Living and working in the UK

1. Could you be entitled to British nationality?

British citizens (and certain British subjects) have the right to live and work in the UK. Subject to other conditions, you may be able to apply for British citizenship if:

  • you have been living in the UK for the last five years (or three years if you are married to or the civil partner of a British citizen);
  • you were born in the UK or a British overseas territory;
  • one of your parents was a British citizen; or
  • you have another form of British nationality.

Partners, fiancés, proposed civil partners, children and adult dependent relatives of British citizens living in the UK or those who have the right of permanent residence in the UK may apply to come to the UK.

2. Are you a Commonwealth citizen with British ancestry?

It is possible for a Commonwealth citizen to come to the UK for up to five years to work if they can show that at least one of their grandparents was born in the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Republic of Ireland (if before 31 March 1922), or on a British-registered ship or aircraft.

An applicant must be aged 17 or over, be able and intend to work in the UK and be able to support themselves and dependents without help from public funds. Partners and children under 18 can normally accompany an applicant. After five years, it may be possible to apply to settle permanently.

3. Are you an EEA or Swiss national?

EEA and Swiss nationals have the right to work or simply to live in the UK if they have the means to support themselves and their family without becoming an unreasonable burden on public funds.

The spouse, civil partner, unmarried long term partner, dependent children or grandchildren under the age of 21 and dependent parents and grandparents may accompany the applicant as (in certain circumstances) can non-relatives who can show actual dependence.

EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who live in the UK for five years may qualify for permanent settlement. They may also be able to apply for British citizenship after a further year in the UK.

4. Will you be investing or setting up a business in the UK?

One of the key routes for foreign investors in the UK is through the 'investor' visa. An applicant in this category will, broadly speaking, need to show that they have at least £2m available for new investment in the UK held in a regulated financial institution. The funds must then be invested in UK government bonds, share capital or loan capital in active and trading UK registered companies (excluding companies mainly engaged in property investment, property management or property development). There is no English language or maintenance requirement. The visa will be granted for a maximum of three years and four months and can be extended for another two years. After a period of five years, it may be possible to apply for settlement and a year thereafter, it may be possible to apply for citizenship. The period required for settlement can be shortened by two or three years if £5m or £10m respectively is invested.

Another possible option is the 'entrepreneur' visa. This requires access to £200,000 of your own money or £50,000 from certain venture capital sources which must be invested in a business in which you participate. Unlike the investor visa there are English language and maintenance requirements. This visa may be granted for a maximum of three years and four months with a two year extension if certain conditions are met, including creating at least two jobs for already resident employees. Settlement may be granted after five years (three years if you have created 10 jobs for settled people and your business has met a prescribed income threshold) and citizenship after a minimum of six years in the UK.

A third potential route is a 'representative of an overseas business' visa. This applies to senior employees recruited and employed abroad by an overseas business which wants to engage the employee to establish its first independent branch or subsidiary in the UK. Again, there are English language and maintenance requirements. The visa will be granted for a maximum of three years and can be extended by two years. After five years permanent settlement may be granted and thereafter possibly citizenship.

All of the above options will also allow partners and children under the age of 18 to accompany you, however, this will trigger additional healthcare surcharge payments.

5. Will you be working for a UK business or transferring to your company's UK branch?

Migrant workers with a specific job offer from an employer who is a licensed sponsor and has granted them a certificate of sponsorship can apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa. To be successful, either the job must be on the shortage occupations list, the employer must follow a specified recruitment process (from which no suitably qualified EEA national was willing to take up the position) or the salary must be over £155,300. There are also English language and maintenance requirements and an annual cap on the number of visas granted for jobs where the salary is below £155,300 per annum. You may be able to apply for settlement after five years residence and after another year, citizenship.

Skilled employees wishing to transfer from an overseas business to the UK branch may apply for a Tier 2 (Intra-company) visa. Separate visas exist for long term transfers, short term transfers, graduate trainees and those who are transferred to learn or impart specialist skills or knowledge. For long term and short term transfers the worker must have been employed overseas for at least 12 months and will only be eligible if the role cannot be filled by a settled or EEA national worker. Graduate trainees must have been with the business for at least three months. All applicants must be able to maintain themselves but the English language requirement only becomes relevant after three years in the UK. New applicants will not qualify for settlement through time spent in the UK in this category.

Tier 2 (General) and (Intra-company transfer) visa holders may be joined by their partner and dependent children under the age of 18.

Registration as a sponsor is itself a lengthy process and something which employers should consider early on if there is any prospect of them wishing to recruit migrant workers.

6. Do you have exceptional talents in science, engineering, digital technology or the arts?

Exceptional talent visas may be granted to individuals who are internationally recognised for their ability in the fields of science, engineering, digital technology or the arts. An applicant needs to be endorsed by the relevant designated body (Arts Council England, British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society or Tech City UK) and there are detailed guidelines governing such endorsements.

7. Are you coming to the UK to work on a temporary basis?

Visas can be applied for to work in the UK on a temporary basis in the creative, sporting or charity sectors or as part of a youth mobility scheme or government organised exchange. Religious workers and those travelling under international agreements may also be able to apply for temporary visas.

In addition, domestic workers in private households may apply for a visa to come to the UK with an employer who is visiting the UK for up to six months after which they must leave.

8. Are you a UK graduate entrepreneur?

Graduates who are already in the UK may be granted a visa to remain in the UK after they graduate to pursue a business idea which has been endorsed by their educational institution. Leave will be granted for one year initially, may be extended for a further year and does not lead to settlement. Alternatively, it may be possible to convert a student visa into another form of visa if the criteria are met.

Visiting the UK

It is possible to visit the UK for up to six months for certain permitted purposes subject to strict conditions and restrictions. There are four main categories, standard visitor (for leisure, business or certain other permitted reasons), visitor for marriage or civil partnership, visitor for permitted paid engagements and transit visitor. It will often be advisable to apply for a visa before travel (and this is always required for nationals of certain countries).

Studying in the UK

Individuals who are over the age of four may apply for a visa to study in the UK. Between the ages of four and 15 they must attend an independent fee-paying school. Applicants of all ages must have a sponsor, normally a licenced educational provider. A student may be required to pay a healthcare surcharge, but at a reduced rate of £150 per year.

An adult student will need to show a particular level of English language ability. They may work in the UK while studying for specified amounts of time and subject to conditions. Adult students may be able to bring their partner and children under the age of 18 to the UK. At the other end of the scale, parents of children under the age of 12 may be able to accompany them to the UK.

Currently, time spent studying in the UK does not lead to a right to permanent settlement (or citizenship).