As an expat, you might need authorization to work in London or another British city. Learn how to go about working in the UK legally and successfully.
Your right to work in the UK as a foreigner currently depends on where you are traveling from as well as what type of work you are looking to carry out. If you are coming to the UK for employment purposes, 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, meaning 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 in 2008 which controls the flow of workers from non-EU/EFTA countries as part of a ‘managed migration’ process. Immigration and the right of foreigners to live and work in the UK is a heated topic and recent governments have tightened regulations, including penalising both employers and landlords who don’t carry out sufficient checks on employees and residents. Recent changes to UK work visas include increasing salary thresholds and language requirements, as well as closing some of the UK work visa categories.
This guide to working in the UK will cover:
- Can I work in the UK?
- Relocating to work in London or another area of the country
- The UK immigration points-based assessment system
- Types of UK work visa
- Can I work in the UK in a low-skilled position?
- Can I work in the UK as a self-employed individual or freelancer?
- UK work visas for training placements and volunteering
- Students working in the UK
- Applying for a UK work visa
- What does a UK work visa cost?
- Applying for a biometric residence permit
If you are a citizen of an EU/EFTA country, you currently have the right to live in the UK and work without a UK work visa. See our guide to EU/EFTA citizens moving to the UK for more information.
All non-EU/EFTA citizens will need a UK work visa to work in London and other areas of the country. Nationals from some countries are able to enter the UK and stay for up to 6 months without a visa but they are not permitted to do paid or unpaid 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 are a non-EU/EFTA national wanting to work in the UK, you will need a work permit UK relating to the type of work that you are doing. See the below section for information on types of UK work visas available. Most of the UK work visas require sponsorships from the UK-based employer so you will need to have secured a suitable job and sponsorship before applying for the UK work visa. UK work visas are not currently available for casual or low-skilled employment so it is not possible to enter the UK on another type of visa and take up casual, temporary or low-skilled work.
Information on UK work visa sponsorships for Tier 2 and Tier 5 visas can be found here.
You will also need to apply for a Biometric residence permit if you are staying in the UK for longer than 6 months.
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 are entitled to work. See our guide on applying for a family visa in the UK for more information.
UK work visa eligibility is dependent on having a job offer and in most cases sponsorship. If you are coming to work in the UK as a non-EU/EFTA national, you will first need to find a suitable job. As mentioned, UK work visas are not currently issued for low-skilled work so you will need to 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.
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:
- Future expected earnings
- English language skills
- Self-provided funds
The following types of UK work visa are currently available:
> Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa – visa for those recognised 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 5 years and can be extended for another 5 years.
> Tier 2 (General) visa – visa for those who have been offered a skilled job (annual salary at least £25,000) and have been sponsored by licensed organisation related to their employment. It is valid for up to 6 years.
> Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) visa – 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 6 months and 9 years, depending on the position offered.
> Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) visa – visa for those who have been offered a job within a faith community, on condition of sponsorship. The visa is valid for up to 3 years and can be extended.
> Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visa – visa for elite sportspeople or qualified coaches endorsed by their sport’s national governing body. The visa is valid for up to 3 years and can be extended for a further 3 years.
> Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) visa – visa for those engaging in temporary work as a charity volunteer, sports person or creative worker, religious worker, on a government authorised 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.
> Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visa – 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 2 years.
> Domestic Workers in Private Household visa – visa for private domestic workers who have worked for their employer for at least a year. Valid for a maximum of 6 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 1 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.
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.
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 3 years and can be extended for up to an additional 3 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 1 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 3 years and can be extended for a further 2 years.
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 programmes that have been internationally agreed. You can also enter the UK for training purposes under a Short-term study visa which is valid for 6 months, or a Permitted Paid Engagement visa which is valid for 1 month.
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 related to professional sports or coaching that you will not be allowed to perform.
Students aged under 18 who are studying at an independent private school on the Tier 4 (Child) student visa are allowed to work up to 10 hours a week during term time and full-time during vacations. There are also permitted to take up work placements.
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.
You can make your UK work visa application at the UK visa application centre in your home country. You can find a list of UK visa application centres worldwide here. You can also apply online through the UK Home Office Visas and Immigration Service website.
The documents you will need to provide depend on the type of visa you are applying for. If you are applying for a Tier 2 (General) visa, you will need to provide:
- a valid passport or travel ID
- evidence that you can support yourself financially for the duration of your stay (e.g. bank statements or sponsor confirmation)
- proof of English language ability
- proof of payment of the healthcare surcharge
You will also need to have a tuberculosis test if you are coming to the UK for more than 6 months and are from any of the countries listed here.
Once you have completed the UK work visa application form, printed it and filled it out, you will need to book an appointment at the UK visa application centre in your home country.
Visa processing times vary according to visa type and where you are applying from. You can check the standard processing time for your UK work visa here.
The UK Visas and Immigration website has information on managing your UK work visa application, containing information on things such as getting documents back and reporting a change in your circumstances, which can be found here.
When you arrive in the UK, you may need to register your UK work visa with the police. You should receive information about whether you need to register in your UK visa sticker or letter from the UK Home Office. More information can be found here.
Your work visa length will depend on the length of your employment contract and you might be permitted to extend it if you haven’t exceeded the maximum length for your visa type. You will need to apply for an extension either online or at a UK visa premium service centre.
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.
Citizens from non-EU/EFTA countries who want to stay in the UK for longer than 6 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 centre, or from outside the UK at a UK visa application centre. A list of Visa premium service centres in the UK can be found 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.