UK Work Permits

Do you want to live and work in the UK? There are 3 main UK work permits, but your most viable option will depend on your own individual circumstances and goals. No matter what your situation may be or which permit you’re after, one of the most important steps will be researching and understanding all of your options.

Work Permits in the UK

TIER 2 - sponsored migration (formerly Work Permit)

For the purposes of this article when we talk about a Tier 2, we are referring to the Tier 2 (General) visa. This is the broadest, most flexible category and often one of the best options. It’s also where we can provide the most assistance, especially if you are looking for project work in IT, finance, telecommunications, or engineering.

To get a Tier 2 visa, an employer must sponsor you; your visa is dependent on your role with this employer. It lasts for an initial three years and is renewable for a further two.

Starting in April 2011, the UK government has limited these visas to 20,700 per year. The limit doesn’t apply to foreign workers earning more than £150,000 p/a or anyone changing employers in-country.

If you’re already on a Tier 2 work visa and looking to switch sponsors, check out our guide on doing just that.

Note: your employer must have the appropriate license for sponsoring Tier 2 Work Permits. Recruiters can’t sponsor you, even if they’ve offered you a position. If you’ve been offered a role from a recruiter but need help with employer sponsorship, skip to how we can help with your Tier 2 visa, or simply get in touch.

UK Visas

TIER 5 – youth mobility scheme migration (formerly Working Holiday visa)

This visa lasts up to 24 months and allows you to work freely for 12 months.

Be aware that the time you spend in the UK on one of these visas doesn’t count toward establishing Indefinite Leave to Remain. In other words, if you’re looking to eventually qualify for residency, this visa isn’t really your best bet. However, if you aren’t 100% sure of your future plans, a Tier 5 visa is a great way to get your start in the UK.

You’ll also have to meet a number of requirements, which can be found here.

Send your details for more information

TIER 1 – skilled migration (formerly Highly Skilled Migrant permit)

This used to be a great option for consultants, but it’s practically impossible to get at this point. After the changes in legislation in 2011, they’re now reserved for people of “exceptional talent” – those who have received international recognition for scientific or cultural contributions (or who are almost certain to do so in the future).

If you still think you might be eligible, check out our information page on Tier 1 visas.

Ancestry visa (or Grandparent visa)

Under this visa, you can work in the UK and basically enjoy all of the same employment opportunities as a UK citizen. Unfortunately, it only applies to a small group of people: Commonwealth citizens with a grandparent (maternal or paternal) who was born in the UK before 31 March 1992. Read more here.

Other visas

If you are a student or a low skilled worker, there are other visas which you can use, but they come with limitations.

Is the Tier 2 visa the best option for you?

Figuring this out will take some research and an assessment of your circumstances. It will also depend on your location and employment status.


Tier 2 Work Permit


Location & Employment Status

I’m currently outside the UK

This is an important consideration because your current location and home country can affect the visa application process and entry clearance procedures.

I’m employed

Equally important is your employment status. If you DO already have a job offer but need a work permit, then the Tier 2 visa is probably your best option. Jump here to know more about your sponsorship options.

I’m seeking employment

If you DON’T already have a job offer, you need to make sure you do your research. At this stage, researching your job market is crucial. If you haven’t already looked into your job prospects and the current demand for your skill-set, then researching visas and our services is premature. Unfortunately, we aren’t recruiters and so we can’t find a position for you in the UK. Instead, head here to sign up for our job seeker toolkit, which will help you:

  1. find out if there are jobs for you in the UK, and
  2. teach you how to get UK jobs.

I’m currently inside the UK

If you’re inside the UK, you’ll already have a visa, but you may be wanting to change to a different visa type like the Tier 2 (General).

I’m employed

Are you currently working? If you’ve got a job in the UK, you may be interested in switching Tier 2 sponsors or switching onto a Tier2. Check out our guide on switching here.

You might also be looking into changing from permanent work to consulting. If you’re considering a role as a consultant (or if you aren’t sure that it’s right for you), be sure to read on or simply jump ahead to our information on consulting.

I’m seeking employment

If you’re in the UK right now, you’re probably already on a visa. Depending on which one and what kind of work you’re looking for, you may be able to simply switch to a Tier 2 work permit.

If you’re looking for work, make sure you’ve researched your prospects before going any further. You can find out more in our job seeker kit.

I have a job offer

However, if you’ve been offered a position (or are currently negotiating one), you’re probably more interested in understanding your sponsorship options. It’s frustrating to be offered an opportunity, yet be unable to accept it because of immigration barriers. Luckily, there are solutions, but they depend on the type of work you do.

Is it a permanent job or a consulting job?

I need sponsorship for a permanent role

This requires sponsorship from your employer directly, you can go here to learn more about the process for Tier 2 visas.

What about sponsorship for consulting roles?

Conversely, if you’re open to a job in consulting, you should keep reading

Consulting in the UK: is this the option for you?

If you have the appropriate skill set, consulting can be hugely rewarding. The most obvious benefit is that you’ll generally get paid more than double the amount you would get for similar work in a permanent role. On average, consultants working through our partners in the UK make £84,000 per annum and stay in the country for about two and a half years.

Consulting companies: how they work

What do consulting companies do?

Sometimes companies need to bring in specialists for temporary projects. Since they only need help with short-term jobs, they don’t need or want to hire a full-time employee to get the work done. As a result, they’ll pay a consultant (you) to come in and take care of business. This makes them a “client” rather than an employer, though; clients usually don’t sponsor people for temporary assignments.

This is where consulting companies come in – they’re an intermediary between you and the client.

When you work as a consultant for a consulting company, they act as your employer.

How can a consulting company help with my work visa?

Perhaps most importantly, as your employer, the consulting company will sponsor your Tier 2 work visa. 

What’s next?

So how do you go about working with a consulting company? If you specialise in IT, telecom, engineering, or finance, and you’re hoping to work as a consultant in the UK, we can get you started…

Getting started with a consulting company

You’re still reading: we assume this means there’s a good chance you’re interested in working with a consulting company.

But how do you get started with one? And how do you get started with the right one? When you’re juggling new career prospects and immigration confusion, a lot of this can feel like just another headache.

However, we can help (don’t worry, our help is free). We’ve worked with numerous consultants, recruiters, and consulting companies. We know how to match consultants with the right companies.

If you have questions or want feedback on your circumstances, we offer simple, honest advice on getting UK work permits and taking temporary assignments. If you decide you want to work through a consulting company, we’ll also get the process started for you. It’ll take 2 minutes or less, and is completely free. Just let us know your situation. We prefer chat or e-mail, or you can simply click the image below to send us your details.

Send your details for more information


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