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How to get a Work Visa in the UK

If you are a non-UK resident in the UK with an eligible visa, you can apply for and get an appropriate work visa from the different work visa categories.

If you are having difficulties with or are uncertain about obtaining a UK work visa, contact our professional and outstanding lawyers at the Immigration Advice Service (IAS) right away on 0333 305 9375 or chat with us online to get answers.

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Types of UK Work Visas

There are various types of UK work visas. Some are extendable while others are not. Some are meant for the short term while others are for the long term. You may be able to switch to some of them while on an eligible visa in the UK.

For ineligible ones (visas that do not allow switching), you have to leave the UK first before you can apply for another. The following are the main UK work visas and are divided into the following visa categories:

Short term visa

The Short term visa categories allow temporary workers to come to the UK to work for a short period. They are as follows:

High Potential Individual (HPI) visa

Individuals with qualifications from an eligible university can apply for the High Potential Individual visa. Applicant’s qualification must have been awarded within the last five years before applying and must be at the same level as a Bachelor’s degree, postgraduate degree, or doctorate from the UK.

An HPI visa usually lasts for two years but for holders of a PhD or other doctoral qualifications, it lasts for three years. The partner and children of applicants can also apply to join them or stay in the UK if eligible.

Interested persons can switch to this visa or apply for it from within the UK.

Graduate visa

Individuals who have successfully completed a course in the UK on a Student visa can switch to a Graduate visa. Applicants must be in the UK and hold a Student visa or Tier 4 (General) Student visa at the time of application.

The partner and children of the applicant may also apply to stay in the UK if they are eligible. Holders of the visa can stay for two years while holders of a PhD or other doctoral qualifications can stay for three years.

Government Authorised Exchange visa

Individuals who want to come to the UK for work experience, training, an overseas government language programme, research or a fellowship through an approved government-authorised exchange scheme can apply for a Government Authorised Exchange visa.

They, however, require a certificate of sponsorship from a licensed sponsor as part of the requirements. Holders can get a visa for a maximum of 10 months, 12 months or 24 months, depending on the scheme they applied for.

Interested individuals can apply within the UK, as well as switch to the Government Authorised Exchange visa before their current visa expires. Furthermore, they are eligible to apply if they fall into any of the following categories:

  • Students, whether studying, resitting an examination or writing a thesis.
  • Student union sabbatical officers.
  • Student nurses.
  • Postgraduate doctors or dentists.
  • Student visa holders (including Tier 4).
  • Sponsored researchers who came to the UK on a work permit and want to continue in the same job with their sponsor.

In addition to meeting other eligibility requirements, they must have completed a UK bachelor’s or master’s degree during their last grant of leave.

International Agreement visa

Applicants who will be contracted to do work covered by international law or treaty while in the UK can apply for an International Agreement visa. They can work as a private servant in a diplomatic household or for an overseas government or recognised international organisation.

They require a CoS, however. Overseas government workers or international organisation workers can stay for up to two years or the time given on your certificate of sponsorship plus up to 14 days, whichever is shorter.

A private servant in a diplomatic household can stay for up to five years and can apply for up to 2 years at a time or the time given on their certificate of sponsorship plus up to 14 days, whichever is shorter.

Applicants can apply from within the UK and can switch to the International Agreement visa before their current visa expires.

Applicants who intend to switch must have a work permit, work for an overseas government or international organisation, and want to continue working for their current employer.

Secondment Worker visa

Persons whose overseas employer is transferring them to the UK to do an eligible job for a different organisation can apply for a Secondment Work visa.

Generally, the maximum length of time allowed for a stay on a Secondment Work visa is two years. Applicants, as part of their requirements, must have a CoS from their sponsor.

Interested persons can switch to the Secondment Worker visa within the UK if they meet the eligibility requirements.

Service Supplier visa

Persons who have a contract to provide services for a UK company, either as self-employed professionals based overseas or employees for overseas companies can apply for the Service Supplier visa.

Holders of a Service Supplier visa can stay for a maximum of six or twelve months depending on the type of trade agreement under which they are providing services.

Applicants can switch to the Service Supplier visa from an eligible one upon meeting the eligibility requirements.

UK Expansion Worker visa

Persons who want to come to the UK to set up a branch of an overseas business that has not started trading in the UK yet can apply for the UK Expansion Worker visa.

Interested persons can apply from within or outside the UK, or switch from a different visa to the UK Expansion Worker visa.

Applicants can switch to the UK Expansion Worker visa from an eligible one upon meeting the eligibility requirements.

Who is not allowed to switch to Short-Term Visas?

Persons who are not allowed to switch to the long-term visa category are those currently in the UK:

  • On a visit visa.
  • On a short-term student visa.
  • On a Parent of a Child Student visa.
  • On a Seasonal Worker visa.
  • On a Domestic Worker in a private household visa.
  • On immigration bail.
  • Because they were given permission to stay outside the immigration rules, such as on compassionate grounds.

The following additional situation applies to the following types of visas:

  • Persons who intend to switch to the Graduate visa must hold a Student visa.
  • Persons who are in the UK on a Graduate visa are also not allowed to switch to a High Potential Individual visa.
  • Persons who are not certain types of students or researchers (as listed in the Government Authorised Exchange visa section) cannot switch to The Government Authorised Exchange visa.

Get in touch with our expert immigration lawyers to receive assistance on your Work Visa in the UK

Long-term visa

The long term visas allow their holders to stay and work in the UK for a longer time than short-term visas. They include the following:

Skilled Worker visa

Holders of the Skilled Worker visa are allowed to come to the UK to do an eligible job with an approved employer, provided they meet the eligibility criteria which include possessing a certificate of sponsorship (CoS) from their employers and getting paid a minimum salary depending on the type of job.

The Skilled Worker visa lasts for up to five years and can be extended. Applicants may include their partner and children in their application if eligible.

Applicants can apply from within the UK and can also switch to the Skilled Worker visa from an eligible one upon meeting the eligibility requirements.

Scale-up Worker visa

The Scale-up Worker visa allows its holders to come to the UK to do an eligible job with a fast-growing UK business. You must, however, meet the eligibility criteria.

Holders can stay in the UK for two years and can also extend it before expiration for three years. Applicants can switch to the Scale-up Worker visa from an eligible one upon meeting the eligibility requirements.

Health and Care Worker visa

Health and Care Worker visas allow medical professionals to come to or stay in the UK to do an eligible job with the NHS, an NHS supplier or in adult social care. A Health and Care Worker visa can last up to five years before the need to extend it.

Applicants can apply from within the UK and can switch to the Health and Care Worker visa from an eligible one upon meeting the eligibility requirements.

Minister of Religion visa (T2)

Persons who have been offered a job within a faith community (for example as a minister of religion, missionary, or member of a religious order) in the UK and meet other eligibility criteria can apply for the Minister of Religion visa (T2).

As part of the eligibility requirements, applicants are required to have a certificate of sponsorship from a licensed sponsor. Holders can stay in the UK for a maximum of up to 3 years and 1 month, or the time given on their certificate of sponsorship plus 14 days, whichever is shorter.

Applicants can apply from within the UK and can switch to the Minister of Religion visa from an eligible one upon meeting the eligibility requirements.

Senior or Specialist Worker visa

Holders of the Senior or Specialist Worker visa can come to or stay in the UK to do an eligible job at their employer’s UK branch. They can stay for whichever is shorter of five years or the time given on their certificate of sponsorship plus 14 days.

Interested applicants can switch to this visa from within the UK and from an eligible one or extend if renewing the visa.

International Sportsperson visa

Individuals who meet the requirements and whose application is endorsed by an approved governing body can apply for the International Sportsperson visa.

An endorsement by a Home Office-approved Sports Governing Bodies implies that:

  • The applicant is an elite sportsperson or a qualified coach and is internationally established.
  • The applicant’s employment will develop his/her sport in the UK at the highest level.

As part of their requirements, an applicant must have a CoS from an approved sponsor. The International Sportsperson visa can last for up to three years and is extendable. Applicants can apply from within the UK and can switch to the visa from an eligible one upon meeting the eligibility requirements.

Who is not allowed to switch to Long-Term Visas?

Persons who are not allowed to switch to the long-term visa category are those currently in the UK:

  • On a visit visa.
  • On a short-term student visa.
  • On a Parent of a Child Student visa.
  • On a Seasonal Worker visa.
  • On a Domestic Worker in a private household visa.
  • On immigration bail.
  • Because they were given permission to stay outside the immigration rules, such as on compassionate grounds.

If you have any questions about your Work Visa in the UK, our team is happy to assist.

Investor, Business and Talent Visas

This visa category applies to highly skilled workers and talented applicants who intend to come to the UK without a sponsor or job offer. They include the visa types outlined below.

Innovator visa

Innovator visa applicants are those who have a business or business idea which has been endorsed by an approved endorsing body, or who want to set up and run an innovative business in the UK. They must meet the applicable eligibility requirements to apply.

Holders of Innovator visas can stay in the UK for three years regardless of if they switched or if they came to the UK with the visa. Applicants can apply from within the UK and can switch to this visa from an eligible one if they meet all eligibility requirements.

Start-up visa

A start-up visa permits its holder to set up a completely new and innovative business in the UK. Applicants must be endorsed by either a UK higher education institution or a business organisation with a history of supporting UK entrepreneurs.

The Start-up visa is valid for two years and is non-extendable. Applicants can apply from within or outside the UK and can switch to this visa from an eligible one.

Global Talent visa

Global Talent visas allow holders who are leaders or potential leaders in fields such as digital technology, arts and culture, and academia or research to work in the UK.

As part of their requirements, they must have won an eligible award or hold an endorsement as proof that they are leaders in their field. Holders of the Global Talent visa can live and work in the UK for up to five years.

Applicants can apply from within the UK and can also switch to this visa from an eligible one, upon meeting the eligibility requirements.

Who is not allowed to switch to the Investor, Business and Talent Visa?

Persons who are not allowed to switch to this visa category are those currently in the UK:

  • On a visit visa.
  • On a short-term student visa.
  • On a Parent of a Child Student visa.
  • On a Seasonal Worker visa.
  • On a Domestic Worker in a private household visa.
  • On immigration bail.
  • Because they were given permission to stay outside the immigration rules, such as on compassionate grounds.

Cost of applying for a UK Work Visa

Except for a few temporary visas, the short-term work visa requires having at least £1,270 in savings unless exempted, paying £259 application fee and £624 Healthcare surcharge fee per year.

  • The Seasonal Worker visa applicant is exempt only from paying the health surcharge fee.
  • The Graduate visa applicants must pay a £715 application fee and are exempt from submitting proof of funds.
  • The Youth Mobility Scheme visa applicants, in addition to paying the usual application fee, must have at least £2,530 as proof of funds and pay £470 per year as health surcharge.
  • High Potential Individual visa applicants must pay £715 application fee and £210 ECCTIS checking fee in addition to the usual health surcharge fee and proof of funds.

For long-term visas, the application fee varies depending on the visa type and the number of family members indicated in the application form. Applicants are generally required to pay the health surcharge fee (£624) and have proof of funds of at least £1,270.

  • Health and Care visa applicants are exempt from paying the health surcharge
  • Skilled Worker visa applicants get to pay a lower application fee if their job is on the shortage occupation list.

The application fee and health surcharge for visa applicants under the Investor, Business and Talent Visa categories differ depending on if applying alone or with eligible family members.

Documents required to apply for a UK Work Visa

The documents required for the UK visa application differ, especially considering the length of the visa.

  • Short-term visa categories – Except for the Youth Mobility Scheme, every short-term visa require that applicants have a certificate of sponsorship provided by a Home Office-approved employer. Other documents required include:
    • Proof of required funds such as bank statements.
    • Sponsorship reference number
    • Valid passport or other ID showing identity.
    • Tuberculosis test results, if applicable.
    • Name of sponsor and sponsor licence number.
    • Proof of relationship with your partner and children if they are applying with you.
    • Proof of knowledge of English, if applicable to your visa route.
    • Any other requested documents.
  • Long-term visa categories – Generally, the documents required are:
    • Criminal records certificate, if applicable.
    • Proof of funds.
    • Tuberculosis test results, if applicable.
    • Name of sponsor and sponsor licence number.
    • Job title and annual salary.
    • Valid passport or any other document that shows identity.
    • Proof of relationship with your partner and children if they are applying with you.
    • Any other requested documents.
  • Investor, Business and Talent visa categories – Generally, the required documents are:
    • Valid passport or any other document that shows identity.
    • Tuberculosis test results, if applicable.
    • Proof of investment capital.
    • Proof of English language requirements, if applicable.
    • Any other requested documents.

If you have any questions about your Work Visa in the UK, our team is happy to assist.

How to Apply for a UK Work Visa

You must follow the steps outlined below to make an application for a work visa:

  • Proceed to the UK government website page that has the list of work visas.
  • Select your preferred visa type from the list.
  • Select ‘Switch to this visa’ from the content. Read the eligibility requirements to ensure you meet them. Read about the documents you need to collect to ensure you have them all ready and make digital copies.
    If you are applying for your partner and/or children, read the section that holds the related guidance to ensure you have all the required documents and that they meet the requirements. They will usually require a separate application each.
    Make sure that you meet the ‘proof of funds’ requirements and have both the application and healthcare surcharge fee on your bank card.
  • Select ‘Apply’ on the page and follow the instructions to complete your application.

Note that you are allowed to save your application and complete it later.

How can IAS Help

The application process for the UK work visa requires ensuring that all documents are made available and submitted along with the application form to avoid refusals.

An incomplete application form or documentation is usually one of the grounds for a visa refusal, among others. Therefore, applicants must be careful to meet all requirements, supply all required and applicable documents, and fill out the application form as required.

At IAS, our team of experienced and professional lawyers have the temerity and expertise that leads to a positive outcome. Call us today on 0333 305 9375 or chat with us online to find answers to questions that apply to your personal circumstances and to get started.

We offer immigration advice sessions as face to face appointments at all of our UK offices, or via the phone.

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Frequently Asked Questions

There are other routes for people to live and work in the UK including applying for either a UK Ancestry visa or a Returning Resident visa.

To apply for a UK Ancestry visa, you must prove one of your grandparents was born in the UK, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, and meet other eligibility requirements. You must also be one of the following:

  • Commonwealth citizens.
  • British overseas nationals.
  • British overseas territories citizens
  • British overseas citizens
  • Citizens of Zimbabwe.

To apply for a Returning Resident visa, you must have had an Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) when you last left and not have received financial support from the Home Office to leave the UK. You must also meet other eligibility requirements.

You will get a letter or an email explaining why your application was refused and stating if you have the right to an administrative review or an immigration decision appeal.

To review your application and to make a strong and successful immigration appeal to the UK immigration authorities, it is advisable to employ an immigration expert with experience and a track record of success.

Immigration Advice Service (IAS) is the UK’s leading immigration specialist with a record of over 5000 visa approvals. Call us today on 0333 305 9375 or chat with us online to start your journey to success.

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