UK ARRIVAL GUIDE | Unless you have a British or European Union passport, you will need a visa to work in the UK. Here we’ve given you a brief overview of the visa options and requirements.
You should investigate your options thoroughly before you apply. If you are not in the UK you should get in touch with 1st Contact in your home country well before you depart. They will provide you with a comprehensive visa service to ensure you meet immigration requirements before arrival.
Many countries won’t let you through customs if you have less than six months validity remaining on your passport, so check your passport has plenty of time remaining before you leave home.
Tier 5 – Youth Mobility Scheme
In mid 2008, the Home Office announced changes to the working holidaymaker scheme. This ever-popular visa has been replaced by Tier 5 of the UK’s 5-tier Points Based System (PBS), where it is now known as the Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS).
The main changes to the YMS are:
- You may work for the full 24-month period
- You must intend to take regular employment, not to engage in business or to provide services as a professional sportsperson
- You are not able to switch into other employment categories from within the UK
- You may not switch to or apply for Tier 5 if you have previously spent time in the UK as a working holidaymaker in the past.
The requirements for a person seeking entry clearance under YMS are that he/she:
- Is a citizen of a nation on the list of participating countries, (Currently South Africa is not included)
- Is aged from 18 to 30 (or is not yet 31 when given permission to enter the UK, even if you travel after your 31st birthday)
- Is unmarried, or married to a person who meets the requirements for entry under any of the UK immigration categories (at the same time)
- Is able and intends to maintain and accommodate themselves independently without recourse to public funds, where the level of funds required is £1 600
- Has the means to pay for their homeward or onward journey
- Intends to leave the UK at the end of the YMS.
This Visa allows Commonwealth citizens with strong ancestral ties (a British-born grandparent) to become eligible to live in the United Kingdom and perform unrestricted work for a period of up to five years from their arrival. This visa carries fewer restrictions than the YMS. You must apply
for this visa prior to coming to the UK. If you comply with
certain criteria you will be eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after being in the UK for five years on an Ancestry Visa. The criteria include not leaving the UK for a certain period of time and you must have made every attempt to remain in continuous employment for this period.
Tier 1 – General
The Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) was replaced by Tier 1 of the PBS in June 2008. It was a UK innovation since it was the first scheme designed to attract people to the UK, whereas all previous legislation had restricted entry. The initial qualifying criteria for HSMP were extremely high and made the original HSMP unobtainable for most potential applicants, unless you were a Nobel Prize winner! The criteria changed in June 2008 to make the scheme more realistic, where the scheme is now determined on a points system for age, qualifications and earnings over the 12 months prior to leaving. The criteria are an attempt to attract young, skilled professionals from overseas, where the visa is issued for a period of 36 months in the first instance and is followed by a two-year extension. On completion of the total five years, you can make an application for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR).
Qualifying criteria: To qualify for this scheme, candidates have to demonstrate that they can achieve the current points threshold. Points are allocated based on the following criteria:
- Past earnings
- UK experience
Additionally, all potential candidates also have to demonstrate the following mandatory requirements:
- Ability to speak English
- Ability to support and maintain themselves without recourse to public funds (certain fixed amounts apply depending on your location at the time of application).
Note: The criteria for South Africans are now much stricter
Skilled Sponsored Workers Work Permits were replaced by Tier 2 of the PBS in November 2008. Employers must hold a licence issued by the Home Office permitting them to issue Certificates of Sponsorship to eligible migrants. This Tier is designed to allow employers to recruit skilled foreign workers if they can demonstrate that they have tried to recruit in the UK or EU to fill the vacant position (they need to advertise job posts to UK residents through a UK job portal before they are able to consider recruiting a foreign employee outside of the EU), but that there were no suitable candidates available. This is called the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). In some cases, the requirement is waived if it is an Intra-Company Transfer (ICT).
The Tier 2 rules state that to apply, the employer must demonstrate that the candidate is suited to the position. The employee must then score the required points from the following three areas:
- Certificate of Sponsorship (RLMT, ICT or skills shortage)
- Prospective earnings
If granted, a Tier 2 Visa is valid for up to three years, after which an extension can be applied for. If you wish to change employers during this time your new employer will have to apply again for you. Once you’ve completed five years continuous work under Tier 2 in the UK, you can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.
If you marry in the UK, you may be able to change your visa status to become a dependant on your spouse’s status. This includes marriage to a British or EU national or someone with settlement status in the UK. The Home Office requires you to apply for a ‘Certificate of Approval’ to marry in the UK. If you married outside the UK, accompanying spouses and dependants of British citizens, or persons with UK settlement status who wish to travel to the UK, must seek to gain entry clearance prior to entering the UK. Other situations whereby spouses and dependants may apply for conditions in line with their partner/supporter include persons holding an Ancestry Visa or Student Visa. Again, these must be applied for prior to your departure to the UK. If you comply with certain criteria you will be eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after being in the UK for a certain amount of time on the Marriage Visa.
Unmarried Partners Visa
Legislation allows unmarried partners of British or European citizens or someone with a settlement status in the UK to apply for dependency, provided they have been in a relationship akin to marriage for a minimum of two years. Documentary proof is needed. If you comply with certain criteria you will be eligible to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain after being in the UK for a certain amount of time on the Unmarried Partners Visa.
Right of Abode
If you or one of your parents were born in the UK you can apply to register as a British citizen, where Right of Abode is not needed.
This is the process of becoming a British citizen. If you are married to a British citizen you may apply after three years of living in the UK – without having left for more than 270 days in the three-year period – and if you hold Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) status. If you qualify under the five-year residency criteria (based on Ancestry, Marriage to an EU national, Tier 1, etc), you may apply after five years of living in the UK – without having left for more than 450 days in the five-year period – and if you hold ILR status for at least 12 months. Essentially this makes it six years to qualify for residency.
The requirements for a Student Visa are that you are enrolled in a full-time course of study, which is either at degree level or leading towards a degree (one year or longer) that involves no less than 15 hours of organised study per week where the study is held at the college during daytime hours, Monday to Friday. This excludes study via correspondence, evening or weekend classes. Student Visas must now be applied for in your home country before departing for the UK.