Expats wishing to obtain a work permit for the United Kingdom should prepare to wade through a maze of requirements and eligibility stipulations. 

Separate criteria for what seems like countless categories can prove overwhelming for those not used to unravelling red tape. Only a certain number of visas are granted each year, although some conditions are exempt from the cap.

Due to Brexit, EU citizens will need a work permit to work in the UK. There are some exceptions to this; EU nationals may be exempt in cases such as if they are invited as an expert for what is called a ‘Permitted Paid Engagement’ or if their visit is only for specific business activities. Those who were already living in the UK by 31 December 2020 may also be eligible for the EU Settlement Scheme, and would not need a visa.

Getting a work visa in the United Kingdom

The criteria by which work visas are issued can be difficult to understand. There are numerous schemes and skill enticements – but the more highly skilled and experienced an applicant is in a desirable field, the better the chances of a smooth and speedy application process. 

Category requirements for a work visa

There are many different work permit categories under which an expat can apply. Each has unique requirements and entitles the individual to a specific set of rights.

Note that, when submitting documents for application, applicants must include the original document as well as a copy. The documents must be in English and include contact details where appropriate. Documents in another language must be accompanied by a certified translation.

Skilled worker visas for the United Kingdom

This category is for skilled workers who receive a formal job offer from a registered UK company licensed to act as a sponsor for foreign workers.

Each year the UK designates a list of prospective occupations marked by shortages. Expats who work in these fields have a higher chance of receiving a work visa than those who have a job offer from an industry sector not on the list.

A newly-introduced points-based immigration system applies to this skilled worker visa. The application will consider, among other factors, the skill level required for the job, a certain salary threshold, the expat's qualification level and sufficient English language skills.

Expats from certain designated countries will need to take a tuberculosis test, and workers in certain fields (such as healthcare, education, therapy and social services) are required to submit a criminal record certificate.

Intra-company visas for the United Kingdom

Intra-company visas are for expats who are not starting a new job with a new company, but rather those who are transferring to a UK branch of the company they already work for outside the UK. Requirements for this visa are similar to those for a skilled worker visa. Expats who are offered an intra-company transfer can co-ordinate the work permit application with their employer, who may provide the services of a relocation company.

Youth Mobility Scheme visa (T5) for the United Kingdom

Expats who are interested in moving to the UK to work for a short period might be able to apply for a Youth Mobility Scheme (T5)

This is a working holiday visa available for nationals of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Monaco, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, San Marino and Japan. Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 30 to apply.

Those who qualify can enter the UK without a job offer and use this working holiday visa to work and travel. They must be able to prove they have a specified amount of money in savings to financially support themselves while looking for employment.

The scheme is designed to allow young people to live and work in the country for up to two years, and is a great way to see what living and working in the UK is actually like.

*Work permit regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

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