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Immigration & Work Permits

Work Permits

Foreign workers are required to have the proper visas and work permits in the UK, as established by immigration laws.  Work permits must be secured for employees, and sponsored by a locally licensed and incorporated entity, which can be a problem for companies just entering the UK market.  If you have yet to complete the incorporation process you can use an outsourced management company or GEO Employer of Record to sponsor the employee for the necessary permits.

Your Options

Have your own Company

In order to secure a work permit for employees, you must have a fully incorporated company in place in the UK.  The most common work permit is a Tier 2 visa, which is tied to one employer, and valid for three years.  With the proper license you can obtain a Certificate of Sponsorship for foreign employees and obtain this type of visa for specific types of work.  There is a limit on Tier 2 visas except for highly compensated employees.

The Tier 2 General visa requires the employer to apply for a Certificate of Sponsorship (COS) from an authorized sponsor and documentation for various eligibility criteria for the worker.


  • The Resident Labour Market Test must be completed by the employer for most skilled job positions to confirm that there are no suitable local workers available to fill the position, conducted through a job advertisement run for 28 days.
  • The employer lodges an application for a sponsorship license through UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) with certified supporting documents. These documents must demonstrate that the company is a genuine business and it has the capabilities of supporting sponsored employees. The approval period takes up to 8 weeks with a fee of up to £1,476 for Tier 2 visas, depending on the size of business.
  • The employer applies for a COS for each worker applying for a visa with the UK Border Agency (UKBA). This requires applying for a Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship for Tier 2 General workers. The Certificate is simply an electronic record in the form of a reference number assigned to each worker. There will be a monthly limit for certificates issued, and consideration of applications only occurs the working day after the 10th day of each month on the allocation date, unless the application is lodged after the 5th day of the month, where the application is postponed to the next allocation date. Certificate approval may therefore take up to a month, with a fee of £199 per Tier 2 certificate.
  • The COS is approved and sent to the employer, who provides a copy to each foreign worker applying for a work permit.
  • The employee must pay the Immigration Health Surcharge if they are not from an EEA country, which is typically £200 per year for the duration of the visa.
  • The employee must conduct a Tuberculosis test if they are from a listed country.
  • The employee applies for a biometric residence permit for the visa application by taking a photograph and their fingerprints at a local visa application centre, which must be collected within 10 days of arrival to the UK.
  • The employee lodges an application for a Tier 2 General visa with UKBA along with the necessary certified documentation. Generally, an appointment is required with the local visa application centre. The application takes up to 15 days with a fee depending on the occupation, which will generally be £564 for visas valid up to 3 years or £1,128 for more than 3 years.
  • The worker lodges an application for UK entry clearance if working longer than 6 months. The employer must provide the employment contract to the worker, and the worker must apply to the local British Embassy or Consulate, along with a valid passport, passport photo, work permit, medical certificate and employment contract. Processing times vary depending on country.
  • When the entry clearance and Tier 2 General visa are both approved and all the tests have been passed, the worker may travel to the UK and work under the employer for the specified duration.
  • The employee travels to the UK and the admission of the worker into the UK rests with the Immigration Officer at the port of entry.
  • The employee is permitted to work in the UK.

Processing time may be more than 12 weeks depending on the country and whether the employer has carried out the Resident Labour Market Test.

Costs incurred will depend on the country of applicant and whether fees for tests/surcharges are required for each individual.

Documentation required


  • Original contract of employment detailing the position, salary, duration of employment and other employment terms.
  • Certified supporting documents that provide evidence of the existence of the business if applying for a sponsorship license (e.g, VAT registration, bank statements, etc.).
  • Documentation related to the Resident Labour Market Test and evidence that no suitable local workers can be found for the position.
  • Certificate of Sponsorship for each applicant.


  • Current passport and colour photograph.
  • Academic qualifications equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree as evidence of English-speaking proficiency, unless worker is from an English-speaking country.
  • Bank statements as evidence that the worker has sufficient savings (£945 over last 90 days).
  • Sponsorship certification that employer can support and accommodate employee for the first month if there are no employee savings information.
  • Tuberculosis test results for certain countries.
  • Biometric residence permit.
  • Additional supporting documents may be required to process the COS, visa, entry clearance or to conduct the relevant tests.
  • All documents must be original or certified by a professional.
  • All documents in languages other than English or Welsh must be translated and certified.

Use the Shield GEO Employer of Record Solution

Given changes in regulations, third party organisations can no longer sponsor work permits in the UK.


If you'd like to know more about employing workers in UK, please get in touch.

Types of visas in United Kingdom

Category Description of Visa
Business Visas (Standard Visitor)

The business visa (Standard Visitor visa), is typically granted for visitors who are outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland, and are traveling to the UK for the purposes of business up to 6 months. The business visa restricts the activities an individual may engage in during their stay, prohibiting any work activities and receiving a salary, but may engage in meetings, conferences, research or negotiating contracts with UK companies.

This visa is recommended for short business visits that do not involve extended work as it only requires a passport, biometric information and a passport photo, which can be lodged by the employee at the local visa application centre.

Visa nationals must still acquire an entry clearance before traveling to the UK. The duration of the Visit visa may be extended beyond 6 months based on the needs of the individual to a long-term visit visa, but supporting documents and a letter stating intent of stay is required to justify the period extension.

Standard Visit Visa Fee: £85

Time: 15 days up to 3 weeks

The employer-sponsored work permit, or a Tier 2 (General) visa, applies to all skilled foreign workers who have not worked with the UK employer for more than 12 months previously and are seeking to work for the licensed sponsor who have offered them a position in the UK. A Certificate of Sponsorship must be acquired to show the relationship between the sponsor and the employee. This visa is recommended for standard employment arrangements between companies based in the UK with foreign workers for an extended duration of time, where positions with a skilled worker shortage are given priority approval. The documents required are more comprehensive due to the employment arrangement, which include: passport, passport photo, bank statement showing savings, proof of English proficiency (academic documents), medical test results and biometric information. There are certain tests which must be fulfilled to issue the Tier 2 visa: Resident Labour Market Test: Evidence that the UK employer cannot find local skilled workers to fill the position. English-proficiency: The worker must provide documents which demonstrate they have a good knowledge of English, e.g. equivalent UK bachelor’s degree. Restricted COS: The number of Tier 2 certificates issued is restricted each month. These will be allocated to UK employers based on a point system, which prioritizes jobs with a shortage of workers or higher level positions with PhD requirements. The duration of the Tier 2 (General) visa can be up to 3 years, or more than 3 years up to 5 years. An extension for an additional 5 years can be approved, as long as the total state does not exceed 6 years. Dependants may accompany the employee but require a visa and similar documentation. A sufficient level of savings must also be proved to demonstrate the dependants can be supported during the stay in the UK. Tier 2 (General) visa Fees: Up to 3 years: £564 More than 3 years: £1,128 Jobs with a shortage of workers attract a lower application fee.


Time: Up to 3 weeks.

Intra-Company Transfer (Tier 2 ICT visa)

The intra-company transfer (ICT) visa, or a Tier 2 (ICT) visa, is relevant to employees working in a multinational corporation who are being transferred to the UK division by the overseas employer. It is relevant to four categories of employees:

Long-term Staff: Employees who have worked with the company abroad for at least 12 months, and are transferring to the UK branch where UK workers are unable to fill the position. The duration is granted for up to 3 years, which may be extended for another 2 years. Any extensions beyond 5 years must incur a 1 year “cooling off” period where employees may not return to the UK under a Tier 2 (ICT) visa, unless they are highly compensated.

Short-term Staff: Similar to Long-term ICT visa, however, is limited to within 12 months of employment in the UK.

Graduate Transfer: Employees who are recent graduate employees of multinational companies who have been working with the employer overseas for at least 3 months, and intend on working via graduate training programmes for no longer than 12 months. Only 5 of these visas may be issued per sponsor each year, and the employee must be training towards a managerial or specialist role.

Skills Transfer: Employees being transferred to the UK branches in the multinational company with the purpose of transferring specialist skills and knowledge to UK employees, or gaining skills and knowledge to bring back to their country. The role must not fulfil a vacancy or replace workers, and should not take longer than 6 months.

Dependants may accompany the employee given that they have applied for a visa as well, along with relevant documentation.

Tier 2 (ICT) visa Fees:
Skills Transfer, Graduate Trainee, Short-term: £445
Long-term staff up to 3 years: £564
Long-term staff more than 3 years: £1,128

Time: Up to 3 weeks.

Freelance / Entrepreneur Permit (Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa)

The Entrepreneur Permit, or a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa, applies to individuals who have access to investment funds and intend to invest or run a business in the UK. This permit allows foreign migrants to set up or take over a UK business under self-employment. The applicant must provide evidence they have at least £50,000 in investment funds in a regulated financial institution to apply to demonstrate their investment capacity, or that they have access to £200,000 or have invested £200,000 in a UK business.

Applicants must provide specific documentation, such as an official statement of investment funds available for investment in the UK from a financial institution, a business plan, and a criminal record certificate in addition to passport, passport photo, proof of English proficiency (except in a handful of English-speaking countries), bank statement of savings, medical test results and biometric information.

The duration for the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa is at maximum 3 years and 4 months, which can be extended for 2 years if already in Tier 1, or 3 years if from another category. The individual may apply for an “indefinite leave to remain” once they have been in the UK for 5 years, where they may stay indefinitely. Dependants may accompany the employee but require a visa and similar documentation. A sufficient level of savings must also be proved to demonstrate the dependants can be supported during the stay in the UK.

Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa Fees:
Apply in person: £944
Apply online or by post: £1,180

Time: Up to 3 weeks.

United Kingdom


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