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How to get a UK work visa

11 May 2015 Cat Byers Read time: 4 min
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Cat Byers

How to get a UK work visa

To work in the UK you will need a current UK work visa. With all the legal jargon, documents and regulations, figuring out the right visa and how to apply for it can be a very confusing process.

A work visa, also known as a work permit, which allows non-UK residents to legally work in the UK.

Different types of visas

Depending on how long you are planning on living and working in the UK, there are a number of different visas options to suit your needs.

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Working Holiday Visa
  • Ancestry Visa
  • British or EU Passport Holder
  • Sponsorship Visa
  • Spouse Visa


Photo credit: www.cbi.org.uk Photo credit: www.cbi.org.uk


Working Holiday Visa

There are a few tiers of temporary visa but one of the more popular for travellers from Australia, New Zealand and Canada is the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visa, more commonly referred to as a 'Working Holiday Visa'.


You can apply for a Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visa if you:

  • want to live and work in the UK for up to 2 years
  • are aged 18 to 30
  • have £1,890 in savings
  • have certain types of British Nationality or are from certain countries
    • Currently: Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, Taiwan
  • meet the other eligibility requirements

It currently costs £225* to apply.

You can’t apply if you have:

  • children who live with you
  • children you’re financially responsible for
  • already been in the UK under the scheme or in the former ‘working holidaymaker’ category

You can come in and out of the UK as you please making it great for exploring Europe too, but your visa won't be put on hold while you're away.

Ancestry Visa

If you are a Commonwealth citizen with a British ancestor (going back as far as a grandparent), you might be eligible for an ancestry visa.


You can apply for a UK Ancestry visa if you:

  • are a Commonwealth citizen
  • are applying from outside the UK
  • are able to prove that one of your grandparents was born in the UK
  • are able and planning to work in the UK
  • meet the other eligibility requirements

A UK Ancestry visa will cost £324*.

This visa will enable you to stay in the UK for 5 years, and it's possible to apply for an extension at the end of the 5 years or apply to settle permanently in the UK.

* all prices correct at time of publish, Aug 2015

British or EU Passport holder

If you hold a British or EU Passport you can apply for a registration certificate.

You don’t need a registration certificate if you:

  • are a ‘qualified person’, ie you’re working, studying, self-employed, self-sufficient or looking for work
  • have a family member who is a qualified person
  • have a retained right of residence

However, a registration certificate can:

  • make it easier to claim certain benefits and services
  • prove you have a right to work in the UK

The EEA includes all EU states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.


Should you be lucky enough to have found an employer in the UK that will sponsor your visa application, you might be eligible for the UK Tier 2 Sponsorship visa.


You can apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa if:

The cost of a Tier 2 visa varies depending on your situation, where you are and how you choose to apply. It can range from £509 to £1,051 per person.

This visa will enable you to come to the UK for a maximum of 5 years and 14 days, or the time given on  your certificate of sponsorship plus 1 month (whichever is shorter), however you can apply to extend this visa for up to another 5 years, as long as your total stay is not more than 6 years.

Why you need a working visa

Without a work visa, you can't legally work in the UK. If you are employed without one and discovered by the UK Border Agency, you will be liable for deportation, taken to court, potentially fined up to £5,000 and banned from returning to the UK for up to 10 years. It's a serious crime and not worth the risk.


Photo credit: www.lacockgullam.com Photo credit: www.lacockgullam.com


How to apply

Check the official UK Government website and choose which visa application is relevant to your position, as there are different tiers and permits depending on your job, from investors and entrepreneurs to ministers of religion.

Once you've verified this, you can begin the process online. You'll need a number of official documents (and translations of these if they aren't in English) to support your application, and will have to pay a visa application fee. Once this has been submitted, you can arrange an appointment at the visa application centre.

How long does the process take?

From application to approval, the process can take a couple of week to a few months depending on which visa you're applying for.

You should also consider if you need to apply for entry clearance to the UK before travelling here. This can can take up to two weeks after the Work Permit has been approved and issued.

Due to security procedures, applications from Russia, North Korea, Libya, Iraq and China may take longer.

What can you do if you're refused?


Photo credit: www.ideaabroad.com Photo credit: www.ideaabroad.com


Unfortunately, the UK Work Visa refusal rate is rather high, and the number of visas granted over the last decade has fallen. Between June 2013 and June 2014, only 159,302 work-related visas for the UK were granted.

Refusal is normally a result of one of the following reasons:

  • Not fully understanding the immigration rules and requirements before applying.
  • Not providing the necessary documents.
  • Accidental or deliberate inconsistencies on the application form.

If you are refused a visa, you might choose to appeal against this decision within 28 days if your application refusal letter states that you can ask for an 'administrative review'. You can ask for this review if all of the following conditions apply:

  • You’re outside the UK.
  • You applied outside the UK.
  • Your application was refused on or after 6 April 2015.
  • You don’t have a right of appeal against the refusal.
  • You didn’t make an application as a visitor or a short term student.

To apply, you need to fill in the administrative review application form sent with your application refusal letter, including the reasons for your refusal and why you think this was a mistake. You don't need to send any new documents or information unless requested. You should receive a result within 28 days.

It is possible to re-apply for a UK work visa if your circumstances change, but you must make it clear in your application that the reasons which led to your initial refusal have now been rectified.

Once you've been accepted, make sure to check out our guide to National Insurance numbers too before you start working. Good luck!

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