Visas and Work Permits 9 min

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

Written by Sally Flaxman
Sally Flaxman


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If you’re hiring in the UK or relocating an existing employee, they must be eligible to work there.

In most cases, this usually means that your hire is a UK citizen.

However, if your hire is a non-citizen, then you need to ensure they have the correct documents and permissions. As the employer, you are usually responsible for acquiring these.

This can be a tricky process, especially if you have no prior knowledge of UK labor laws.

In this guide, we’ll explain the basics of work permits and visas in the UK, and show you the various steps you may need to take (depending on your employee’s status). We’ll also touch on the regulation around digital nomads.

So let’s dive right in.

Why is eligibility important?

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. But the country’s work permit and visa requirements can be broad and complex — especially post-Brexit. If you or your employee fail to comply with them, you may receive fines, penalties, unwanted scrutiny, and even reputational damage.

These risks are only growing, too, as remote work grows in popularity and governments reassess their existing settlement policies. For instance, there are many cases of workers on tourist visas overstaying in countries. This can create issues for themselves and the companies they work for, and authorities are cracking down.

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 pre-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 (subject to application)

  • 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 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.

What about the Schengen Visa?

The UK is not (and never has been) a part of the Schengen Area. As a result, the Schengen Visa — which allows for unrestricted short-stay travel between Schengen member states — is not applicable.

What about the EU Blue Card?

The UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, and formally withdrew in 2020. As a result, the UK is no longer an EU member state, and EU citizens are not permitted to live and work in the UK without a relevant visa.

However, as mentioned above, EU citizens who already had pre-settled status prior to Brexit are eligible to live and work in the UK.

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:

a) your business is eligible; and

b) 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.

Remote can assist you throughout this process. To learn more, check out our dedicated guide on relocating employees.

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Types of work visas 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, as of 2023, recipients of Skilled Worker visas cannot be paid less than £26,200 per year.

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 that 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, there are several visa types that 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. Visitors can carry out remote work activities for an overseas employer while in the UK, but they should not be in the UK just for this specific purpose.

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

As you can see, there’s plenty of administrative work to do if you want to hire a non-citizen or relocate an employee to the UK.

As well as helping you manage your employees’ onboarding, taxes, and payroll, we can also support you with their relocation process. Specifically, we will:

  1. Set up a consultation with one of our mobility experts

  2. Review your employee’s existing visa and citizenship status

  3. Review the visa and work permit requirements for the desired country relocation

  4. Review your employee’s eligibility

  5. Fill out the paperwork (with assistance from you and your employee)

  6. Submit the application

This ensures that any potential hiccups are identified quickly, and that the process is as quick and smooth as possible — for both you and your employee.

To learn more about how you can make the entire relocation process easier with Remote, book a consultation with one of our friendly mobility gurus — and get the process moving today.

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