Visas and Work Permits 4 min

Work permits and visas in the UK: an employer’s guide

Written by Sally Flaxman
February 22, 2024
Sally Flaxman


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With established finance and tech sectors in the capital London, it’s little surprise that many workers and businesses wish to settle in the UK. 

If you’re hiring or relocating an existing employee to the UK, you must make sure they have the correct documentation to live and work there. Keep in mind that the country’s work permit and visa requirements can be complex and getting the correct documentation to work there legally can be challenging, especially if you do not know UK labor laws.

To minimize the hassles of hiring abroad, many businesses partner with an employer of record (EOR) who can legally employ workers on their behalf. From sorting our benefits, taxes, and payroll, to making sure businesses are compliant with local labor rules, including immigration policies — an EOR can make it easier to expand your team globally.

In this guide, we’ll explain the basics of work permits and visas in the UK, and explain the various steps you may need to take (depending on your employee’s status). We’ll also touch on how working with an EOR can make compliance simple while hiring abroad.

So let’s dive right in.

Why is eligibility important?

If you or your employee fail to comply with immigration rules in the UK, you may receive fines, penalties, unwanted scrutiny, and even face legal issues or reputational damage.

As remote work grows in popularity and governments reassess their existing settlement policies, these risks are growing. For instance, there are many cases of workers on tourist visas overstaying in countries, and creating issues for the companies they work for.

As a result, it’s crucial to ensure that everything is above board, and that your people have the right paperwork in place.

Who is eligible to work in the UK?

When you hire someone in (or relocate someone to) the UK, you will need to conduct a right-to-work check in line with the UK government’s guidelines. This check establishes whether your employee can work legally in the UK or not.

UK citizens are, by default, eligible to work in the UK (even if they currently live abroad).

Permanent residents with indefinite leave to remain (ILR) status are also eligible to work in the UK, as are those who:

  • Have settled status in the UK and are citizens of the European Union (EU), Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, or Liechtenstein

  • Are citizens of the Republic of Ireland

  • Can prove they have right of abode in the UK

  • Are stateless and unable to live permanently in another country (subject to application)

If your employee is not a British or Irish citizen or a permanent resident, they will need to acquire a valid visa and a work permit.

Here’s how that works — and what you need to do.

Visas and work permits for non-citizens of the UK

Generally speaking, “work permit” and “work visa” are, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable terms in the UK. To live and work in the country, your employee will need a relevant work visa, which acts as a work permit and gives the holder the right to leave and enter the UK.

There are many types of UK work visas, which we’ll discuss further down.

Getting a work visa in the UK

For your employee to receive a valid work visa, you — as the employer — will first need to sponsor them. To do this, you will need to apply for a sponsor license, where the authorities will assess whether:

  1. your business is eligible; and

  2. the job role is suitable for sponsorship.

Note that, in some cases, UK immigration officers may even visit your business to conduct suitability checks.

If your application for a sponsor license is successful, you’ll be given a license rating, and you’ll be able to sponsor your employee’s visa application.

To learn more, check out our dedicated guide on relocating employees.

Get your Remote Relocation Guide

Learn how to simplify your planned relocation with this walkthrough guide. We outline the key steps for you and your employer to enable a compliant, efficient, and hassle-free move.

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Types of worker classifications in the UK

As mentioned, there are numerous types of work visas in the UK. Some of the most popular are:

Skilled Worker visa

This visa is for workers in jobs that are deemed to be ‘skilled’ by the UK government. You can check if your employee’s role is skilled using the ONS occupation coding tool.

Note that recipients of Skilled Worker visas cannot be paid less than £26,200 per year (or £10.75 per hour).

Global Business Mobility visa

There are several versions of this visa, depending on your employee’s role and experience:

  • Senior or Specialist Worker visa. This replaces the previous Intra-company Transfer visa, and is designed for existing employees who are relocating to the UK. Your employee must be in an eligible role, and be earning a minimum of £45,800 per year.

  • Graduate Trainee visa. For employees who are on an eligible graduate trainee scheme.

  • Service Supplier visa. If your company provides contracted services to a UK business, your employee may be eligible for this type of visa.

Temporary work visa

If your employee’s relocation is going to be temporary, several visa types may be applicable, including Seasonal Worker and Creative Worker visas.

Other visas

The UK government also offers several work visas that do not require employer sponsorship or a job offer, such as:

  • Graduate visa

  • Youth Mobility Scheme visa

  • India Young Professionals Scheme visa

  • Global Talent visa

  • UK Ancestry visa

As a result, it may first be worth checking to see if your employee is eligible for any of these visas.

You can see a full, detailed list of all valid work visa types on the UK government website.

Eligibility requirements for worker status in the UK

Each visa type has its own specific eligibility criteria based on relevant factors, such as your employee’s role, experience, and background.

However, as mentioned, almost all work visas require employee sponsorship (unless explicitly stated otherwise).

In the majority of cases, your employee will also need to speak, read, write, and understand English. They will usually need to prove this knowledge during the visa application process.

Digital nomad visas in the UK

With the rise of remote work and globally-dispersed teams, more and more individuals are adopting the digital nomad lifestyle. In response, governments across the world are implementing new legislation and — in some cases — specialist visas to adapt to this trend.

Does the UK offer a digital nomad visa?

Currently, the answer is no — there is no specialist digital nomad visa available in the UK. 

The main purpose of the employee’s stay in the UK should always be for the activities permitted in their visa (e.g. study or tourism).

Is my organization eligible to hire in the UK?

As outlined, your employee needs to be eligible to work in the UK. However, remember that you must also be able to compliantly employ them there. This means that you must either own a legal entity in the UK, or use an employer of record (EOR) to legally hire, pay, and manage workers.

As a foreign business, this can be costly, time-consuming, and inefficient, especially if you later decide to start hiring in other countries too. This is why it’s generally advisable to use a trusted, reliable EOR instead.

To learn more about what EORs are and when to use one, check out our in-depth guide below.

How Remote makes compliance in the UK so much easier

Hiring new employees or relocating existing team members abroad can seem daunting. Apart from staying compliant with local immigration policies and tax practices, you’ll also have to manage onboarding procedures, benefits, and global payroll. 

Working with an EOR like Remote can make global hiring quick and easy. An EOR takes on the legal responsibility of hiring, paying, and managing employees, leaving you to focus on business growth. Importantly, our team of employment experts can work with you to ensure you’re operating in compliance with local labor rules, which removes the headache of hiring abroad.

To plan and execute a hassle-free move for your international employees, check out Remote’s Relocation Guide. You can also contact our team for expert advice if you plan to relocate employees internationally.

link to How to use an Employer of Record in the United Kingdom
14 min

How to use an Employer of Record in the United Kingdom

Learn how to use an EOR in the United Kingdom and find out how an employer of record platform like Remote can make it easy to hire globally with full compliance.

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