General Visa Information

The new UK visa system has the following 5 tiers or categories of visa:

* Tier 1: for people of 'exception talent' from April 2011.

* Tier 2: work permits (sponsored employment for people who have a job offer).

* Tier 3: low-skilled workers.

* Tier 4: students.

* Tier 5: temporary entry, including working holiday makers.

There are a number of other visa categories which still exist like Ancestral (GrandParent) Visas, Unmarried Partner (Defacto) Visas, Dependent Visas, etc. Note that the regulations for entry to the UK are under regular review and we advise you to check with UK Border Agency if you're unsure.

If you would like more information about your circumstances please contact us, we can pass you to Immigration Attorney's in the UK who can assist you with your questions and handle visa applications.


* Tier 1: for candidates of 'exceptional talent'

(replaces the old highly-skilled migrant programme)

The old Tier 1 Visa is effectively abolished from April 2011. 1,000 Tier 1 Visas will be issued from April 2011 to April 2012 to individuals who have won international recognition in scientific and cultural fields, or who show sufficient exceptional promise to be awarded such recognition in the future. Applications by those with exceptional promise will be endorsed by a competent body in the relevant field.

Those already holding a Tier 1 visa won't have their regulations altered by the new legislation.

Contractor Summary: Tier 1 was an excellent visa for contractors but from April 2011 this will no longer be an option.


* Tier 2: Work Permits

Employer Sponsored Work Permits allow employers to sponsor an employee's entrance into the UK by demonstrating that they possess skills that cannot be found elsewhere. Pendant on whether the profession is on the Skills Shortage list the employer may or may not have to advertise the position.

From April 2011 the Tier 2 regulations will change. An annual limit of 20,700 Tier 2 visas will placed on applications from candidates applying from outside the UK. The limits will not apply to: ICT's, Tier 2 extensions, those switching from other visas to Tier 2 in-country.

Important criteria for a Work Permit are:

* Employer must have a license to sponsor

* Educational Qualifications

* Employment & Vocational Experience Background

* Salary Level (must be equivalent to UK market wage)

Contractor Summary: The Tier 2 work permit is set up primarily for permanent staff. Recruitment Agencies can't sponsor under Tier 2 and each time you change employer you need to have your Permit processed again with a related fee. So its an expensive exercise and administrative nightmare if you had a series of 6 month permits with different end clients. But for Freelancers its still possible to - choose your assignments (client, location, rate and duration) - receive the lions share of the net billing if you choose to be employed by a small consulting company. Our partners may be able to help you, contact us to find out.

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* Tier 3: low-skilled workers

Tier 3 is for low-skilled workers to come to the UK to do jobs such as fruit picking. Tier 3 visas are currently suspended because the UK Government believes there are enough workers entering from the EU to do these types of jobs.

Contractor Summary: Not of use to Contractors


* Tier 4: students

Commenced Spring 2009  

* Students will need to be sponsored by their university or college

* Educational institutions will have to apply for a sponsorship licence and keep careful records of students

* Applications will be closely scrutinised to ensure their course and educational institution are legitimate.

Tier 4 visa holders will be able to switch to Tiers 1 and 2 from within the UK. Can work 20 hours a week whilst a student.

Contractor Summary: If you wanted to combine work and study it can work, but its not common for employers to accept part time Contractors.

* Tier 5: temporary entry 

including working holiday makers

Working holiday maker visas have been replaced by the new Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visa. To get a Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS) visa you'll need to accrue 50 points:

* 30 will be awarded for a certificate of sponsorship from your home country. It's likely Australians and New Zealanders will be exempt from this.

* 10 for being aged between 18 and 30

* 10 for having £1600 in the bank.


Rules of the new visa

* You can stay in the UK for up to 24 months

* You can work for the full 24 months in any job (except for setting up a business, playing professional sport or working as a doctor in training)

* You will have to leave the UK once the visa expires. If you then want to apply for a Tier 1 or Tier 2 visa, you will have to return to your home country.

Previous YMS or working holidaymaker visa holders are ineligible for the YMS. Existing working holiday makers cannot switch to the YMS.

Contractor Summary: YMS is a great way to get started in the UK. Work experience and salary gained under the YMS doesnt count towards a Tier 1 visa application so its difficult if you want to extend your stay. You can consider a change from a working holiday visa to a work permit

* Other Visas: 

  • UK Ancestry Entry Clearance allows a person to work freely in the UK for five years if they have a grandparent who was born in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man at any time; or a grandparent born in what is now the Republic of Ireland on or before March 31, 1922. After 5 years you can get ILR. 

Contractor Summary: An excellent visa if you qualify.


  • Unmarried Partner or De Facto Visa allows a person who can demonstrate 2 years of cohabitation with a UK citizen - what is termed a relationship akin to marriage - will qualify for a visa. After 2 years on this visa they can apply for ILR.

Contractor Summary: An excellent visa if you qualify.


* Indefinite Leave To Remain and Settlement:

After 5 years on an HSMP, Work Permit or Ancestral Visa you can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). This allows you to enter and leave the UK freely, and work freely as long as the UK is still your primary residence. After one year of ILR you can apply for British Citizenship and a British Passport. Obviously then there are no restrictions on your stay or your employment.

Contractor Summary: If you wish to get a British passport - which also qualifies you to work anywhere in the EU - then you will want to get this!

"Managed migration" is the term used for all legal work permits and visas and this accounts for a substantial percentage of overall immigration figures for the UK. Many of the immigrants who arrive under these schemes bring skills which are in short supply in the UK. This area of immigration is managed by the Border Agency - formerly the Home Office. Applications are made at UK Embassies or Consulates or directly to Work Permits (UK), depending upon the type of visa or permit required.

Client comment

"Great advice and excellent service on contracting and immigration solutions in the UK. I would highly recommend Tim and the team to assist you with accurate, clear and concise contracting advice in the UK or any other country for that matter."

Prishen Pillay,Global DBA Operations Lead

Shell International Trading & Shipping