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Working in the UK

The different categories under which an immigrant can work in the UK have been subject to regular change. The current categories are explained below.

Commonly, people still talk of obtaining a "work permit", however this terminology is now obsolescent, with work permits being for the most part superseded by Tier 2 of the Points-Based System. Some work permits still exist but these are exclusively limited to legacy cases - those who were already on a work permit before the new system was introduced.

These apart, non-UK citizens allowed to work in the UK are split into the following categories:

  1. European Economic Area (EEA) and Icelandic/Norwegian/Swiss Nationals, which includes: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
  2. Points-Based System Workers. This is the main category under which non-EEA citizens can work in the UK.
  3. Turkish Nationals. Although not part of the European Economic Area, Turkish citizens can apply to establish themselves in business in the UK by virtue of the European Community Association Agreement (ECAA). To do so they must apply in the ECAA business category.
  4. Ancestry visas. Commonwealth citizens over 17 with at least one British-born grandparent can apply for an ancestry visa, which allows the applicant to work in the UK.
  5. Visitors. Business visitors, permitted paid engagement visitors, prospective entrepreneurs, entertainers and sportspeople may all obtain short-term visas for entering the UK to conduct limited amounts of work, subject to certain conditions. These visas do not provide long-term employment.
  6. Students. Students come to the UK primarily to study, not to work. A student visa should not therefore be treated primarily as a work visa. Whether or not they can work whilst studying will depend on when they applied for the visa, the level of the course of study, the work they wish to undertake, when they wish to do it and for how long. Conditions attached to working are strictly controlled and the authorities take a very dim view of those who breach the terms of their student visas. The normal rule is that students cannot work full time during term-time, but may do so in vacations. The hours they can work and in what capacity will depend on the course they are undertaking. Those attending NQF Level 6 or above courses at UK higher education institutions can usually work for 20 hours a week in term-time, those studying below that level - for 10 hours a week. Rules are subject to change and students must check the terms attached to their visa when it is granted.
  7. Representative of an Overseas Business. This category is for foreign workers who will act as the sole representative of an overseas company planning to set up a UK branch or a wholly owned subsidiary for an overseas parent company or as an employee of an overseas newspaper, news agency or broadcasting organisation posted on a long-term assignment to the UK.

Do you have questions about working in the UK? Get in touch with one of our expert immigration lawyers or call us on +44(0)20 7724 4488 for more information.



Our Experts

Toska Fernandez Toska Fernandez

Trainee Solicitor in our General and Corporate Immigration Teams, specialising in sponsor licence applications, Tier 2 ICT, Tier 2 General visas and Tier 5 visas



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For advice on immigration, nationality, extradition or human rights, please contact us now.

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