Immigration and Employment visas. A complete guide.


The relationship between immigration and right to an employment or work in the UK is complicated. In this article, we have aimed to provide an overview of the current state of the immigration law in regards to a person’s right to employment. 

Read Time 5 Minutes

Do you require a permit to work in the UK?

If you fit in one of the categories listed below you do not require a visa or permission from the Home Office to work. You are entitled to take up any work as an employed or a self-employed person in the UK.


  • British citizens. However, British overseas citizens do require permission to work in the UK.
  • EEA nationals.
  • Swiss nationals.
  • Commonwealth nationals with a UK ancestry visa who have a grandparent born in the UK or British Islands.
  • Non-EEA family members of EEA and Swiss nationals and those with a retained or derivative right of residence who can produce a UK residence document to prove their status in the UK.
  • Persons granted refugee status or humanitarian protection.
  • Some asylum claimants.
  • Some overseas students can work part-time during term time and full-time during holidays. (See Tier 4)


If you are a dependent, you are permitted to work without a visa if you fit in one of the below listed categories:

  • Aged parents.
  • A short-term cohabiting partner.
  • Children over 18 who are still part of the family unit.
  • Adopted children.
  • Children in the family unit who are from their partner’s previous relationship.

What is an Employment Visa?

It includes Tier 2 and Tier 5 visas, that is the primary immigration routes for non-European migrants who wish to work in the UK.


Note: Nationals from outside of the EEA and Switzerland coming to live in the UK for longer than six months must normally pay a health surcharge of £200 a year (or £150 for students) to be able to use the NHS.

Who is Eligible?

In order to successfully apply for one of these visas, the company that would like to employ the migrant employee must have a sponsorship license to either or both visas. The licensed employer has to further then produce the following to the UKVI:

  • Evidence that the migrant will fill a genuine vacancy at the sponsor that cannot be filled with a suitably qualified or skilled settled worker; and
  • The sponsor that it accepts all of the duties expected when sponsoring the migrant; and
  • The job meets the required skill level.


The UKVI would make the decision either to reject or accept the work visa application within 8 – 4 weeks from submitting the Visa application.  


Note: the employer must have a trading presence in the UK in order to possess a sponsorship license from the UKVI.

The Identity and Passport Service

This department deals with issuing passports and is also part of the Home Office.

Tier 2 Visa

It is a long-term workers visa for non-European. The disadvantage of a Tier 2 visa is:

  • It does not lead to a settlement in the UK. With a possible cooling period of about 12 months of prevention before the possibility of a re-application to the same visa category.
  • The minimum salary threshold

Tier 5 Visa

It is a temporary workers visa for non-European. The sub-categories of this route include:

  • Creative and sporting. This includes sports people, entertainers or creative artists who have been offered work in the UK for up to 12 months.
  • Charity workers. This is for voluntary workers who wish to do unpaid work for a charity.
  • Religious workers.
  • Government authorized exchange.
  • International agreement. This is for migrants contracted to do work covered by international law while in the UK, such as working for a foreign government or as a private servant in a diplomatic household.

Tier 4 Visa

It is a student visa; however, it allows students to:

  • Work 20 hours per week during term time, and
  • Unlimited work hours per week during off term time.
  • Can transfer to a Tier 2 visa as soon as they are done with their coursework (does not apply to PhD students).


Note: Permitted working hours may vary depending on the academic course enrolled in.


Am I allowed to switch between Visa categories?

You are allowed to switch between visa categories if you fulfill the required criteria below:

  • You are in the UK lawfully and your existing permission to be in the UK is still valid.
  • You meet the specific requirements for the new category you want to switch into.
  • You are in the UK in one of the categories that allows switching into another category while in the UK.
    • Ex: An individual may not apply to switch their immigration status from being a visitor to working under Tier 2 while in the UK. They will have to leave the UK to obtain entry clearance.

Changes to the immigration rules: April 2017

The key changes that came into effect on 6 April 2017 were:

  • Tier 2 applications will be refused if the immigration skills charge has not been paid.
  • The requirement for an intra-company transferee to work for a related overseas company for a year does not apply to those earning £73,900 or more a year.
  • The salary requirement for intra-company transferees wishing to extend their visafor up to nine years was reduced to £120,000. 
  • The Tier 2 Intra-company Transfer (ICT) Short Term Staff category closed to new applications.
  • The minimum salary requirements for experienced workers increased to £30,000
  • The minimum for high earners (where there is an exemption from conducting a resident labor market test as part of the application process) increased to £159,600 a year. 
  • Where the role is associated with the relocation of a high-value business to the UK or a significant new inward investment it is not necessary to conduct a resident market labor test or to assign a restricted Certificate of Sponsorship.
  • Tier 2 (General) applications for some roles in the education, health and social care sectors must provide criminal record certificates.

How can employers apply for a sponsorship license?

The proposed sponsor entity must be able to evidence that it is genuine and operating or trading lawfully in the UK. Depending on the type of organization and how long it has been operating in the UK, the organization must provide the following to the UKVI:

  • The latest audited annual accounts.
  • The employer’s liability insurance certificate.
  • Proof of ownership for the business premises.
  • The VAT registration certificate.
  • The latest corporate bank account statement.
  • Evidence of the HMRC PAYE number and accounts office reference number.


The organization must also:

  • Explain why it is applying for a sponsor license.
  • Specify the sector it operates in.
  • Specify its opening and operating hours during the week.
  • Provide an up to date hierarchy chart detailing any owners, directors and board members.
  • If the organization has 50 employees or fewer, submit a list of all employees and their job titles.
  • Give the names of all of the people who have access to the email address supplied with the online sponsor license application. 
  • Provide a landline telephone number.


Smaller organization pay a lower fee than others if they fulfill the following threshold:

  • A turnover of not more than £10.2 million.
  • A balance sheet total of not more than £5.1 million.
  • It employs no more than 50 employees.


A UK organization may apply for a sponsor license in a number of ways, including:

  • A single sponsor license that covers the head office and all branches in the UK.
  • A single sponsor license that covers the head office and some UK branches.
  • The head office and each UK branch applying for their own separate sponsor licenses. 
  • Grouping a number of UK branches under one single sponsor license.


A UK organization must comply with the following requirements upon being granted a sponsorship license:

  • Monitoring immigration status and preventing illegal employment.
  • Maintaining migrant contact details at all times.
  • Record keeping and recruitment practice, this includes complying with the resident labor market test.
  • Migrant tracking and monitoring, this includes the monitoring of work attendance.
  • General sponsor duties such as:
    • No paying the migrants in cash
    • Following the UKVI guidelines

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Written by COO Katherine Hannigan

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