Since the introduction of the Tier 1 – 5 visa routes, many organisations are overlooking alternative UK visa options for non-EEA workers when on-boarding new hires or transferring existing staff to the UK.

Selecting the best visa option

As part of your global mobility programme, it is important to ensure all non-EEA hires and transferees are thoroughly assessed. This includes a review of the parameters of specific projects, to ensure the visa being sought is suitable and, for example, sufficiently flexible to accommodate changes to the project and working abroad.

Consideration of all available visa options can help ensure selection of the most cost and time effective routes of entry to the UK for your employees. These can include:

  • Van der Elst visa
  • Youth Mobility visa
  • Exceptional Talent visa

Van der Elst visa

If a non-EEA employee’s work activity falls outside the terms of a business visitor visa, they may still be eligible to work in the UK via a Van der Elst visa.

Van der Elst visas allow non-EEA nationals who are working for an employer within the EU to provide services within other EU member states without the need for a work permit.

To be eligible, the employee must meet the following criteria:

  • They lawfully reside in the EU member state where their employer is established.
  • They are lawfully and habitually employed by an employer who is temporarily providing a service in the UK.
  • They must leave the UK once the services have been provided.
  • They must not take up any other form of employment during their time in the UK.

To apply, employees are required to complete an online application form, provide supporting documentation (originals) and submit biometric data.

The benefits of a Van der Elst visa

Unlike other routes of entry, under a Van der Elst visa there are no stipulations around the seniority or skills of the employee. Employers therefore can potentially use Van der Elst visas across their workforce.

Employees should be able to satisfy the ‘habitual employment’ requirement within only a matter of months, making it a relatively accessible option.

Also, there is no application fee.

For non-EEA and Swiss national workers of Swiss companies, there is a similar exception to Van der Elst for gaining entry to the UK to provide services temporarily on behalf of their Swiss employer.

A time limitation does however apply of a total of 90 days in one calendar year. Visas – and therefore the period of the applicant’s intended stay in the UK – must therefore be limited to a maximum of 90 days.

Youth Mobility visa

The Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa is open to 18-30 year olds from Australia, Canada, Japan or New Zealand. It enables applicants to travel to the UK for up to 2 years and work legally while here.

The following criteria apply:

  • Applicants must have no dependent children.
  • They must have £1,890 savings.
  • They must not have held a youth mobility visa or UK working holiday visa before.
  • They must not set up a business or provide services as a professional sportsperson or a doctor in training while in the UK.

Note also that spouses and partners of Youth Mobility participants are not permitted to enter the UK as dependants. They must obtain their own permission, either via Youth Mobility or a suitable, alternative visa.

Benefits of Youth Mobility visa

For employers, the Youth Mobility visa offers an opportunity to mobilise talent from specific regions via a relatively faster, cheaper application process.

It grants a right to work in the UK for up to two years, usually a sufficient timeframe to satisfy short to medium term assignments or projects.

Exceptional talent visa

The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa route is available for exceptional people in the fields of natural, medical and social sciences, engineering, digital technology, humanities and the arts, who wish to enter or remain in the UK.

To qualify, applicants must demonstrate:

  • they are a recognised world leader in their field (exceptional talent); or
  • theu have the potential to become a world leader in their field (exceptional potential).

The application process has two stages. The first seeks to obtain an endorsement by a Designated Competent Body on the basis of the applicant’s skills, experience and achievements.

Following endorsement, they must then apply to the Home Office for Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) leave to enter or remain.

This route is particularly popular among academics, medical practitioners and digital technology specialists.

Applicants are not however permitted to work as a doctor or dentist in training, or a professional sportsperson or sports coach.

Benefits of Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa

The Exceptional Talent visa offers holders a great deal of flexibility and freedom to work in the UK. They are able to work in any sector, either as an employee, contractor or self-employed.

The flipside for employers of bringing an individual to the UK on an Exceptional Talent visa is that the holder does not have to seek additional approval from the Home Office if they change employers; unlike for example the Tier 2 visa, which arguably deters holders from changing employers due to the strict sponsorship requirement.

There is no maximum limit on the time holders can spend in the UK under an Exceptional Talent visa. Applicants can choose how long they wish to apply for to stay, up to a maximum of 5 years, and can apply to extend your leave or seek to obtain settlement.

Dependants are also permitted to follow visa holders if they meet the requirements.

Visa management

Reviewing the full range of visa options open to your employees can result in more efficient processing, lower application costs and ultimately a better fit for your particular immigration need.

Once you have identified the appropriate visa, it is important to ensure you follow the appropriate application process. This requires knowledge and understanding of Home Office procedures to minimise the risk of delay or even rejection of an application.

It is also crucial for employers to manage their visas on an ongoing basis, to ensure compliance with granted permissions and avoid any potential for a civil penalty for illegal employment.