Many people move to the UK to work there and support family back home. Whether you’ve dreamed of working in the London financial sector or taking a seasonal job at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, there are several pathways to getting a work visa in the United Kingdom. Long-term work visas, short-term work visas, and self-employment-based visas all have different eligibility criteria.
Once you have a work visa, you can stay in the U.K. for anywhere from six months to five years, depending on the type of visa you’ve applied for.
Here’s what you need to know about how to get a work visa in the U.K. and how to prepare for your U.K. visa application.
Do you need a visa to work in the U.K.?
Most overseas citizens require a visa to work in the U.K. Ever since Brexit, this includes citizens of the European Union (EU). The primary exceptions are:
- If at least one of your grandparents was born in the U.K., you may be eligible for an Ancestry visa, which includes the right to work.
- If you’re an Irish citizen, you may live and work in the U.K. under the Common Travel Area (CTA) agreement.
- If you’re a Commonwealth citizen of a British Overseas Territory or have the right of abode in the U.K., you don’t need a work permit or visa.
- If you’re a citizen of the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland and have indefinite leave to remain, you don’t need an additional work visa.
The right to work in the U.K. and the right to enter the U.K. are two different things.
Citizens of countries like the U.S., New Zealand, Canada, and Australia can stay in the U.K. for up to six months as a visitor. They can even attend business meetings or interviews—but they can’t receive paid employment.
Student visa holders in the U.K. typically have work rights, but with restrictions on the type of work and the number of hours.
Types of work visas in the U.K.
There are three main visa categories: short-term, long-term, and entrepreneur/business visas.
Short-term work visas
The Youth Mobility Scheme is available to young people from specific countries, such as Canada, Australia, Japan, and South Korea, and you must be between the ages of 18 and 30 when you apply. This temporary visa allows you to stay in the U.K. for up to two years, and you don’t need to have a job offer before you arrive.
The Graduate visa is available to applicants who have completed a course of study in the U.K., such as a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree. With this visa, you can live and work in the U.K. for up to two years (three if you have a Ph.D. or doctorate).
The Charity Worker visa allows you to stay for up to 12 months and volunteer for a licensed sponsor; however, you can’t perform any paid work on this visa.
The Seasonal Worker visa allows you to work for up to six months in the horticultural industry if you have a certificate of sponsorship from a U.K. employer.
The Creative Worker visa (formerly the Creative and Sporting visa) lets you work as a creative professional, such as an actor or musician, for up to 12 months. You can also take a second job in the same industry or in a Skilled Worker shortage occupation.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, and other types of temporary workers, such as religious workers, may be eligible for a temporary work visa.
Long-term work visas
Long-term work visas allow you to stay in the U.K. for a longer period, usually up to five years, and may offer a pathway to permanent residency. These visas also allow you to include your partner and children on the application.
The Skilled Worker visa uses a points-based system to determine your eligibility. You’ll need a job offer from an employer approved by the Home Office, have knowledge of the English language, and receive a minimum salary. Eligible occupations include graphic designers, fitness instructors, laboratory technicians, and dozens more.
The Health and Care Worker visa is primarily for medical professionals who want to work for the National Health Service (NHS). For this visa, you won’t need to pay the healthcare surcharge that’s attached to the Skilled Worker visa.
The Senior or Specialist Worker visa (formerly the Intra-Company Transfer Visa) is designed for employees being transferred to a U.K. branch of the same company.
Other long-term work visas include the International Sportsperson visa, Minister of Religion visa, and the Representative of an Overseas Business visa.
Entrepreneur and self-employed visas
The U.K. immigration system doesn’t have a work visa for freelancers, but some self-employed workers may be eligible for one of the following visas.
The Start-up visa and Innovator visa are for applicants with “an original business idea which is different from anything else on the market.” You’ll need to be sponsored by an “endorsing body” or a higher-education institution in the U.K.
The Global Talent visa is for “leaders or potential leaders” in the fields of academia, arts and culture, or technology.
How to get a work visa in the U.K.
The application process for a U.K. visa depends on where you’re located and which visa you’re applying for. Most visa applications can be submitted online, but you may need to visit a visa application centre near you for a biometrics appointment.
You’ll need to gather documents such as:
- Passport or other ID document
- Proof of funds (such as a bank statement)
- Proof of English-language proficiency
- Results of a tuberculosis test
- Certificate of sponsorship from an employer
Not these documents are required for every visa, and residents of some countries may use the UK Immigration: ID Check app to prove their identity.
You’ll also need to pay an application fee, which ranges from £247 for a Health and Care Worker to £1,423 for some Skilled Worker applications.
How long does it take to get a work visa in the U.K.? Most work visa applications are processed within 3-8 weeks, and you can apply up to three months in advance.
Transfer money the easy way
Getting a work visa is just the first step in the process of moving abroad. You’ll also want to open a bank account in the U.K., understand the GBP exchange rate, and find an easy way to send money overseas.
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