Living and working in the United Kingdom is a rite of passage for many. The proximity to the rest of Europe makes it an ideal homebase, allowing you the opportunity to travel and discover the continent. Of course, unless you’re a British or Swiss national, or a European Economic Area (EEA) citizen, you’ll need to get a visa and work permit. A visa to live in the UK - either short or long term - does not automatically make you eligible to work. You need to apply for that permission.
Types of Work Visa
The British government categorizes their work permits into tiers. They include (but are not limited to):
- Entrepreneur Visa - If you plan is to start or run a business in the UK - with a minimum of £50,000 of investment capital - then the Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa is the way to go. This visa is good for a maximum of three years and four months.
- Exceptional Talent - If you’re endorsed or recognized by an official body as a leader (or even potential leader) in either arts or sciences, the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa may be your ticket in. This visa is good for a maximum of three years and four months.
- General Visa - The Tier 2 General Visa is for anyone offered a skilled job in the United Kingdom. This is likely the most common visa type for anyone hoping to live and work in the country (specifics below). This visa requires a certificate of sponsorship, and is valid for a maximum of five years.
- Intra-Company Transfer Visa - if you work for a company with branch offices in the UK, you may be eligible to apply for the Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer Visa. It allows you to continue working for that company in any of its UK locations. There are four subsets of this visa, each good for a specific applicant and maximum length of validity: 1) Long Term - good for more than 12 months, and to a maximum of five years, and you must have at least 12 months experience with the company. 2) Graduate Trainee - maximum of 12 months, and you must have worked for the company for at least 3 months before applying. 3) Short Term - maximum of 12 months, and you must have worked for the company for at least 12 months prior to applying. 4) Skills Transfer - available to staff who will either train staff in a particular skill, or you will receive training in a particular skill. Valid for six months. This visa requires a certificate of sponsorship.
- Temporary Worker (Creative and Sporting) Visa - If you’ve been offered temporary work in the UK as either an athlete or creative worker, the Tier 5 Creative and Sporting Visa is designed for you. It is good for a maximum of 12 months, and it requires a certificate of sponsorship.
The UK Ancestry Visa
- This special visa is for any Commonwealth citizen who can prove that at least one of their grandparents was born in the United Kingdom. It is good for a maximum of five years.
Applying for a Tier 2 General Visa
As an educated and experienced employee, you’re likely looking at either an intra-company transfer visa (should you be lucky enough to already work for a company with branches and offices in the UK), or a Tier 2 General Visa.
The eligibility requirements for a Tier 2 General Visa include a sponsorship certificate reference number - supplied by your potential UK employer - demonstrable proficiency in English, at least £945 in savings (and the sum needs to have been in your account for at least 90 days before applying), and the promised UK position must have a minimum salary of £20,500 per year. If you meet these stipulations, then you are allowed to apply for the visa.
Applications must be made online, although you will need to physically visit a visa application centre to have your photo taken and fingerprints scanned afterwards. Don’t forget to print off your online application and bring it with you.
You may need to get a tuberculosis test if you are planning on staying and working in the UK for 6 months or more, and you’re from a country on the required list. Attend an approved clinic, have the test completed, and bring proof of your clean bill of health. It will be part of the supplementary documentation that you submit with your application.
Once you have everything collected - passport, colour photograph, recent bank statement, proof of English proficiency (if necessary), and tuberculosis test result (if necessary) - and you’ve completed the online portion, you must book an appointment with a local visa application centre. Everything will be submitted through them.
Processing and wait times vary depending on your location and citizenship. You can check the average wait time, as well as request changes and documentation to be returned (amongst many other things), in the “Manage Your Application” section of the UK Government website.
Working in the United Kingdom could be the best decision you ever make. It’s got world-class companies and infrastructure, plenty of great cities to choose from, a rich and storied history, and it’s close to dozens of other countries and cities on virtually everyone’s “must see” list. You’ll plan to stay for a year or two...and likely decide to never leave.
Photo by Christopher Elison
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