UK Visa Guide: Working in the UK


2 mins

Posted on 27 Jun 2024

UK Visa Guide: Working in the UK

Whether you're setting up a business in the UK or looking for an individual work route, there are a potential number of visa options available to you.

Below we've provided key details you need to know, for the following via types:

Please note that the visa timings, processes, immigration rules and salary thresholds, referred to above, often change at short notice. In addition, the below highlights some of the key issues only and therefore should be used a guide; it is not to be relied upon as providing legal advice.

Scale-Up Worker visa

A hybrid sponsored and non-sponsored route.

Ideal for...

Scaling businesses that have shown potential for growth to sponsor talented overseas workers needed to grow their business.

Your UK business can qualify under either the standard pathway, which is assessed by the Home Office, or the endorsing body pathway.

To qualify for the standard pathway, your business must:

  • Have grown by an average of 20% within the 3-year period before you seek approval in either staff count or total sales
  • Have had at least 10 employees at the start of that 3 year period

Under the endorsing body pathway, an approved endorsing body confirms that you’re eligible to apply for a sponsor licence.

Applicants must...

To be eligible, the Scale-Up worker visa applicant must: 

  • Have a confirmed job offer from an approved scale-up business for at least 6 months at graduate level or above
  • Have a work permit (called a Certificate of Sponsorship) from a UK employer with information about the role, if making a ‘sponsored’ application (mandatory for a first time application)
  • Have an offer for a job that’s on the list of eligible occupations
  • Have a job offer with a minimum salary of £36,300 per year or the going market rate (whichever is higher)

Resulting in...

If successful, the Scale-Up Worker visa is eligible for 2 years, and can be extended for another 3 years under an ‘unsponsored’ application.

After 5 years, the worker can then apply for permanent residency (also known as Settled status) in the UK.

The worker can also study and self-employment and voluntary work is permitted during their sponsorship period.

You can only sponsor them for the first six months after this, they can either continue working for your business unsponsored or move to a new job or employer as long as they continue to meet Scale-Up visa eligibility criteria.

Don't forget...

The applicant must be able to prove that they can speak, read, write and understand English.

They must also be able to show evidence of personal maintenance funds for a set period.

How long to organise?

From the date of submission, it should take between 3 and 8 weeks to process an application.

However, if available, you can use the priority service to cut the processing time to 5 days.

Innovator Founder Visa 

A new visa route which has replaced the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa, Start-Up, Innovator visa and non-media Sole Representative of an overseas Business Route, and a non-sponsored route.

Ideal for...

Those wishing to start and run a brand new and innovative business in the UK.

Applicants must

You must be either a sole founder or instrumental member of a founding team, and your business idea must be endorsed by a Home Office-approved endorsing body.

You must also play a key role in the day-to-day running and development of the business.

You don’t need to have investment to apply, but you must be able to show that your business idea is:

  • New – cannot already be trading
  • Innovative – a truly original business idea that meets new or existing market needs and/or creates competitive advantage in the UK
  • Viable – has strong growth potential
  • Scalable – must have potential to create jobs and grow in both national and international markets

Resulting in...

If successful, the Innovator Founder visa allows you to stay in the UK for 3 years and can be extended as many times as you need. After the initial 3 years, you may be eligible for settled status (permanent residency).

Don't forget...

You must meet the English language requirements and also be able to show evidence of personal maintenance funds for a set period.

Alongside working for your business, you can also do skilled work outside your business.

You’ll need endorsement for the initial application, as well as any extension, and if you apply for permanent residency.

How long to organise?

After you’ve applied, you should expect to wait 3 to 8 weeks for a decision, or you could pay for the speedier 5-day process.

Representative of an Overseas Business visa - for Media Representatives only

A non-sponsored route.

Ideal for...

Anyone employed by an overseas media agency that’s on long-term assignment in the UK. You could be a journalist, but producers, camera operators and presenters are also eligible.

N.B. The Representative of an Overseas Business visa has been closed for new sole representatives since April 2022. If you're setting up the first branch of an overseas company, you should apply for a UK Expansion Worker Visa (Global Business Mobility) instead.

Applicants must

To be eligible, the applicant must:

  • Be a media representative of an overseas newspaper, news agency, or broadcasting agency
  • Be recruited and employed outside the UK by a business that trades and is headquartered outside the UK
  • Work full time for the business and intend to represent it while in the UK

Resulting in...

The media representative can stay for an initial 3 years, with the potential to extend for another 2. After 5 years, they can apply for settled status in the UK

Don't forget...

They must meet the English language requirements and demonstrate that they have the skills and experience required for the role.

They must work for the media organisation only in the UK, and must not work for any other business or do any other paid work.

How long to organise?

Following submission, it should take between 3 and 8 weeks to process, or 5 working days if you pay for the priority service.

Global Talent visa

Formerly know as Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa, and a non-sponsored route.

Ideal for...

Leaders or potential leaders over 18 years old in the field of academia or research (in science, medicine, engineering, or humanities), arts and culture (which includes fashion, architecture, film and television), or digital technology.

Also ideal for eligible senior academic or research positions.

Applicants must...

Show exceptional talent or promise and want to work in the UK.

This can be shown by winning an eligible award or by obtaining an endorsement from an endorsing body

Resulting in...

The Global Talent visa allows the applicant to live and work in the UK for up to 5 years, and can be extended indefinitely in 1 to 5 year periods.

After 3 or 5 years (depending on which field you work in) they can also apply for indefinite leave to remain (also known as permanent residency or settled status), allowing them to live, work and study in the UK for as long as they want.

Don't forget...

Unlike the other visas, there is no English language requirement for the Global Talent visa.

If they require an endorsement, there is a two stage application process: 

  1. Assessment of skills and achievements by the relevant endorsing body, which advises the UK home office of its decision
  2. If granted, they can apply for a visa from their home country or normal place of residence; or switch status into the Global Talent category from within the UK, if eligible to do so.

N.B. You can submit stage 1 and 2 simultaneously, but they would lose their stage 2 visa fee if unsuccessful. You can also bypass stage 1 entirely if the applicant has a suitably prestigious prize.

How long to organise?

Stage 1 can take up to 8 weeks depending on the endorsing body.

Stage 2 takes between 3 and 8 weeks, or 5 working days with the priority service.

High Potential Individual Visa

A non-sponsored route.

Ideal for...

Individuals that have graduated from top global universities not in the UK.

Applicants must...

To be eligible, the applicant must have graduated from an eligible university within the last 5 years. They do not need a job offer to apply.

They must apply to Ecctis (formerly UK NARIC) to validate their Bachelors/Postgraduate/PHD degree.

Resulting in...

The High Potential Individual Visa is valid for 2 years at degree level and 3 at PHD level.

While under the visa, they can do any kind of work except work as a professional sportsperson or sports coach.

It cannot be extended and they cannot apply for permanent residency on this visa. However, if eligible, they can switch to a long-term employment visa.

Don't forget...

The applicant must meet the English language requirements and be able to show evidence of personal maintenance funds for a set period.

UK universities are not valid for this visa. If they are already in the UK on a student visa, they may be eligible for the Graduate visa.

How long to organise?

You should expect to wait between 3 and 8 weeks for the application to be processed. If you don’t want to wait, you can apply for the 5 working day priority service.

Overview

    • The sponsored route is perfect if you want to hire an overseas worker who does not yet have settled status or the right immigration permission to work in the UK
    • If you do decide to sponsor someone to work in the UK, you’ll need a sponsorship licence from UK Visa & Immigration . There are two main licence types to employ workers, which is covered here in this overview:(1) Global Business Mobility and (2) Skilled Worker. Other work routes include Creative, Religious, Charity and Sports licences
    • To be eligible, your business must be established and already trading in the UK (except for the Global Business Mobility UK Expansion Worker route). You’ll need to be able to supply a list of prescriptive documents for the application, and have robust HR systems and processes in place to monitor your sponsored workers
    • Workers and Temporary Workers have to meet minimum skill and salary levels
    • Any Skilled Workers have to be able to speak, read, write and understand English
    • You may have to pay a healthcare surcharge, usually £1,035 per year for each adult visa applicant and £776 per each year of sponsorship for children, which acts as an upfront contribution to the NHS.
    • A cap may apply to Global Business Mobility Senior or Specialist worker (formerly called Intra-company transferees), cannot hold this type of visa for longer than five years in any six year period; or nine years in any 10-year period if earning at least £73,900 or above.
    • As the sponsor, you will also have to pay an ‘Immigration Skills Charge’ at the rate of £1,000 per year of sponsorship. For small or charitable organisations, this charge is just £364
    • Visa applicants from certain countries will have to provide a valid tuberculosis certificate

How long to organise?

If your application is successful, you should receive your sponsorship licence within 8 to 10 weeks from the date of submission. You could also pay £500 for the priority service, which takes just 10 working days to process. However, there are only 30 slots a day for this option.

You can then apply for permission to enter/stay for your sponsored worker, which takes between 3 and 8 weeks to process. Again, there is a speedier 5 working day option available for a price.

All in all, you can expect to wait between 4 and 6 months from the day you apply for your sponsorship licence to the day a decision is made on your sponsored workers visa application.

Global Business Mobility – UK Expansion Worker licence and visa

A sponsored route.

Ideal for...

Overseas businesses that have not started trading in the UK and want to launch their first branch or subsidiary.

If you’ve already started trading in the UK, you should instead apply for the Global Business Mobility: Senior or Specialist worker licence instead (see below).

Applicants must...

To be eligible, the applicant must already work for the overseas business as a manager or specialist worker, and prove at visa application stage that they will be assigned to the UK for a temporary period to undertake work related to the business’s expansion to the UK.

They must also have been temporarily assigned to the UK to oversee the expansion of the businesses’ UK operations for at least 12 months, unless:

  • They earn more than £73,900
  • They are a Japanese national working to expand a Japanese company in the UK
  • They are a Australian (or a permanent Australian resident) working for an Australian company that is expanding in the UK

Once the visa has been granted, the UK Expansion Worker must be paid at least £45,800 gross per year under this category or the going (market) rate for the role if higher, as dictated by the relevant Occupation Code.

The minimum Skill Level is set at RQF level 6 (i.e, graduate level).

Resulting in...

The Expansion Worker visa is valid for 12 months, with the option to extend for another 12.

2 years is the maximum for this route, but, if eligible, the worker can switch to another immigration route to extend their stay.

Don't forget...

There is no English language requirement, but the applicant must have a certain level of personal funds in place to support themselves during their stay.

To apply for an Expansion Worker licence, the business must:

  • Have a UK ‘footprint’ in the form of an existing premise or Companies House registration
  • Have been actively trading overseas for at least 3 years
  • Credible plans and finance in place for a successful UK expansion

A ‘provisional’ rating, unique to the UK Expansion Worker route, will be awarded if your Authorising Officer (and Level 1 User) is an employee of the overseas business and will be assigning their own Certificate of Sponsorship (work permit) in order to apply for entry clearance to the UK. You will be granted an ‘A rating’ if you already have an eligible Authorising Officer (and Level 1 User) in the UK who can assign the Certificate of Sponsorship.

If your Expansion Worker is unable to establish a UK trading presence within 2 years, you will not be able to sponsor any new workers or extend the stay of existing workers. You may also lose your sponsor licence.

How long to organise?

If successful, your sponsor licence should be granted within 8-10 weeks. You could also pay £500 to have your application processed in 10 working days, though there are only 30 slots a day for this service.

You can then apply for your Expansion Worker’s permission to enter or stay, which takes between 3 and 8 weeks as standard, or 5 weeks for the priority service.

Overall, from sponsor application to being granted an Expansion Worker visa will take from 4 to 6 months.

Global Business Mobility Senior or Specialist worker visa and Global Business Mobility Graduate Trainee visa plus licence

Formerly known as Intra-company Routes / Intra-company Transfer visa and IIntra-company Graduate Trainee.

A sponsored route.

Ideal for...

An overseas business looking to transfer a temporary skilled worker or graduate to an existing UK operation.

The UK operation must be linked to your overseas business by common ownership/control and be named on your UK sponsor licence.

Applicants must...

For the Senior or Specialist Worker route, the applicant must be a senior manager or specialist employed by the overseas business for at least 12 months (unless they earn at least £73,900 gross pay) and assigned to temporary work in the UK. They must be paid at least £48,500, or, if higher, the going market rate for the role (according to the relevant Occupation Code). Going rates post April 2024 Immigration Rule changes are often much higher as they are now based on the 25th percentile of the 20203 ONS figures, so you must make this assessment carefully.

For the Graduate Trainee route, the worker must have been employed with a linked overseas entity for at least 3 months. They must have a job offer in the UK ofat least £25,410 gross per year or, if higher, 70% of the going market rate for the role (based on 25th percentile of 2023 figures).

The minimum Skill Level remains at RQF level 6 (i.e. a graduate level).

Resulting in...

Under the Global Business Mobility visa, a Senior or Specialist Worker can stay for 5 years maximum. Those on a salary of £73,900 or more can stay for 9 years. They cannot apply for permanent residency on this visa, but, if eligible, they can switch to another immigration route in order to do so.

Graduate Trainee’s can stay for a maximum of 12 months under this visa.

Don't forget...

There is no English language requirement for the Global Business Mobility visa.

Applicants must have a certain level of personal funds or certified maintenance funds from their sponsor.

Previously, for the Graduate route, you were limited to 20 Certificates of Sponsorship, but there is no longer a limit.

How long to organise?

Your sponsor licence should be granted within 8 to 10 weeks, or 10 working days on the priority service.

Visa applications take 3 to 8 weeks to process, or 5 working days for the priority service.

In total, this route will take between 4 to 6 months.

Global Business Mobility - UK Service Supplier plus licence

A sponsored route.

Ideal for...

UK businesses that want to sponsor an overseas worker to undertake temporary work assignments in the UK.

Applicants must...

The applicant must be either:

  • A contractual service supplier employed by an overseas service provider for at least 12 months
  • A self-employed independent service provider based overseas with at last 12 months of professional experience who’s working as part of a contract covered by one of the UK’s international trade agreements

They must also be qualified for an eligible job (or have other relevant qualifications and experience for the role) and hold a Certificate of Sponsorship from a UK sponsor that details the work they’re permitted to do in the UK.

Resulting...

The visa is valid for 6 to 12 months depending on the type of trade agreement providing services.

The worker cannot obtain permanent residency on this visa, but they can switch to another eligible UK immigration route that allows them to stay long-term.

Don't forget...

This visa only permits the worker to:

  • Work for the sponsor in the job described in the Certificate of Sponsorship
  • Study
  • Do voluntary work

There is no English language requirement.

How long to organise?

Your sponsor licence should be granted within 8 to 10 weeks, or within 10 working days on the priority service.

Visa applications take 3 to 8 weeks to process, or 5 working days for the priority service.

In total, you should expect this route to take between 4 to 6 months.

Global Business Mobility – UK Secondment Worker licence and visa

A sponsored route.

Ideal for...

Overseas workers on temporary work assignments in the UK to do an eligible job for a different organisation.

Applicants must...

The applicant must have worked for an overseas employer for at least 12 months outside the UK.

The overseas employer must have a high-value contract with a UK sponsor that has been approved by the Home Office.

The worker must also hold a Certificate of Sponsorship from a sponsor that outlines the work they’re permitted to do in the UK, and do a job in the UK that’s on the list of eligible occupations.

Resulting in...

The visa grants the worker permission to stay for 12 months, which can be extended for a further 12 months.

They cannot obtain permanent residency in the UK on this route. But, if eligible, they can switch into another UK immigration route that allows them long-term stay.

Don't forget...

This visa only permits the worker to:

  • Work for the sponsor in the job described in the Certificate of Sponsorship
  • Study
  • Do voluntary work.

There is no English language requirement.

How long to organise?

Your sponsor licence should be granted within 8 to 10 weeks, or within 10 working days on the priority service.

Visa applications take 3 to 8 weeks to process, or 5 working days on the priority service.

In total, you should expect this route to take between 4 to 6 months.

Skilled Worker licence and visa

A sponsored route.

Ideal for...

Businesses that want to hire Skilled Workers from abroad or employees from other UK businesses who currently hold a Skilled Worker visa.

Can also be used for permanent relocation of existing staff or new hires to the UK.

Applicants must...

The applicant must earn a gross salary of at least £ 38,700 per year (if deemed an experiencedworker) or £30,960 per year (if qualify as a new entrant). Alternatively, if higher, they must earn the going market rate for the role according to the Occupation Code for Skilled Workers. The going rate is now often much higher than the general threshold as it is based on ONS 20203 data, so you must make this assessment carefully.

If their salary is at least £30,960, the applicant can be paid between 70-90% of the going rate for their position as long as they:

  • Are a new entrant to the labour market
  • Have a STEM PhD qualification that’s relevant to their job
  • Have a postdoctoral role in science or higher education

These salary rules are different for some jobs in healthcare or education.

The minimum Skill Level for this visa has been reduced to RQF Level 3 (i.e. at A Level).

Roles on the new Immigration Salary List (previously the Shortage Occupation List) no longer qualify for a salary discount.

Resulting in...

The Skilled Worker visa is initially valid for 5 years but can be extended indefinitely.

If certain conditions are met, after 5 years, the worker can apply for permanent residence (settled status).

Don't forget...

There is a mandatory English language requirement for the Skilled Worker visa. They must also have certified maintenance funds from their sponsor or a certain level of personal funds.

The applicant must be applying to fill a genuine vacancy at a Home Office-licensed sponsor, and have the intention and ability to fill the job role on offer.

There is no longer:

  • A restriction on the number of shares the worker can hold in the business
  • A need to complete a Resident Labour Market Test
  • A cooling off period requiring the worker to remain outside the UK for 12 months before they can return to work

How long to organise?

Your sponsor licence should be granted within 8 to 10 weeks, or within 10 working days on the priority service.

Visa applications take 3 to 8 weeks to process, or 5 working days on the priority service.

In total, you should expect this route to take between 4 to 6 months.

Please note: The visa timings, processes, immigration rules and salary thresholds referred to above often change at short notice. In addition, this table summarises some key issues only and therefore should be used as a guide; it is not to be relied upon as providing legal advice.

Anita de Atouguia

Anita has specialised in immigration law for over 20 years and is one of the UK's leading immigration experts. She joined Doyle Clayton in 2012 to set up its Immigration service having worked in the immigration practices of some of the UK’s best known full service law firms including CMS and Lewis Silkin.

  • Partner & Head of Immigration
  • T: +44 (0)20 7778 7233
  • Email me

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The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.

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