A Step by Step Guide to UK Work Permits

Work permits allow British employers to recruit workers from overseas in cases where a suitable person to fill a post cannot be found within the resident EEA labour market. Work permits are deigned to allow a foreign national to move to the UK and begin working in a pre-arranged position for a specified employer. However, work permits can also lead to the opportunity to apply for permanent residency in the UK if the individual remains in the country on the same permit for a period of five years. In this article, we explore some of the key issues surrounding work permit applications.

Who needs one?

Nationals of many countries do not actually need a work permit in order to commence working in Britain.

Nationals of the European Union, or the European Economic Area (EEA) which comprises the EU countries plus Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland can take up employment in Great Britain without a permit for work. However, in the case of the newer 'A8' states, namely the Czech Republic, Estonia Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia candidates must apply to the Worker Registration Scheme within one month of starting a new job in the UK. The Worker Registration Scheme or WRS monitors the number of foreign nationals coming from the A8 states to work in Britain. Registering lasts for 12 months (unless you change employer) after which you can apply for an EEA residence permit to give you the same rights as the rest of the EEA.

For nationals of countries outside the EEA, getting a work permit will be essential to working in the UK unless the worker is coming to the country as the spouse of either a work permit holder, or a migrant whose UK visa permits their spouse to take up employment. Examples of visas which allow this would be a Sole Representative visa, an Investor Visa, or an Ancestry Visa.

How do I apply for a work permit?

Immigrating to the UK via a working permit is a two-stage process, requiring the permit itself to be obtained in addition to separate leave to enter or remain in the UK, in other words, making a visa application. Unlike the points based Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, or HSMP, which caters specifically for highly skilled migrants coming to the UK, applying for a work permit for the UK is an employer led process. The company who wants to bring the foreign national to the country should apply on their behalf.

Work permits do not employ a points based assessment although the experience and qualifications of the candidate are still crucial to the application. However, the key requirement is that a full time job offer must have been made by the recruiting company. UK work permits entitle the candidate to relocate to the UK in order to take up a specific position of employment with one particular company. Changing the employer or the position is not permitted without making a new application for a work permit. In these circumstances, the five-year residency period required to gain Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK would begin again from the issuing of the new permit.

Although the process is employer led, it is important to recognise that the permit itself does not constitute permission to enter the UK. Once the work permit application has been approved, individual candidates must then obtain UK entry clearance for themselves by applying for a visa.

A specialist immigration consultancy can manage the entire work permit and visa application processes for you, from providing immigration lawyer expertise to assessing and submitting the applications for you. For work permit applications evidence of the applicant's qualifications and employment history must be provided.

What kind of qualifications must the candidate have?

Working permits for the UK can be granted where a candidate has one of the following.

  • A degree level qualification.
  • A relevant (HND) level qualification.
  • An HND which is not directly relevant plus a minimum of one year of relevant full-time work experience. This experience must be at NVQ Level 3 or above.
  • 3 years full time relevant work experience at NVQ level 3 or above.

How long does the process take?

The time it takes to process a work permit application can vary according to the details of the employer and potential employee as well as the nature of the job itself. Work permits can often be completed within a matter of days, although 1-2 weeks would be a more realistic estimate.

How long are they valid for?

The maximum time a work permit can be granted for can be affected by the company in question. Start up companies are unlikely to be granted the maximum possible term. In general though, work permits can be granted for any period between one day and five years, although they can also be extended.

What is required of the position on offer?

The job being offered must be a genuine vacancy which offers the same, or greater, salary and benefits as those normally offered to a resident worker in a similar role. Crucially, in most cases the employer must be able to prove that they have tried, and been unable to successfully recruit a resident EEA worker to fill the role. This may not be necessary in some cases known as "tier 1" categories where the position is at 'board level' i.e. with a salary of at least £50,000 or where the application is for an Intra Company Transfer (ICT) where a foreign national working for an overseas branch or subsidiary is brought into the UK to work in the same firm. Advertising will also be waived for people coming to the UK to participate in a role which features on the UK's official 'shortages list' and for those who apply for a new permit whilst already in possession of a permit for a similar role gained through another employer.

In most cases however, applications will be regarded as "tier 2" and it will be necessary to show that all reasonable attempts have been made to advertise the position within the EEA. Normally this will involve advertising the post for a minimum of four weeks in the national press, a trade journal or where appropriate the internet e.g. for IT positions.

For further information on UK work permits, UK visas and UK immigration and a free online assessment, visit www.schengenvisainfo.com

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