Thursday, June 6, 2013

Applying for UK work visas from overseas - difficult but not impossible

applying UK work visas

I first heard of the Green Card Lottery during my initial months in London. It came up in a conversation over dinner with a friend. "You should give it a go," she quipped. It turned out that she has been doing the same for the past few years. Essentially, the United States run an annual lottery to give out 55,000 permanent residencies to people all round the world in a bid to diversify its immigrants.

Everyone, save for those from a handful of ineligible countries, can apply. The catch is that even if you win it, you must fulfill a set of education and work experience criteria, and sit for an interview in order to be issued the Green Card. It doesn't help that the application process is tedious to say the least. Miss out a field in the forms and there goes your chance for that year. Fortunately, there are services with Green Card advice that will guide you through the entire process with minimal fuss for a fee.

No such luck for those heading to the UK though. Even work visa rules have tightened quite a bit since the Coalition government took over in 2010. The avenues through which you can apply for the right to work in the UK decreased drastically; most of the remaining apply to those who are already in the UK. If you are not from the EU, it would be even more difficult.

It's not impossible though. I thought that it would be useful to go through some of the more common remaining UK work visas you can apply if you are currently out of the UK. For the latest information, check out UK Border Agency.

1. Skilled workers

This category (also known as Tier 2) is probably the most popular work visas after the High Value Migrants (Tier 1) - General category has closed to those currently outside the UK. There are four sub-categories under this: Minister of Religion, Sportsperson, General and Intra-company transfer. For the purpose of this post, I'll touch on the last two. Both of these require the approval and sponsorship of a UK company that you are currently working in or going to work for.


This is for foreign nationals who have been offered a skilled job to fill a gap in the workforce that cannot be filled by a settled worker. In order to fulfill this criterion, companies looking to recruit from overseas will have to prove that they have put up the job postings within the UK and are not able to find suitable candidates.

Currently, there are only 20,700 (earning less than £152,100) outside of European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland allowed in under this sub-category per year. There is no limit to visa issued for those whose earnings exceed £152,100 per year.

Intra-company transfer

As the name implies, this is for those who are already working in an overseas office of a UK company and looking to relocate to the UK. This is made up of four main groups:

a. Long term staff: for more than 12 months
b. Short term staff: less than 12 months
c. Graduate Trainee: as part of graduate training program
d. Skills transfer: either to impart/learn skills to/from the local workforce

for more information, refer to UKBA Skilled Workers visa

2. Temporary Workers

The visa (also known as Tier 5) is primarily for those who are looking to work in the UK for a short period of time. Again, you must already have a job offer by a licensed sponsor.

There are a total of six sub-categories for this group of workers: creative and sportspeople, religious workers, charity workers, government authorised exchange, international agreement and Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS). I am going to spend a bit more time to talk about YMS here.

Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS)

YMS (formerly known as Working Holidaymaker Scheme) allows young people to spend up to two years in the UK while working on a part time basis. This is a godsend for those looking to spend a gap year in the UK and part-timing to earn their keep while traveling. I have a friend who did just that when Singapore was part of the scheme. She spent most of her time backpacking in Europe and counted that as her most memorable years.

As this is a reciprocal arrangement between UK and the participant countries, it is currently limited to the Australia (35,000), New Zealand (10,000), Japan (1,000), Monaco (1,000), Taiwan (1,000) and South Korea (1,000).

Other than proving that you have at least £1,800 in available cash funds for self-maintenance, you have to be between the age of 18 and 31 at the time of application with no dependents under the age of 18. Also, you must not have gained entry to the UK before under a similar scheme.

On the flipside, you must leave the UK once the two years are up. In other words, being in the YMS void you from extending your stay by applying for any other visa. That said, you can always apply for a non-YMS visa once you are out of the UK.

For more information on this, refer to UKBA Temporary Workers visa

3. UK ancestry 

For those who are from one of the 54 Commonwealth countries, you can apply for the right to work in the UK if you can prove that at least one of your (legitimate or not) grandparent who is a from the UK. While you cannot claim UK ancestry through step-parents, adopted parents are allowed provided you have the relevant adoption documents.

Once granted, you have the right the live and work in the UK for up to five years. You will be able to apply for permanent residency after that.

For more information, refer to claiming UK ancestry.

Here are the three of the more popular work visas that you can go for if you are currently based outside the UK. For other tips on what to look out for, check out tips on moving to London.

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