Home Moving to the UK Visas & Immigration The UK work visa: requirements, sponsorship, and the points-based assessment
Last update on October 14, 2020

As an expat, you might need authorization to work in London or another British city. Learn how to go getting a UK work visa so you can work legally and successfully.

Your right to work in the UK depends on where you travel from as well as what type of work you want to do. You may well need a UK work visa as well as a job offer in order to take up employment.

The UK is currently an EU member state. This means that citizens from other EU/EFTA states have the freedom to travel to and work in the UK. However, following the Brexit vote in 2016, the situation for EU/EFTA nationals is likely to change by 2019.

For non-EU/EFTA nationals, the United Kingdom created a UK immigration points-based assessment. This controls the flow of workers from non-EU/EFTA countries as part of a managed migration process. Immigration is a heated topic; recent governments tightened regulations, including penalizing employers and landlords who don’t carry out sufficient checks. Recent changes to UK work visas include increasing salary thresholds and language requirements, as well as closing some of the work visa categories.

This guide to working in the UK covers topics such as:

Can I work in the UK?

If you’re a citizen of an EU/EFTA country, you have the right to live in the UK and work without a work visa. See our guide to EU/EFTA citizens moving to the UK for more information.

All non-EU/EFTA citizens need a UK work visa. Nationals from some countries are able to enter the UK and stay for up to six months without a visa; in this case, however, they cannot work. See our guide to UK visas and residence permits for more information on who needs a visa to enter the UK.

UK work visa requirements

If you’re a non-EU/EFTA national wanting to work in the UK, you need an appropriate work permit. Most of the UK work visas require sponsorships from a local employer; you to secure a suitable job and sponsorship before applying for the UK work visa. UK work visas are currently unavailable to casual or low-skilled employment. As a result, it isn’t possible to enter the UK on another type of visa and take up casual or temporary work.

Information on UK work visa sponsorships for Tier 2 and Tier 5 visas is available here.

You also need to apply for a biometric residence permit if you’re staying in the UK for longer than six months.

Work in London

The following groups of people are exempt from UK work visa requirements:

  • diplomats who were outside of the UK when offered the post
  • overseas government ministers on official business
  • members of Commonwealth or Overseas Territories armed forces posted to the UK
  • officials working for a head of state

If you move to the UK on a UK family visa to join relatives, you may work. See our guide on applying for a family visa in the UK for more information.

Relocating to work in London or another area of the country

UK work visa eligibility is dependent on having a job offer and in most cases sponsorship. If you’re coming to work in the UK as a non-EU/EFTA national, you first need to find a suitable job. UK work visas aren’t available for low-skilled work; you must find employment that fits one of the specialist or highly-qualified UK work visa categories. See our guide to Finding a job in the UK for more information on getting work in the UK.

Once you have found a job, you will need to apply for a UK work visa from the UK Visas and Immigration service. This can be done online through the UK Visas and Immigration website or from the UK Visa Application Centre in your home country. A list of UK Visa Application Centres worldwide is available here.

The UK immigration points-based assessment system

Your eligibility for a UK work visa is determined by the number of points you score on the UK points system. Points are awarded for the following in this system:

  • Qualifications
  • Future expected earnings
  • Sponsorship
  • English language skills
  • Self-provided funds

Types of UK work visa

The following types of UK work visa are currently available:

Tier 1 Visa: Exceptional Talent

This visa is for those recognized as leaders in science, humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology, and the arts. This needs to be endorsed by the UK Home Office and only 1,000 of these visas are issued each year. It is valid for up to five years and can be extended for another five years.

Tier 2 Visa: General

The general visa is for those who have been offered a skilled job (annual salary at least £25,000) and have been sponsored by a licensed organization related to their employment. It is valid for up to six years.

Tier 2 Visa: Intra-company Transfer

This visa for those whose overseas employer has offered them a transfer to a UK branch, on condition of sponsorship. The visa can be valid for between six months and nine years, depending on the position offered.

Tier 2 Visa: Minister of Religion

A visa for those who have been offered a job within a faith community, on condition of sponsorship. The visa is valid for up to three years and can be extended.

Tier 2 Visa: Sportsperson

This visa is for elite sportspeople or qualified coaches endorsed by their sport’s national governing body. The visa is valid for up to three years and can be extended for a further three years.

Tier 5 Visa: Temporary Worker

A visa for those engaging in temporary work as a charity volunteer, sports person or creative worker, religious worker, on a government-authorized exchange or as part of an international agreement, providing sponsorship has been secured. The temporary work visa is valid for between 1 and 2 years, depending on the purpose.

Work permit UK

Tier 5 Visa: Youth Mobility Scheme

A visa for those aged 18-30 from Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, South Korea, or Taiwan who have at least £1,890 in savings. The visa is valid for up to two years.

Domestic Workers in Private Household Visa

This visa is for private domestic workers who have worked for their employer for at least a year. Valid for a maximum of six months.

Permitted Paid Engagement Visa

This is a visa that can be used for short-term paid work in the UK without sponsorship. Valid for one month.

There are also specific work visas available for Turkish nationals and citizens from Commonwealth countries with a grandparent born in the UK. Further information is available here.

Can I work in the UK in a low-skilled position?

There are currently no UK work visas available for low-skilled jobs in the UK for non-EU/EFTA nationals as these positions are filled by UK and EU/EFTA nationals. This may change as a result of Brexit if labor shortages emerge. When the points-based system began in 2008, there were plans to issue Tier 3 UK work visas for low-skilled work but this has never been implemented.

Can I work in the UK as a self-employed individual or a freelancer?

The following types of UK work visa are available for those wanting to work in a freelance or self-employed capacity:

Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa

Visa for those who want to set up or run a business in the UK who have access to at least £50,000 of investment funds. The visa is valid for three years and can be extended for up to an additional three years.

Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa

Visa for graduates with business ideas that have been endorsed by either the UK Department for International Trade or a qualifying UK higher education institution. The visa is valid for one year and can be extended for a further year.

Tier 1 (Investor) visa

Visa for those willing to invest at least £2 million in the UK. The visa is valid for three years and can be extended for a further two years.

Work visas for training placements and volunteering

If you are coming to the UK from a non-EU/EFTA country for the purposes of training or volunteering, you can apply under the Tier 5 (Temporary) visa for charity volunteering and specific training programs that have been internationally agreed. You can also enter the UK for training purposes under a short-term study visa which is valid for six months, or a Permitted Paid Engagement visa which is valid for one month.

Students working in the UK

If you are a non-EU/EFTA national studying in the UK on a Tier 4 student visa, you are permitted to work in the UK under the student visa in most jobs. There are certain jobs such as those in professional sports or coaching that you cannot do.

Students under 18 who are studying at an independent private school on the Tier 4 (Child) student visa may work up to 10 hours a week during term time and full-time during vacations. They may also take up work placements.

Working in the UK

Those studying short courses on a short-term study visa are not allowed to work.

See our guide to UK student visas for more information.

Applying for a UK work visa

You can submit your visa application at the UK visa application center in your home country. There is a list of UK visa application centers worldwide here. You can also apply online through the UK Home Office Visas and Immigration Service website.

The documents you must provide depend on the type of visa you’re applying for. If you’re applying for a Tier 2 (General) visa, you must provide:

  • a valid passport or travel ID
  • evidence that you can support yourself financially (e.g., bank statements, sponsor confirmation)
  • proof of English language ability
  • proof of payment of the healthcare surcharge

You also must submit a tuberculosis test if you’re coming to the UK for more than six months and are from any of the countries listed here.

Once you complete the form, book an appointment at the UK visa application center.

Visa processing times vary according to visa type and where you’re applying from. Check the standard processing times here.

The UK Visas and Immigration offers information on managing your application. It contains information on getting documents back and reporting changes in your circumstances, which can be found here.

When you arrive in the UK, you may need to register your visa with the police. You’ll receive information about this in your UK visa sticker or letter from the UK Home Office. More information is available here.

A link to set up an account for your UK work visa application online is available here. A link to calculate how much healthcare surcharge you will have to pay can be found here.

Your work visa length depends on the length of your employment contract. You may extend it if you don’t exceed the maximum length for your visa type. Apply online or at a UK visa premium service center.

What does a UK work visa cost?

The work visa costs depend on the type of visa and the length of time you are staying. A Tier 2 (General) visa valid for 3 years currently costs £575.

You can check your UK work visa costs on the UK Visas and Immigration website here.

Applying for a Biometric residence permit

Citizens from non-EU/EFTA countries who want to stay in the UK for longer than six months need to apply for a UK biometric residence permit (BRP). The BRP is valid for the duration of your stay in the UK, up to a maximum of 10 years.

You can apply for a UK biometric residence permit from inside the UK at a post office or visa premium service center. Outside of the UK, go to a UK visa application center. A list of visa premium service centers in the UK is available here.

Residents can apply for a permanent residence permit or for full UK citizenship after living in the UK for 5 years. See our guide to British citizenship and permanent residence for more information.