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Global Mobility Basics
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Team Localyze

An in-depth guide for employers on work visas in the UK

Are you an employer in the UK looking to sponsor an employee from another country? The world of work visas and sponsor licences can be confusing, so we’ve created this in-depth guide to work visas and visa sponsorship in the UK. 

Who needs a work visa in the UK?

If you want to employ someone to work for you from outside the UK, you will need a sponsor licence and the employee you are looking to hire or relocate will need a work visa. It doesn’t matter whether the work is paid or unpaid—you will still need to deal with UK Visas and Immigration before the employee can begin to work for you. 

General information on visa sponsorship for employers

You will almost always need a sponsor licence to hire or relocate an employee from outside the UK. There are some unique situations where you will not need a licence, such as: (1) the employee is an Irish citizen, (2) the employee has either settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, (3) the employee has indefinite leave to remain in the UK or (4) the employee is eligible for a visa that doesn’t require sponsorship. For example: a spouse visa or ancestry visa. 

To be eligible for a sponsor licence, there are essentially four requirements

  • You do not have any criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes (i.e. fraud, money laundering, etc.);
  • You have not had a sponsor licence revoked in the last 12 months; 
  • You have a system in place to monitor any sponsored employees; and 
  • The job has a suitable skill level and pay or meets other criteria for the type of visa. 

There are two types of licences: one for workers (defined as skilled or long-term employees) and one for temporary workers (for specific types of temporary employment). 

A Worker licence can be short-term, long-term, or permanent, but how long the employee can work for you will depend on their visa. There are four types of workers you can sponsor under this type of licence: (1) skilled workers, (2) senior or specialist workers, (3) religious workers, and (4) international sportspersons. These are explained more in depth below.

On the other hand, a Temporary Worker licence only allows you to sponsor someone temporarily and is only available for certain types of employment and visas. You can sponsor 11 different kinds of workers under this type of licence. See below for a detailed explanation of each. 

You can apply for one or both types of licence. If you are approved for the sponsor licence, your employee will still need to apply for a visa. Your approval for the sponsor licence does not guarantee that the employee will be granted a visa. There are specific requirements for each type of visa, some of which depend on whether the job you offer is eligible. 

To determine whether the job you offer is eligible, you must consult the UKVI list of eligible jobs.

Main types of work visas in the UK

There are many types of work visas available in the UK. The right one for your potential employee will depend on the work they will be doing for you and their eligibility. 

The first thing you should determine is whether the employee will be working for you in the long term or the short term so that you can get the appropriate sponsor licence and your employee can apply for the correct type of work visa.

There are different requirements for each type of visa. Your employee must be eligible for the visa, and the job you offer must also be eligible. Below is an overview of the types of visas and some of their requirements.

For all of the below types of visas, the job you are offering must be eligible under the UKVI rules.

Long-term work visas 

There are six types of long term work visas available in the UK. Your potential employee may be eligible for one type but not another.

Skilled Worker Visa

A Skilled Worker Visa is the general work visa, which allows an employee to live in the UK to work. The job must be on the UKVI list of eligible jobs for your potential employee to qualify, and you must be approved as an employer. If approved, the employee can stay for up to 5 years before having to extend or update the visa. 

As the employer, you must: (1) be approved by the Home Office, (2) provide a certificate of sponsorship to the employee, and (3) pay the employee a minimum salary for the type of work. The minimum salary for skilled work is at least £25,600 per year or £10.10 per hour for hourly work. However, if the “going rate” for the specific job is higher than both of those, you’ll need to pay the employee at least the going rate

Health and Care Worker Visa

The Health and Care Worker Visa allows medical professionals to work in the UK, so long as the job is eligible with the National Health Service (NHS), an NHS supplier, or is in adult social care. There is an approved list of eligible jobs for this type of visa. If granted the visa, the employee can stay in the UK for up to 5 years before they will need to extend or update it. 

In addition, the employee must be a qualified doctor, nurse, health professional, or adult social care professional and be able to speak, read, write, and understand English. 

As the employer, you must: (1) be approved by the Home Office, (2) provide a certificate of sponsorship to the employee, and (3) pay the employee a minimum salary for the type of work. The minimum salary is either £20,480 or the going rate (if the going rate is higher than £20,480). The specific occupation determines the going rate.

Senior or Specialist Worker Visa (Global Business Mobility)

The Senior or Specialist Worker Visa allows a current employee of a multinational company to transfer to the UK branch of the company. The employee must already be an existing employee of the organisation. If accepted, the employee can stay for up to 5 years before they will need to extend the visa. This type of visa can only be extended for up to the maximum total stay, which varies because it depends on the worker’s pay. 

As the employer, you must: (1) provide a certificate of sponsorship to the employee and (2) pay the employee at least £42,400 annually. The job must also be on the list of eligible occupations for this type of visa. 

Scale-Up Worker Visa

A Scale-Up Worker Visa allows an employee to enter the UK to work for a fast-growing UK business. The term “scale-up business” refers to a fast-growing business. You must meet specific requirements for this type of visa before a potential employee is eligible.

As the employer, you must: (1) be an eligible scale-up business, (2) offer the employee a job for at least 6 months, (3) provide a certificate of sponsorship to the employee, and (4) pay the employee at least the minimum salary for the job. The minimum salary is either £33,000 per year, £10.10 per hour, or the going rate for the type of work.

To qualify as a scale-up business, you must have grown by 20% on average each year for the last three years. The growth can be in employment or total sales. In addition, your business must have had at least 10 employees at the start of the three years. 

Your responsibilities as a sponsor for a scale-up worker automatically end six months after the employee is permitted to come to the UK. After that, the worker can either (1) continue to work for you until their visa expires or (2) change jobs without a sponsor. 

Minister of Religion Visa (T2)

The Minister of Religion Visa allows a person to come into the UK to work for a religious organisation. This is specifically for those with job offers in the faith community, such as ministers of religion, missionaries, or other members of a religious order. If approved, the employee can stay for up to 3 years and 1 month before they will need to extend the visa.

The potential employee will also have to: (1) prove their knowledge of the English language, (2) that they have personal savings sufficient to support them while in the UK, (3) show that they can travel, (4) show tuberculosis test results (if necessary), and (5) be 18 or older.

As the employer, you must: (1) provide a certificate of sponsorship and (2) provide the potential employee with information about their pay rate, if applicable. Remember, the employee does not have to be a paid employee. 

International Sportsperson Visa

The International Sportsperson Visa is specifically for elite sportspeople and coaches based in the UK. The employee must be: (1) an elite sportsperson or qualified coach, (2) recognised by the sport’s governing body as being at the highest level of the profession internationally, and (3) endorsed by the sport’s governing body. 

The potential employee will also have to: (1) prove their knowledge of the English language, (2) that they have personal savings sufficient to support them while in the UK, (3) show that they can travel, (4) show tuberculosis test results (if necessary), and (5) be 18 or older. If approved, they can stay for up to 3 years before the visa will need to be extended. After 5 years, the employee may even be eligible to settle permanently in the UK. 

As the employer, you will need to provide a certificate of sponsorship to the employee.

Short-term work visas

If you will only need the employee for a short period of time, they can enter the UK with a short term work visa. There are twelve different types, some of which only apply to very specific types of jobs.

Charity Worker Visa (Temporary Work)

A Charity Worker Visa allows a person to do unpaid work for a charity for up to one year. The potential employee must: (1) show that they have enough money to support them in the UK (usually defined as £1,279 or more) and (2) be 18 or older.

As the employer, you will need to provide a certificate of sponsorship. 

Creative Worker Visa (Temporary Work)

A Creative Worker Visa allows a person who works in the creative industries (i.e. actor, musician, etc.) to enter the UK. Typically, they can only stay for one year, but they may be able to extend the visa for up to 2 years. 

The potential employee must also be: (1) able to make a unique contribution to the labour market in the UK (i.e. internationally recognised in their field or essential to a project for continuity purposes) and (2) able to prove they have enough money to support them in the UK (usually defined as £1,279 or more).

As the employer, you will need to: (1) provide the employee with a certificate of sponsorship and (2) pay the employee the minimum salary. 

If the employee works in the UK for 3 months or less, they may not need to apply for a visa. They may be eligible for the Creative Worker visa concession instead.

Government Authorised Exchange Visa (Temporary Work)

The Government Authorised Exchange Visa allows a person to come to the UK to enable short-term knowledge exchange. This visa can be granted if the person is gaining work experience, training, participating in an overseas government language programme, doing research, or completing a fellowship through an approved government-authorized exchange scheme. If approved, the employee can stay in the UK for up to 1 or 2 years, depending on their application.

The potential employee must prove that they have enough money to support them while in the UK (usually defined as £1,279 or more).

As the employer, you will need to provide them with a certificate of sponsorship.

International Agreement Visa (Temporary Work)

Under an International Agreement Visa, a person can enter the UK to do a job covered by either international law or treaty. This includes work for another government or international organisation, as a servant in a diplomatic household, or in the household of someone who works for a recognised international organisation. Typically, these types of workers can stay in the UK for up to 2 years before they will need to extend their visa. 

The employee will have to prove that they: (1) have enough money to support them while in the UK (usually defined as £1,279 or more) and (2) are 18 or older.

As the employer, you will need to provide the potential employee with a certificate of sponsorship. 

Religious Worker Visa (Temporary Work)

The Religious Worker Visa allows a person to enter the UK to do religious work in a non-pastoral role or religious order. The worker can stay in the UK for up to 2 years.

In addition, the potential employee will also have to prove that they: (1) have enough money to support them while in the UK (usually defined as £1,279 or more) and (2) are 18 or older.

As the employer, you will need to provide the potential employee with a certificate of sponsorship. 

Seasonal Worker Visa (Temporary Work)

A Seasonal Worker Visa allows a person to enter the UK to work in edible horticulture for up to a maximum of 6 months. 

The employee will have to prove that they: (1) have enough money to support them while in the UK (usually defined as £1,279 or more) and (2) are 18 or older.

As the employer, you will need to provide the potential employee with a certificate of sponsorship. 

Youth Mobility Scheme Visa

The Youth Mobility Scheme Visa allows people between 18 and 30 to enter the UK to live and work for up to 2 years under certain conditions. In addition to the age requirement, the potential employee must: (1) have £2,530 in savings (consistently for 31 days before applying) and (2) have British Nationality or be from an approved list of countries/territories. Individuals with children (either under 18 or living with them) are not eligible for this visa. 

As an employer, you do not need to sponsor an employee if they apply for this type of visa. You can sponsor them, but it is not required.

Graduate Visa

The Graduate Visa allows an individual with a current student visa to stay in the UK for at least 2 years after successfully graduating from a course. This can include a bachelor’s degree, postgraduate degree, or another eligible course. The individual must also: (1) currently be in the UK and (2) prove they have successfully completed the course.

As an employer, you do not need to sponsor an employee if they apply for this type of visa. 

High-Potential Individual (HPI) Visa

The High-Potential Individual (HPI) Visa allows an individual to stay in the UK for at least 2 years if an eligible university has awarded them a qualification within the last 5 years. If the person has a PhD or other doctoral qualification, they will be permitted to stay for 3 years. The eligibility of a particular university varies from month to month, but UK universities are not eligible.

In addition, the person will need to prove: (1) their knowledge of the English language and (2) that they have enough savings to support them in the UK. 

As an employer, you can sponsor a potential employee under this type of visa, but sponsorship is not required.

Graduate Trainee Visa (AKA Global Business Mobility)

The Graduate Trainee Visa allows a person to work for the UK branch of their current employer as part of a graduate training programme. 

To qualify, the employee must: (1) be an existing employee of the organisation and (2) have worked for the employer outside of the UK for at least 3 months immediately before the application. The job itself must also be on the list of eligible occupations and be part of a graduate training programme for a managerial or specialist role. The employee can stay in the UK for a maximum of up to 1 year. This type of visa cannot be extended. 

As the employer, you must: (1) provide a certificate of sponsorship and (2) pay the employee at least £23,100 per year or 70% of the going rate for the type of work.

Secondment Worker Visa (Global Business Mobility)

The Secondment Worker Visa allows a current employee of an overseas organisation to transfer to the UK to work for a different organisation. There must be a high-value contract between the UK and overseas organisations, and the potential employee must: (1) have worked for the overseas employer for at least 1 year outside the UK and (2) be an existing employee of the organisation. The job itself must also be on the list of eligible occupations. If approved, the employee can stay for up to 1 year or a maximum of 2 years with an approved extension. 

As the employer, you must: (1) provide a certificate of sponsorship and (2) have a high-value contract with the employee’s home organisation.

Service Supplier Visa (Global Business Mobility)

The Service Supplier Visa allows a person to enter the UK if they have a contract to provide services for a UK company. The person must: (1) be an employee of an overseas business or a self-employed service provider based overseas, (2) be providing a service to a business in the UK on a contract covered by a valid international trade agreement, and (3) have worked for the employer for at least 1 year outside of the UK. 

Under this type of visa, the individual can stay anywhere between 6 and 12 months, depending on the service contract. The employee may be eligible for an extension if the contract is not completed. 

As the employer, you must: (1) provide a certificate of sponsorship and (2) be approved as a sponsor by the Home Office. The job itself must also be on the list of eligible occupations.

How does visa sponsorship work in the UK?

You must apply for and be granted a sponsor licence to employ someone outside the UK. To be eligible for a sponsor licence, there are essentially four requirements

  • You do not have any criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes (i.e. fraud, money laundering, etc.);
  • You have not had a sponsor licence revoked in the last 12 months; 
  • You have a system in place to monitor any sponsored employees; and 
  • The job has a suitable skill level and pay or meets other criteria for the type of visa. 

After determining your eligibility, you will need to check whether the job you offer is suitable. Suitability is different for each type of job, so check the requirements for your type of work. 

After you have confirmed that both your organisation and the job are eligible, you will: (1) determine which type of licence you want to apply for, (2) create a system to manage sponsorship within your organisation, and (3) apply online. All applications must be submitted online.

After you submit your application, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) may visit your business to ensure you can comply with your duties as a sponsor.

For your potential employee

Your potential employee will need to apply for a work visa. The type of visa they apply for will depend on the length of the employment, the type of job, and their eligibility. 

They will need first to determine what type of visa to apply for. Before they can submit the application, they will need to gather any remaining necessary documents. This will include the certificate of sponsorship that you will provide to them. They must apply within 3 months of receiving the certificate of sponsorship. All applications must be submitted online.

Frequently asked questions

Although the types of work visas in the UK are outlined above, the process can be confusing and many questions may arise as you are reading through the information. Luckily, we’ve got you covered with some frequently asked questions!

How can my employee change or renew a work visa in the UK?

Some visas cannot be extended, but most can. The details will depend on the type of visa. The employee must apply before their current visa expires. All applications are online and require they prove their identity. There is also a fee for the application.

What happens if a person is caught working without a permit?

If you employ someone you either knew or had reason to believe did not have the right to work in the UK, you could face penalties such as jail time (up to 5 years) or civil penalties (i.e. fines) of up to £20,000 per illegal worker. This includes situations where you employ someone who entered the UK without a visa, you continue to employ someone with an expired visa, you employ someone who is not allowed to do that type of work under their visa, or the employee’s papers are incorrect or false. 

What happens if the application for a work visa is denied?

Your employee cannot work in the UK without a valid work visa if they are not a UK citizen or otherwise exempt. If the application is denied, the employee will be sent a letter or email with the reason for the refusal and the next steps. The letter will let the employee know if they have a right to an administrative review or appeal. They can submit the appeal online.

What happens if they lose their job?

It depends on the type of visa. For some visas, the employee cannot remain in the UK without sponsorship from an employer and will be required to leave. Sometimes, employees can change or extend their visa if they switch employers.

The bottom line

There are many different types of work visas. The right one for your situation will depend significantly on the type of work and the length of the job. You will need to apply for a sponsor licence and provide your potential employee with a certificate of sponsorship, and the employee will need to apply for a work visa. Your sponsor licence approval does not guarantee that the employee will be granted a visa. 

The work visa process in the UK can be confusing and stressful, which is why we employ a talented team of Case Managers to manage the process on your behalf. Get started with a demo today!