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Expanding your company into the UK requires a team of skilled employees. Whether you already have a trusted team at your parent company ready to move and work in the UK or you’re opening up positions to people around the world, you need to know about the United Kingdom’s work permits and visas.

Many companies already handling global growth don’t have time to learn about work visas, permits, and how to obtain them.

Types of work visas in the UK

The United Kingdom’s main immigration route is through the Points Based System (PBS). First, migrants outside the European Economic Area (EEA) apply to one of 5 tiers based on their desire to work, study, invest, or train in the country. They must pass a points-based assessment focused on the conditions, entitlements, and entry requirements for each tier. Applicants have to get a sufficient number of points based on age, qualifications, language, earnings, and funds to get entry clearance or remain in the UK.

All 5 tiers encompass certain visas:

  • Tier 1: These visas are meant for highly skilled workers, entrepreneurs, investors, and graduate students living outside the European Union (EU) and EEA. These candidates do not need a job offer to apply.
  • Tier 2: Skilled workers, professional sportspeople, and clergy members outside the EEA could apply for a visa within tier 2 when they have a job offer and can fill gaps within the country’s labor force. The Skilled Worker Visa has recently replaced the tier 2 visa.
  • Tier 3: Tier 3 visas were meant for low-skilled workers providing temporary labor. However, the government decided not to accept immigrants from outside the EU for tier 3 positions and have since removed these visas.
  • Tier 4: Students over age 16 from outside the EEA should apply for a Tier 4 visa if they want to study at a school, college, or university in the country.
  • Tier 5: This category has 6 sub-tiers of temporary workers related to creative and sporting positions, charity, religious workers, and young people who work in the UK on working holidays.

Requirements to obtain UK work visas

The requirements for a UK working visa vary based on which tier and visa your employees need. Tier 2 encompasses most long-term visas except for the special talent mentioned in tier 1. The Tier 2 general UK work visa is the most common for companies expanding, as it’s for people outside the EEA and Switzerland who have a job offer in the UK.

All general work visa applicants must have an employer or a licensed sponsor. Although the requirements vary by type of work permit, the most common include:

  • An application form
  • 2 color photographs taken within the past 6 months
  • A valid passport
  • Proof of financial means to cover UK living costs
  • Proof of accommodation
  • Detailed travel itinerary
  • Tuberculosis test results
  • Biometric information
  • A visa invitation letter if the individual is staying with a friend or family member
  • Paid UK visa fees
  • Certified translations of any document that’s not in English or Welsh

Application process

Your employees should apply for a UK visa 3 months before they want to begin working for you. Visa application processing can take up to 3 weeks, so it’s important to apply early at an application center or online through the UK Home Office Visas and Immigration Services website. The PBS system means the requirements and evaluations change for each tier, and some categories may have additional requirements, so make sure your employees know what they need to apply.

The UK has announced plans to fully digitize its immigration process and permissions by 2025.

Other important considerations

There are other ways for people to work in the UK besides the traditional work permit and visa routes. For example, Commonwealth citizens with a British grandparent can apply for an ancestry visa to work in the country if they meet other eligibility criteria. These citizens may also have a right of abode to live in the UK. If your company has an employee who left the UK for more than 2 years through indefinite leave to remain (ILR), they may need only a returning resident visa to come back and work.

Discover how G-P can help you manage your global teams

At G-P, we’re committed to breaking down barriers to global business, enabling opportunity for everyone, everywhere, and helping companies tap into the fullest potential of their workforce. We help you maintain full compliance with local laws and ensure everything from hiring and onboarding to paying your employees is quick and easy, regardless of where they are in the world.

Find out more about how our Global Growth Platform™ can help you grow your team across the globe.


THIS CONTENT IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL OR TAX ADVICE. You should always consult with and rely on your own legal and/or tax advisor(s). G-P does not provide legal or tax advice. The information is general and not tailored to a specific company or workforce and does not reflect G-P’s product delivery in any given jurisdiction. G-P makes no representations or warranties concerning the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of this information and shall have no liability arising out of or in connection with it, including any loss caused by use of, or reliance on, the information.

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