Work Visa UK: A Guide for Overseas Nationals

work visa uk


To be able to work in the UK as a foreign national, you will first need to ensure you have the relevant permission. In most cases, this will mean applying for a UK work visa.

The allure of working in the UK is multifaceted, rooted in its robust economy, diverse cultural landscape, and high standard of living. Offering a rich tapestry of opportunities and experiences, the UK continues to attract individuals from all corners of the globe. The nation’s economy benefits from historical industrial strength and forward-thinking innovation, making it a dynamic place to grow your career.

The UK presents a wealth of career opportunities for professionals in various sectors, including finance, technology, healthcare, and the creative industries.

Cultural diversity is another cornerstone of the UK’s appeal. It is a melting pot of traditions, languages, and cultures, thanks partly to its history of immigration and global connections.

This diversity is celebrated across London, Manchester, Edinburgh, and Birmingham. This multicultural environment enriches the UK’s social fabric and contributes to a more inclusive workplace culture.

Quality of life in the UK is underpinned by its comprehensive healthcare system, the National Health Service (NHS), which provides residents with access to essential healthcare services.

The UK’s education system is also renowned for its quality, offering excellent options for workers with families.

The country’s rich historical legacy, combined with its natural beauty—from the rugged Scottish Highlands to the serene coastlines of Cornwall—adds to its appeal as a destination for work and living.

The opportunity to work and live in the UK depends on navigating the country’s visa and immigration system and obtaining the correct visa.

The UK operates a complex immigration system comprising short-term and longer-term work visas. Most work visa routes are assessed on a points-based basis, while others have been designed for specific types of workers and roles and have specific eligibility requirements.

The complexity of the visa process and the importance of compliance cannot be understated, as it ensures both the legal right to work in the UK and access to the country’s social services.

In this guide, we provide a comprehensive overview of the UK work visa system, including the visa options for workers to consider, with insight into how to prepare to make a UK work visa application.


Section A: Overview of the UK Visa System for Workers


Understanding the UK visa system’s structure and the principles underlying the points-based immigration system is essential for anyone considering working in the UK. It helps identify the most appropriate visa route based on one’s skills and circumstances and navigate the application process more effectively. This knowledge ensures that applicants are well-prepared and meet all the requirements, facilitating a smoother transition to working and living in the UK.

The UK visa system is a comprehensive framework designed to manage the flow of people entering the country for various purposes, including work, study, tourism, and family reunification.

Central to this system is its flexibility and adaptability, allowing it to accommodate a wide range of skills, professions, and employment circumstances. This inclusivity is crucial in attracting international talent and workers to support the UK’s economy and fill specific skills gaps in the labour market.

At the heart of the UK’s approach to immigration is the points-based system, introduced to ensure a fair, objective, and transparent process for assessing visa applications. This system assigns points to applicants based on specific criteria, such as qualifications, salary, proficiency in English, and job offers in shortage occupations. The points-based immigration system is segmented into various visa routes, each tailored to different needs and objectives.

For example, the Skilled Worker Visa caters to individuals who have received a job offer from a UK employer. At the same time, the Global Talent Visa is aimed at current and future leaders in academia, the arts, and technology.

The design of the UK visa system, with its emphasis on the points-based approach, reflects the country’s strategic goal of attracting and retaining high-skilled workers from around the globe. It aims to be responsive to the needs of the UK labour market while ensuring that immigration is managed effectively and sustainably. This system allows the UK to remain competitive in the global race for talent, supporting its sectors and industries by providing access to a diverse and skilled international workforce.


Section B: Types of Work Visas in the UK


Anyone working in the UK needs the right to work.

While UK citizens and those with settled status automatically have permission to work, non-UK resident foreign nationals must apply for the right to work here lawfully, which typically means applying for a work visa.

The type of visa you would need will depend on your circumstances and the nature of the work you intend to do in the UK.

You must also understand the specific eligibility criteria, permissions, and restrictions for the visa category you’re applying for. For example, some visas require the applicant to have a job offer in the UK, some require sponsorship by an approved employer, some will allow the worker to bring their family, and others will open a path to UK permanent residence. These are all factors to consider when determining which visa is best for you.

Under the current immigration system, workers can come to the UK to work under the following routes:


1. If you have a job offer in the UK


Skilled Worker Visa

Health and Care Worker Visa


2. If you don’t have a job offer in the UK


British National Overseas Visa

Graduate Visa

Youth Mobility Scheme Visa

Global Talent Visa

UK ancestry Visa

High Potential Individual HPI visa


3. If you will be working in the UK for your overseas employer


Senior or specialist worker visa (Global Business Mobility)

UK expansion worker visa (Global Business Mobility)

Graduate trainee visa (Global Business Mobility)

Secondment worker visa (Global Business Mobility)

Service supplier visa (Global Business Mobility)

Overseas domestic worker visa

Representative of an overseas business visa

Service providers from Switzerland


4. If you are looking to apply for temporary or seasonal work


Seasonal worker visa (temporary work)

Government Authorised Exchange Visa (Temporary Work)

Creative Worker visa (Temporary Work)

Religious Worker visa (Temporary Work)

Charity Worker visa (Temporary Work)

International Agreement visa (Temporary Work)


5. Working in your own UK business


Self Sponsorship

Innovator Founder Route


6. Other UK work visas and permits


Scale-up Worker visa

International Sportsperson visa

Minister of Religion visa (T2)

Frontier Worker Permit

Exempt Vignette


7. Work visas that are closed to new applicants


Entrepreneur visa (Tier 1)
Investor visa (Tier 1)
Turkish Businessperson visa
Turkish Worker visa

Start-up visa


8. Sponsors and sponsorship


UK visa sponsorship for employers

UK visa sponsorship management system

Employees: if your visa sponsor loses their licence


Section C: Applying for a UK Work Visa


The application process for a UK work visa can vary depending on the visa type. Generally, you can complete an online application form, compile and submit the relevant supporting documents, and attend a visa appointment centre to submit your biometric information.

Additional steps may be required for certain visas, such as the Innovator Founder, which requires endorsement by an authorised body before the visa application.

The application process is structured to ensure that the prospective employee and their UK employer meet specific criteria set by the UK government. Although this process can appear straightforward, it requires attention to detail to ensure all requirements are met and to avoid issues or delays with application processing.


1. General Application Process for UK Work Visas


Step 1. Determine the Appropriate Visa Type
Applicants must first identify the visa category that best suits their situation, such as the Skilled Worker Visa, Health and Care Worker Visa, or Global Talent Visa.


Step 2. Check to Meet the Eligibility Criteria
Each visa type has specific eligibility requirements, including salary thresholds, English language proficiency, and the level of the job offer in the UK’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes.

Applicants must prove they satisfy these requirements by submitting evidence as part of their application.


Step 3. Gather Required Documents
Applicants need to prepare the necessary documents, including a valid passport, the Certificate of Sponsorship reference number, proof of knowledge of English, and bank statements to show they can support themselves in the UK.


Step 4. Application Submission
Visa applications are submitted online through the official UK government website.

Some visas allow applications from within the UK if the applicant is extending their stay or switching from another visa.


Step 5. Pay the Visa Fee and Healthcare Surcharge
Applicants must pay the application fee and, in most cases, the Immigration Health Surcharge, which grants access to the National Health Service (NHS) during their stay.

Health and Care Worker visa applicants are exempt from the IHS.


Step 6. Biometrics
Applicants must provide fingerprints and a photo at a visa application centre as part of the application process.


Step 7. Wait for Decision
The processing times can vary depending on the visa type and the applicant’s country. Some visa routes offer expedited processing for an additional fee.


2. Certificates of Sponsorship


Depending on the visa route you are applying for, you may have to meet further requirements and follow additional steps in the visa application process.

Most overseas workers come to the UK under sponsored work routes, such as the Skilled Worker visa, which requires the applicant to have a qualifying job offer from a UK employer licensed to sponsor overseas workers. To prove this requirement has been met, the UK employer must provide a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to the applicant, which confirms that the job offer and the role comply with the visa requirements.

The Certificate of Sponsorship is not an actual certificate but a unique reference number that the sponsoring employer provides to the applicant. The applicant then uses this code when making their visa application to the Home Office.

The CoS is a critical component of the sponsored work visa application process. It verifies that the applicant has been offered a genuine job that meets the skill and salary requirements of the visa category.

It also assures that the sponsoring employer has met their obligations, such as checking the applicant’s suitability for the role and ensuring that a worker from the UK cannot fill the position.

Finally, the CoS holds vital information about the job offer, including the role, salary, and employer sponsorship license number, which is necessary for the visa application.

Employers must apply to the UK Home Office for a sponsor licence. Once licensed, they can issue Certificates of Sponsorship to prospective, eligible foreign workers.

Read our comprehensive guide to sponsor licence applications here.


Section D: Preparing to Work in the UK


Beyond securing the relevant work visa, preparing for life in the UK involves a combination of practical arrangements and cultural adjustments. Moving to a new country is a significant step, and being well-prepared can help make the transition smoother.


1. Finding accommodation


a. Research Ahead
Before moving, research different areas and types of accommodation to find a place that suits your lifestyle and budget. Websites like Rightmove and Zoopla can offer insights into rental prices and availability.


b. Consider Location
Proximity to work, public transportation, and amenities should be considered. The UK has an extensive public transport system, so living a bit further from your workplace could be more affordable.

Read more about places to live in the UK here.


c. Rental Process
Be prepared for background checks, providing references, and potentially paying a deposit plus the first month’s rent upfront. Understanding the rights and responsibilities of tenancy is crucial.

Read more about finding somewhere to live in the UK here.


2. Understanding the Healthcare System


a. National Health Service (NHS)
The UK’s healthcare is provided by the NHS, which offers free healthcare at the point of use for residents and is funded through taxation. Register with a General Practitioner (GP) once you have a permanent address.


b. Immigration Healthcare Surcharge
Most visa applications require payment of the Immigration Health Surcharge, granting access to the NHS.

Read our comprehensive guide to the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge here.


c. Private Healthcare
While the NHS provides comprehensive care, some opt for private health insurance for faster access to specific treatments or for conditions not covered by the NHS.


3. Setting Up a Bank Account


a. Required Documents
To open a bank account, you’ll typically need your passport, proof of address (like a utility bill or tenancy agreement), and sometimes proof of employment or student status.


b. Choosing a Bank
Research to find a bank that offers services tailored to your needs. Some banks have accounts specially designed for newcomers.


c. Digital Banking
Consider digital-only banks, which can offer a quicker setup process and may require fewer documents to open an account.


4. Learn about UK Culture and the Workplace Environment


Adjusting to life in the UK will take time, and there may be challenges along the way. However, with the proper preparation and an open mindset, you can make the most of the opportunities and experiences of living and working in the UK.


a. Embrace diversity
The UK is culturally diverse, especially in urban areas. Embracing this diversity and being open to different cultures and perspectives can enhance your experience.


b. Understand the Work Culture
The UK workplace is known for its politeness, punctuality, and balance between formality and informality. Familiarise yourself with the etiquette in your sector to make a good impression.


c. Social Opportunities
Engage with social opportunities through work, hobbies, or local community groups to build a network and understand local customs and practices.


d. Learn Local Slang and Phrases
The UK has a rich tapestry of local dialects and slang. Learning these can help you feel more at home and build rapport with colleagues and neighbours.


e. Respect Queuing Etiquette
The British are known for their strict adherence to queuing. It’s part of their national identity and is seen in everyday situations, from waiting for a bus to buying groceries.


Section E: Conclusion


Embarking on a new chapter in the UK is not just about advancing your career; it’s about immersing yourself in a rich cultural tapestry and experiencing the vibrant diversity of life in one of the world’s most dynamic countries.

The UK offers a unique blend of historical heritage and modern innovation. It is a place where tradition meets contemporary life, from the bustling streets of London to the serene landscapes of the Scottish Highlands. The UK is a land of endless possibilities and experiences.

The journey to securing your place in the UK workforce centres on detailed preparation and a thorough understanding of the immigration requirements.

Selecting the appropriate visa and meticulously adhering to the correct application process are central to your prospects of success when planning to work in the UK. Choosing the correct visa ensures that your skills and aspirations align with the opportunities available while following the proper application process, which is crucial to successfully navigating the UK’s immigration system.

We strongly encourage all prospective overseas workers to take professional advice for the most accurate and current information, guidance and support throughout the visa application process.


Section F: FAQ Section: Working and Living in the UK


How do I find out which UK work visa I am eligible for?
The type of visa you’re eligible for depends on your skills, qualifications, and the nature of the job offer in the UK.


What are the basic requirements for a UK work visa?

While requirements vary by visa type, standard criteria include:

• Having a job offer from a UK employer.
• Meeting English language proficiency.
• Having enough funds to support yourself.

Some visas also have specific salary thresholds and skills requirements.


Can I bring my family to the UK on a work visa?
This depends on the visa you’re applying for. Most UK work visas allow you to bring dependents, including your spouse, partner, and children under 18. They must apply for dependant visas, and you must prove you can financially support them during their stay.


How do I extend my UK work visa?
To extend your work visa, you must apply online before your current visa expires, continue to meet the eligibility criteria, and have the same or new job in the same category. The process and fees vary depending on your specific visa type.


What happens if I lose my job while on a UK work visa?
If you lose your job, your visa might be curtailed, and you’ll need to find another job and apply for a new visa within a certain period or leave the UK. The specifics depend on your visa type, so check the UK government’s guidance.


Can I change employers while on a UK work visa?
Yes, you can change employers while on a work visa. Still, depending on your circumstances, you’ll need to apply for a new Certificate of Sponsorship from your new employer and possibly apply to update or change your visa.


How long does it take to process a UK work visa application?
Processing times can vary widely depending on the visa type, time of year, and your Location. Generally, it can take anywhere from 3 weeks to several months. You can check the current processing times on the official UK government website.


Is healthcare free in the UK for work visa holders?
Work visa holders have access to the National Health Service (NHS). Still, they must pay the Immigration Health Surcharge as part of their visa application, which grants them access to the NHS on the same terms as UK residents.


What is the cost of living in the UK, and how can I prepare for it?
The cost of living varies greatly across the UK, with London and other large cities being significantly more expensive than smaller towns and rural areas. Researching and budgeting for your accommodation, food, transportation, and other essentials based on your destination is crucial.


Can I study while working in the UK on a work visa?
Yes, you can study while on a UK work visa, but your course must not interfere with the job you’ve been sponsored to do. Some visas may require an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate if you study sensitive subjects.

This FAQ section aims to address common concerns, but always check the latest official guidance or consult with a legal expert for personal advice, as immigration rules can change.


Section G: Additional Resources and Support


Government Resources


Gov. uk (Visas and Immigration): The official portal for all visa-related information, including guidelines on application processes, eligibility, and fees. Gov.UK Visas and Immigration


UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA): While primarily aimed at students, UKCISA provides valuable information on working during and after studies, which can be relevant for those on student visas looking to switch to work visas. UKCISA


NHS (National Health Service): Essential information on accessing healthcare services in the UK for overseas workers. NHS Health Services for Overseas Visitors


Non-Government Resources


Citizens Advice: Provides free, confidential, and independent advice on various issues, including employment rights, housing, and legal matters. Citizens Advice


The Law Society: For finding solicitors in England and Wales who can provide legal advice on immigration, employment law, and more. The Law Society


Migrant Help: A charity offering advice and support for asylum seekers, refugees, and victims of human trafficking or modern slavery in the UK. Migrant Help


British Council: Offers resources for cultural education and English language learning, which can be beneficial for integrating into UK society. British Council


The Expatriate Archive Centre provides insights into the expatriate experience and can be a resource for understanding the challenges and opportunities of living abroad. Expatriate Archive Centre


UK Trade Union Congress (TUC): Provides information on workers’ rights and has a comprehensive guide for workers from abroad. TUC – Work Rights in the UK


Expat Community Websites and Forums


Expat Forum: A platform where expats in the UK share advice, experiences, and support on various topics, including visa applications and adjusting to life in the UK. Expat Forum for People Moving Overseas


Meetup: Offers a wide range of groups for expatriates looking to meet others and find communities within the UK. Great for cultural integration and networking. Meetup


Section H: Glossary


Biometrics: Unique physical characteristics (such as fingerprints and facial photographs) are used to verify identity during the visa application process.


Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS): A licensed UK employer gives a reference number to individuals they wish to employ. This number is essential for most work visa applications.


Dependent: A family member (such as a spouse, partner, or child under 18) eligible to accompany or join someone with a valid UK visa under specific conditions.


Gov. uk: The official website of the UK government, providing information on all public sector information and services, including visas and immigration.


Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS): A fee visa applicants pay to access the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) during their stay.


National Health Service (NHS): The publicly funded healthcare system of the UK provides a wide range of healthcare services, including general practitioner services, hospital treatments, and more.


Points-Based Immigration System: The UK’s system for managing immigration, where applicants earn points for specific skills, salaries, professions, or qualifications to qualify for a visa.


Skilled Worker Visa: This visa category is for individuals who have been offered a job in the UK by a licensed sponsor and meet other eligibility criteria, such as salary thresholds and language proficiency.


Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) Codes: A coding system used to classify jobs based on their skill level and job content for immigration and other purposes.


Tier 2 Visa: A previous term used for what is now often referred to as the Skilled Worker Visa, part of the UK’s points-based immigration system for work visas.


Visa Extension: The process of applying to extend the validity of your current visa under specific conditions before it expires.



Gill Laing is a qualified Legal Researcher & Analyst with niche specialisms in Law, Tax, Human Resources, Immigration & Employment Law.

Gill is a Multiple Business Owner and the Managing Director of Prof Services - a Marketing & Content Agency for the Professional Services Sector.

Legal disclaimer


The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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