An Introduction to UK Work Permits

The UK, and particularly London, has always been a desirable place to work, live and conduct business. As a small island nation, it’s been essential to the country’s growth and global standing to facilitate the flow of skilled workers, artists, entrepreneurs, and young aspiring workers into the country. This flow of workers, artists, and sports people has been supported by issuing work permits to eligible candidates across a range of different immigration routes. These “work permits” provide an authorisation that allows non-UK residents to work legally in the United Kingdom.

Following the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union in 2020, the country’s immigration system was overhauled. This significant change reflected the end of free movement for EU citizens between their home countries and the UK and the need for a flexible immigration policy to meet the UK’s future needs.  On 1 January 2021, a new points-based system was introduced. Under this system, work visas are categorised into different routes, such as the Skilled Worker, Global Business Mobility, and several others. These different visas allow individuals to work in the UK based on various factors such as skills, qualifications, job offers, experience, and sponsorship by a UK employer.

Different Types of Work Permits Available

The UK has numerous different work visa categories to suit the different short, medium, and long-term needs of UK companies. Your eligibility and suitability for these various visas will depend on many different factors, including:

  • How long you intend to stay in the UK
  • Your skills and academic qualifications
  • The presence of a job offer or sponsorship invitation
  • The nature of the work you intend to undertake
  • Your desire to bring family members to the UK with you


In the paragraphs below, we provide an overview of all the different types of work visas or work permits currently available to prospective migrants. We have in-depth guides for many of these visas, so you can click through to read a more in-depth overview.


Skilled Worker

The Skilled Worker Visa is the most prominent category within the United Kingdom’s points-based immigration system. It is designed to attract foreign nationals with valuable skills to work in shortage occupations in the UK. To be eligible, applicants must have a valid job offer from a UK employer that meets specific requirements. They must also score sufficient points based on factors such as job offer, skill level, and proficiency in the English language. Successful applicants can live and work in the UK and may eventually apply for settlement after five years. This visa route replaces the previous Tier 2 (General) visa and is vital to the UK’s workforce and economic growth.


Global Business Mobility Visa

The Global Business Mobility suit of visas is designed for individuals employed by a foreign company connected to a sponsoring UK business. This category includes various visas that allow staff in different roles to be seconded to the UK. This includes visas for senior or expert personnel, graduate trainees, expansion team members, service providers, and seconded employees. This range of visas has replaced the Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) visa.


Global Talent Visa

The Global Talent Visa is designed to attract and retain exceptionally talented individuals in various fields, including science, research, arts, and digital technology. This visa allows those with outstanding achievements or potential to live and work in the UK. Applicants are assessed by recognised endorsing bodies in their respective fields, and they do not need a job offer to apply. Successful candidates gain flexibility in their work and research and can eventually apply for settlement in the UK. The Global Talent Visa promotes innovation, creativity, and knowledge exchange in the UK.


Health and Care Workers

The Health and Care Worker Visa is a category that addresses workforce shortages in the healthcare and social care sectors. This visa is available to skilled healthcare professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and other care workers, who wish to work in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) or social care settings. Applicants must meet specific eligibility criteria and have a job offer from a UK employer to qualify. The visa provides a pathway to live and work in the UK, helping to support and maintain essential healthcare services, particularly in times of high demand, such as during public health crises.


Temporary Worker

The UK Temporary Worker Visa is a category within the UK’s immigration system that allows foreign nationals to work in various temporary and seasonal roles. It includes subcategories like the Seasonal Worker Visa for agricultural work, the Creative Worker Visa, and Sporting Visa for entertainers and athletes. There are also subcategories for charity workers and religious workers. These visas typically require a job offer from a UK employer or sponsor and are designed for short-term work stints. The duration of stay varies depending on the specific visa type, and it does not usually lead to permanent residency. It provides a way for businesses to fill temporary labor gaps and for workers to gain experience in the UK.


Minister of Religion visa (T2)

The UK Minister of Religion Visa is a specialised immigration category designed for religious leaders, ministers, and missionaries who intend to work in the United Kingdom. To qualify, applicants must have a job offer or sponsorship from a recognised religious institution, and their work should involve various religious duties, including leading congregations, conducting religious ceremonies, or teaching religious doctrine. This visa allows religious workers to live and work in the UK temporarily. After five years, the Minister of Religion visa can lead to permanent residency. The visa provides a legal pathway for individuals to fulfill their religious roles within UK faith-based organisations and contribute to their communities.


Other Work Permits

There are various other types of work permits available that fall outside of the main routes. Most of these other types of work permits have some additional clause; for example, you can potentially apply for a Graduate Visa, Global Talent visa, or High Potential Individual visa based on academic achievements. Alternatively, you may be able to apply for an Ancestry visa based on your family lineage or the Youth Mobility Scheme based on your nationality. For budding entrepreneurs, an innovator visa might be an option. Each of these visas has very specific criteria. If you need help or assistance in understanding this criteria, please get in touch with us.

Do I Need to Have a Work Permit to Work in the UK?

To be able to work in the UK, you must either be a British Citizen, hold settled status in the UK (either Indefinite Leave to Remain or EEA Settled/Pre-Settled Status), or have a valid work authorisation. This work authorisation is most commonly in the form of one of the work permits issued by UK Visas & Immigration, but it can also include other visas that allow you to work in the UK. This includes dependant visas, some family visas, and in some circumstances, student visas (up to a maximum of 20 hours). If you do not meet this criteria, you cannot legally work in the UK.
Many visitors to the UK arrive on a tourist visa or business visa. These visas allow you to stay in the UK for up to 6 months. However, these visas do not allow you to work in the UK, and employers cannot legally employ you until you obtain an appropriate work permit or authorisation.

Do I Need to Get a Job Offer to Obtain a Work Permit?

One of the most commonly asked questions is whether obtaining a work permit without a job offer is possible. In most cases, it isn’t possible. Almost all work visa immigration routes require sponsorship, whether from a tech company for a Skilled Worker visa, the NHS for a Health and Care Worker visa, a transfer to your company’s UK branch, or from a church for a Minister of Religion visa.  There are exceptions to this rule, but you’ll need to meet the criteria for one of the following visas:

  • Graduate visa – if you’ve completed a qualification in the UK
  • Youth Mobility visa – if you come from an eligible country
  • Global Talent Visa – for individuals with exceptional academic achievements or potential
  • High Potential individual visa – if you’ve completed a qualification from a qualifying university in the past five years
  • Innovator / Start-Up Founder visa – if you have a business plan and funding in place
  • Ancestry visa – if you have British ancestry through a British Grandparent

How Much Does a Work Permit Cost?

The cost of a work permit varies based on the specific visa you are applying for. You also need to factor in the cost of the Immigration Health Surcharge, an annual fee levied on most visas. This fee is used to fund the cost of the NHS services used by migrants to the UK. The visa fees and Immigration Health Surcharge fee at laid out in the table below.


Visa TypeApplication FeeImmigration Health Surcharge FeeVisa Duration
Skilled Worker Visa£551 to £1,084£624 per yearUp to 5 years
Global Business Mobility – Senior or Specialist£719 to £1,500£624 per yearUp to 5 years
Global Talent Visa£716£624 per yearUp to 5 years
Health and Care Worker£284 to £551ExemptUp to 5 years
Temporary Worker£298£624 per year6 – 12 months
Minister of Religion£719 to £827£624 per yearUp to 5 years
Innovator Founder Visa£1,191 to £1,486£624 per yearUp to 3 years
Graduate Visa£822£624 per year2 to 3 years
Youth Mobility Scheme£298£470 per year2 to 3 years
High Potential Individual Visa£822£624 per year2 to 3 years
Ancestry Visa£637£624 per yearUp to 5 years