visa
Graduate Visa
Youth Mobility Scheme Visa
Global Talent Visa
UK ancestry Visa
High Potential Individual HPI visa

If you will be working in the UK for your overseas employer

Senior or specialist worker visa (Global Business Mobility)
UK expansion worker visa (Global Business Mobility)
Graduate trainee visa (Global Business Mobility)
Secondment worker visa (Global Business Mobility)
Service supplier visa (Global Business Mobility)
Overseas domestic worker visa
Representative of an overseas business visa
Service providers from Switzerland

If you are looking to apply for temporary or seasonal work

Seasonal worker visa (temporary work)
Government Authorised Exchange Visa (Temporary Work)
Creative Worker visa (Temporary Work)
Religious Worker visa (Temporary Work)
Charity Worker visa (Temporary Work)
International Agreement visa (Temporary Work)

Working in your own UK business

Self Sponsorship
Innovator Founder Route

Sponsors and sponsorship

UK visa sponsorship for employers
UK visa sponsorship management system
Employees: if your visa sponsor loses their licence

Other UK work visas and permits

Scale-up Worker visa
International Sportsperson visa
Minister of Religion visa (T2)
Frontier Worker Permit
Exempt Vignette

Work visas that are closed to new applicants

Entrepreneur visa (Tier 1)
Investor visa (Tier 1)
Turkish Businessperson visa
Turkish Worker visa
Start-up visa


Section C: Work Visa Eligibility Criteria


Each work visa category has specific eligibility requirements, which applicants must show they satisfy as part of their application.

In addition to these route-specific requirements, work visa applicants will also have to meet the following general eligibility and suitability requirements:


1. General Requirements for UK Work Visas


a. Points-Based System (PBS)
Most work visas are assessed under the PBS, where applicants must score specific points for attributes like sponsorship, salary, and skills.


b. Sponsorship
Most UK work visa applications are for routes requiring a job offer from a UK employer that holds a valid sponsor licence.

For sponsored work routes, workers can only proceed with their visa application once they have been assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from their sponsor, detailing the role and confirming that the applicant meets the job requirements.


c. English Language Proficiency
The UK work visa system requires most applicants to demonstrate a command of the English language.

Applicants are exempt from the English language requirement if they are 65 or over, unable to prove language competency due to a long-term physical or mental condition, or nationals of one of the countries or territories specified by the Home Office.

Most work visa applicants will need to prove their knowledge of English, either by providing evidence that their degree was taught or researched in English or by passing a recognised English language test at the B1, B2, C1, or C2 level of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), depending on the visa type. Tests can only be taken by approved by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) providers.


d. Maintenance Funds
Applicants must demonstrate they have enough money to support themselves (and any dependents) while in the UK without access to public funds.

The exact amount varies by visa type and whether the applicant brings dependents. Some visas also impose a minimum salary threshold.


e. Criminal Record Checks
Applicants may need to provide a criminal record certificate from any country they have lived in for 12 months or more (consecutively or cumulatively) over the last ten years. This is particularly relevant for jobs that involve working with vulnerable groups, including children and adults.


f. Good Character Requirement
The Home Office considers applicants’ character, conduct, and associations when assessing their suitability.

This includes considerations of any behaviour that has led to criminal convictions or actions considered non-conducive to the public good. This can include hate speech, extremist behaviour, or other actions deemed inappropriate.

Applicants also must not have a history of immigration offences or breaches of conditions of their stay in the UK or elsewhere. This includes overstaying previous visas, illegal entry, or using deception in previous applications.

Applicants must not pose a threat to national security. This assessment can include checks against known databases and international cooperation to identify individuals who may pose a security risk.


Section D: Work Visa Application Process


Applying for a UK work visa involves a series of steps to ensure that only qualified individuals enter the UK for employment.


1. Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for a UK Work Visa


a. Determine the Correct Visa Type
Choose the appropriate work visa category based on your job offer, qualifications, and the nature of your work.


b. Get Sponsored
For most work visas, you’ll need a job offer from a UK employer licensed to sponsor migrants. Your employer will issue a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), which is crucial for the visa application.


c. Prepare Your Documents
Gather all the required documents in advance.


d. Apply Online
Complete the online visa application form on the UK Government’s official website. This will include filling out your details and your CoS, if applicable, and answering questions about your employment.


e. Pay the Visa Fee and Healthcare Surcharge
Pay the required fee for your visa application and the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), and you will be granted access to the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK.


f. Book and Attend a Biometric Appointment
You’ll need to have your fingerprints and photograph taken at a Visa Application Centre as part of your application.


g. Submit Your Documents
Depending on your location, you might be required to send your documents to the application centre or upload them online.


h. Attend an Interview (if required)
In some cases, you might be asked to attend an interview.


i. Receive Your Visa Decision

Wait for the decision on your visa application. Processing times can vary, so check the typical times for your visa type.


2. Documents Required for the Application


The documents you must provide to support your application will be determined by the type of visa you are applying for and your circumstances. As a minimum, you can expect to provide the following general documents and information:


a. Passport: Valid for the entirety of your stay.
b. Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS): Reference number from your UK sponsor, if applicable.
c. Proof of Knowledge of English: Usually a test result or degree taught in English.
d. Bank Statements: Showing you have enough funds to support yourself in the UK.
e. Tuberculosis Test Results: Required if you’re from a listed country.
f. Criminal Record Certificate: This is for some jobs, especially those involving vulnerable people.
g. Salary Details: Documentation from your sponsor confirming your salary.


3. Tips for a Successful Application


Improve your chances of a successful UK work visa application by following these steps:


a. Double-Check the Visa Type: Ensure you’re applying for the correct visa type that matches your job offer and qualifications.
b. Complete Application Accurately: Provide accurate and complete information. Inconsistencies can lead to delays or denials.
c. Organise Documents Carefully: Keep your documents well-organised and follow any specific instructions about formatting or translating documents.
d. Meet the English Requirement: Ensure you meet the English language requirement for your visa category and have official documentation to prove it.
e. Maintain Financial Stability: Show a stable financial history and sufficient savings to support your stay in the UK above the required minimum.
f. Follow Health Guidelines: Complete any necessary health checks, such as the tuberculosis test, if applicable.
g. Consult with an Expert: If unsure about any part of the process, consider consulting with a legal expert specialising in UK immigration to guide you.


Section E: Living in the UK on a Work Visa


Living in the UK on a work visa comes with a specific set of rights and responsibilities that ensure the mutual benefit of both the visa holder and the UK. Understanding these aspects is crucial for a smooth transition and stay in the country.


1. Rights with a UK Work Visa


a. work
Visa holders have the right to work in the UK in the job specified by their visa, including salary and working hours.

b. Change of Employment
In specific visa categories, you may change employers, but you’ll need to update your visa.

c. Bring Dependents
Depending on your visa type, you might be able to bring family members with you to the UK.

d. Access to Education
Your dependents have the right to access public education.

e. Healthcare
You have access to the National Health Service (NHS), provided you’ve paid the Immigration Health Surcharge unless an exemption applies.


NHS services include visits to the doctor (GP), hospital treatments, and emergency care. However, certain services, such as prescriptions, dental care, and eye tests, may require additional charges.


2. Responsibilities


a. Adhere to Visa Conditions
You must comply with the conditions of your visa, including not accessing public funds and reporting changes in circumstances to the Home Office.


b. Tax and National Insurance
As a UK resident, you’re subject to income tax and National Insurance contributions to your earnings within the UK for tax purposes. Your tax amount depends on your income level and personal allowance.

You might also be taxed on foreign income, depending on your residence status and if it’s brought into the UK.

It is advisable to understand the UK tax system or consult a tax adviser to ensure compliance and take advantage of any applicable tax relief or exemptions.


c. Register with the Police
Some nationals are required to register with the police upon arrival.


Section F: Summary


Choosing the correct visa type and following the application process meticulously opens the door to a wealth of opportunities in the UK.

Embarking on the UK work visa application process is an investment in your professional future. It requires patience, diligence, and a proactive approach to understanding and meeting the stringent requirements set by the UK government.

At DavidsonMorris, we offer professional advice and support to help visa applicants navigate the complexities of the UK immigration system. We help transform the daunting task of applying for a work visa into a stepping stone towards achieving your career goals in the UK. Contact our experts for specialist guidance.


Section G: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about UK Work Visas


How do I apply for a UK work visa?

First, determine the correct type of work visa for your situation. The application is primarily completed online through the UK Government’s official website. You’ll need a job offer from a licensed sponsor (if applicable), and you must gather all required documents, including proof of English language proficiency and financial support.


What are the fees for UK work visas?

Visa fees vary depending on the type of visa, the length of your stay, and whether you are applying from inside or outside the UK. For example, Skilled Worker visas can cost from £719 to £1,084 for applications made outside the UK, depending on the visa length and job type. Always check the official UK Government website for the most current fee structure.


How long does it take to process a UK work visa application?

Processing times can vary significantly based on the visa type, application volume, and individual circumstances. Generally, work visa applications are processed within three weeks when applying from outside the UK. However, it can take longer during peak times or if additional information is needed. Some visa categories offer expedited processing for an additional fee.


Can I bring my family members with me on a UK work visa?

Yes, most UK work visas allow you to bring dependents, including your spouse, partner, and children under 18. Each dependent must apply separately, and you must show you have the financial means to support them during their stay.


Is it possible to extend my UK work visa?

Yes, many work visas can be extended, provided you continue to meet the eligibility criteria. This typically involves having a job offer from a licensed sponsor and may require proving your English language proficiency again. The specific conditions and process for extension vary by visa category.


Do I need to pay the healthcare surcharge?

Most work visa applicants must pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) as part of their application, granting access to the NHS on the same basis as a UK resident. The current rate is £1,035 per year for most adults and £776 per year for students, youth mobility, and those under 18.


Can I switch from another visa to a work visa while in the UK?

In many cases, you can switch from another visa type to a work visa without leaving the UK, provided you meet the specific visa requirements and have not entered the UK on a visitor visa or a short-term student visa. Check that your current visa type allows switching.


What happens if my work visa application is rejected?

If your application is rejected, you will receive a letter explaining the reason for the decision. If you believe there was a mistake in processing your application, you can apply for an administrative review. Replying with corrected information or additional documents may sometimes be necessary.


Section H: Glossary of Work Visa Terms


Points-Based System (PBS): A system used by the UK government to manage immigration for those wishing to work, study, or invest in the UK. Applicants are awarded points for fulfilling specific criteria, such as having a job offer, speaking English, and meeting salary requirements.


Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS): A reference number given to the applicant by their UK employer, who must be licensed to sponsor workers. It contains information about the job and the worker’s details. It is essential for most work visa applications.


Sponsor Licence: Permission granted to UK employers to hire foreign nationals under specific work visa categories. Companies must apply for and obtain a sponsor licence to issue Certificates of Sponsorship.


Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS): A fee visa applicants pay to access the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) during their stay. It is paid as part of the visa application process.


Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR): Permission to stay in the UK without any time limits on one’s stay. It is also known as ‘settlement’, and it can lead to applying for British citizenship.


Biometric Residence Permit (BRP): A card containing your biographic details (name, date of birth, and fingerprints) and a photo as a form of identification. It also shows your immigration status and entitlements while you remain in the UK. BRPs are being replaced by eVisas and will no longer be accepted as proof of status in the UK from 1 January 2025.


eVisa: The Home Office is transitioning to an online eVisa system for confirming immigration status, which will replace the physical BRP card entirely by 1 January 2025.


Immigration Salary List: A list published by the UK government of skilled jobs with a shortage of workers in the UK.


National Insurance Number (NINo): A unique number that tracks your UK taxes and national insurance contributions. It’s required for all workers, including those from overseas.


Settlement: Another term for obtaining Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), meaning you are no longer subject to immigration control and can live permanently in the UK.


Visa Extension: Applying to extend your stay in the UK under the same visa category before your visa expires.


Section I: Additional Resources


UK Visas and Immigration
The official starting point for all visa-related inquiries and applications. It provides detailed guides on visa types, application procedures, fees, and processing times.


Immigration Rules
Comprehensive details on the Immigration Rules governing entry to and stay in the UK.


Healthcare surcharge (IHS)
Information on the Immigration Health Surcharge, including who needs to pay it and how much it costs.


English Language Tests
List of approved English language tests for visa applications.


Sponsor a Skilled Worker
Guidance for employers on sponsoring a skilled worker, including how to apply for a sponsor licence.


Check if You Need a UK Visa
An online tool provided by the UK government to check if you need a visa for your visit or stay in the UK and what type of visa you might need.


UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA)
Though primarily focused on students, UKCISA provides valuable information on immigration and visas that might be helpful for work visa applicants as well.


The Law Society
To find legal professionals specialising in immigration law.


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