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An Overview of the Main Types of UK Work Visas

There are a range of different work visas which give migrant workers permission to work in the UK. This article provides a high-level overview of two of the most common types of UK work visas, the Skilled Worker visa and the Global Business Mobility visa. We will also look at some further options for migrants seeking to establish themselves in the UK.

Who needs a UK work visa?

The issue of whether or not you can work in the UK depends upon your immigration status. Generally, you will have an automatic right to work in the UK if:

  • You are a British or Irish citizen

  • You have a right of abode in the UK

  • You have indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK (and, in some cases, you may have a right to work in the UK if you have limited permission to enter or remain – i.e. you have a visa with a time limit)

  • You have pre-settled or settled status with the EU Settlement Scheme

If you do not fall into one of the aforementioned categories, then you will most probably require a work visa in order to undertake paid work in the UK.

In light of this, it is important to be mindful of the restrictions on visitors with regard to working in the UK. Visitors are classified as people who wish to visit the UK on a temporary basis and in the context of work, there are limited permitted activities they can carry out pursuant to the Immigration Rules. A permitted activity consists of limited business activities such as attending meetings, signing contracts and carrying out site visits or inspections. However it excludes any substantive work, undertaking paid employment, running a business, completing a work placement or internship and the directing, selling or rendering of services to the public.

The main types of UK work visas

If a UK business wishes to sponsor a migrant worker to work in the UK, they must first obtain a Sponsor Licence from the Home Office. In contrast, unsponsored work visas allow individuals to work in the UK without the need for sponsorship by an employer, although this is generally less common and applicable to very specific situations or achievements (for example, under the Innovator Founder, Youth Mobility Scheme or High Potential Individual, amongst others).

There are currently two main types of sponsored UK work visas for Skilled or Specialised Migrant workers, and these are outlined below:

Skilled Worker

The Skilled Worker visa allows applicants to come to the UK to undertake an eligible job with an approved UK employer.

The applicant must:

  • Have been offered a job by a UK employer approved by the Home Office
  • Receive from the employer a valid ‘certificate of sponsorship’ outlining important information regarding the job they have been offered
  • Undertake a job that’s on a list of eligible occupations
  • Be paid a salary which meets a minimum threshold depending on the type of work being done

The applicant will also be required to meet an English language requirement, demonstrate satisfactory financial means (unless done so by the Sponsor) and pay the necessary fees.

An applicant can stay in the UK for up to five years on a Skilled Worker visa, following which they can choose to extend or update their visa. This can be done as many times as they wish, provided they continue to meet the eligibility requirements. An applicant can also bring dependants if applicable.

After five years a skilled worker may be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK, giving them an unlimited right to work in the UK as well as access to the NHS and certain benefits in the UK.

Global Business Mobility

The Global Business Mobility (GBM) visa allows applicants to come to the UK to undertake temporary work as a Senior or Specialist Worker, Graduate Trainee, UK Expansion Worker, Service Supplier or Secondment Worker. This article will focus specifically on the GBM (Senior or Specialist Worker) and the GBM (UK Expansion Worker) routes.

The GBM (Senior or Specialist Worker) visa allows senior or specialist applicants to come to the UK to undertake an eligible job at their overseas employer’s UK branch.

The applicant must:

  • Be an existing employee of an employer approved by the Home Office
  • Receive from the employer a valid ‘certificate of sponsorship’ outlining important information regarding the role they will do in the UK
  • Undertake a role in the UK that’s on a list of eligible occupations for this visa
  • Be paid at least £45,800 a year (or more depending on the occupation)

The applicant will also have to demonstrate satisfactory financial means (unless done so by the Sponsor) and pay the necessary fees.

An applicant can stay in the UK for the shorter of the time stated on their certificate of sponsorship plus 14 days or for five years, following which they can choose to extend or update their visa. This can be done as many times as they wish, provided they do not exceed the maximum total stay (which is dependent on their annual salary). An applicant can also bring dependants if applicable.

Unlike a Skilled Worker visa, an applicant cannot apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK on this visa route.

In contrast, the GBM (UK Expansion Worker) visa allows senior or specialist applicants to come to the UK to set up a UK branch for their overseas employer which has not yet started trading in the UK.

The applicant must:

  • Be an existing employee of an overseas employer and have worked for the employer outside the UK
  • Receive from the employer a valid ‘certificate of sponsorship’ outlining important information regarding the role they will do in the UK
  • Undertake a role in the UK that’s on the list of eligible occupations
  • Be paid a salary which meets the minimum threshold depending on the type of work being done and is in any event greater than £45,800

The applicant will also be required to show satisfactory financial conditions and pay the necessary fees.

An applicant can stay in the UK for the shorter of either the time stated on their certificate of sponsorship plus 14 days or 12 months after the start date stated on their certificate of sponsorship. An applicant can extend their visa by 12 months however the maximum time they can stay in the UK is 2 years. An applicant can also bring dependants if applicable.

As with the GBM (Senior or Specialist) Worker visa and unlike a Skilled Worker visa, this visa route does not lead to Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.

In addition to the Skilled Worker visa and Global Business Mobility visa, there are a number of other work visas which migrant workers may consider applying for depending on their eligibility, including but not limited to:

Scale Up Visa

The Scale Up visa is a new sponsored work route which opened in August 2022. It allows applicants to come to the UK to undertake an eligible job for a Scale Up Business (i.e. a UK business which is growing rapidly) however, only certain businesses will meet the prescriptive eligibility criteria to be classified under this category.

The applicant must:

  • Have a job offer to work for an approved Scale Up business for a minimum of 6 months
  • Receive from the employer a valid ‘certificate of sponsorship’ outlining important information regarding the job they have been offered
  • Undertake a job that’s on a list of eligible occupations
  • Be paid a salary which meets a minimum threshold depending on the type of work being done

Similarly to the Skilled Worker visa, the applicant will need to meet an English language requirement, show satisfactory financial means and pay the necessary fees.

An applicant can stay in the UK for two years on a Scale Up visa, following which they can choose to extend or update their visa by three years. This can be done as many times as they wish, provided they continue to meet the eligibility requirements. An applicant can also bring dependants if applicable.

Again, as with the Skilled Worker visa, after five years an applicant may be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK, giving them an automatic right to work.

It should be noted that in contrast to the previous work visas mentioned in this article, workers on a Scale Up visa only have to be sponsored for the first six months of work, following which they can undertake unrestricted and unsponsored work (including becoming self-employed). Whilst this is an attractive prospect for the applicant, it is difficult to see how an employer would consider this a more suitable route than the traditional Skilled Worker visa.

Temporary

There are also multiple different types of temporary work visas which allow applicants to undertake short term or temporary work in the UK. The eligibility requirements and type of work which can be done vary depending on the type of temporary visa being applied for. The temporary work visas include, amongst others:

  • Charity worker visa
  • Creative worker visa
  • Government authorised exchange visa
  • International agreement visa
  • Religious worker visa
  • Seasonal worker visa

How long does it take to get a UK work visa?

Not including the time it takes for a Sponsor to become licensed with the Home Office, the length of time it takes for a work visa varies depending on the type of work visa being applied for. As a general guideline, the time taken to receive a decision, once the visa application has been submitted and the applicant’s identity has been verified, is typically 3 weeks if applying from outside of the UK or 8 weeks if applying from within the UK. However, it is not possible to provide exact timelines and applicants should be mindful that timelines are always subject to change. This has been even more the case in the last couple of years.

It may be possible to pay extra to get a faster decision.

Summary

Whilst this article provides a useful overview of the most popular types of UK work visas, there are a range of different work visas which may be applicable depending on an individual’s personal circumstances. If you require further information or advice regarding UK work visas, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Immigration Team.

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