While the Tier 2 (General) visa remains the main entry route to the UK for skilled workers, recent changes to the Immigration Rules may precipitate employers exploring alternative immigration options to meet talent needs.

Among the alternative UK visa entry routes available for business purposes is the Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa.

The Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa allows nationals, between the ages of 18 and 30, from certain countries to live and work in the UK for up to 2 years. As a time-limited entry route, the Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa may offer a more commercially-viable and cost-effective solution to the Tier 2 visa in addressing short-term skills gaps.

Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa – a viable option for employers?

For employers, the Tier 5 Youth Mobility may offer an alternative free from the burdens – financial and administrative – of hiring under Tier 2, following the recent increase in Tier 2 costs and raised minimum Tier 2 salary threshold to £30,000,

A report by the Migration Advisory Committee in January, for example, suggests UK schools are commonly using Tier 5 Youth Mobility as an alternative to Tier 2 where possible in addressing teacher shortages.

The main limitation of the Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa however is that it does not offer a route to UK settlement for holders. Holders are not permitted to switch visa category and they must return to their home country on visa expiry.

If an employer wishes to retain a Tier 5 worker, it is important to ascertain what the immigration options are as early before visa expiry as possible.

For example, the circumstances may point to a Tier 2 (General) visa, however the application process is stringent and a number of requirements must first be met. Note that the worker will also have to return to their country of origin to make the application.

What does the Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa allow holders to do?

Under the visa, holders are able to come to the UK to work, study or be self-employed and set up a business – provided premises are rented, any equipment isn’t worth more than £5,000 and there are no employees.

Holders can enter and leave the UK at any time while the visa is valid.

Holders are not however permitted to work as a doctor or dentist in training (unless they can show they qualified in the UK) or as a professional sportsperson (for example as a coach). They are not able to get access to public funds and any family members must apply separately to enter the UK.

Importantly, the visa is not open to individuals who have already been to the UK under a Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa, or in the former ‘working holidaymaker’ category.

Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa criteria

The Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa is open to applicants that:

  • want to live and work in the UK for up to 2 years;
  • are aged 18 to 30 (holders are permitted to stay in the UK if they turn 31 during their stay, provided the visa is valid);
  • have £1,890 in savings; and
  • do not have dependent children.

Applicants must hold certain types of British Nationality or be from one of the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Hong Kong (requires sponsorship)
  • Japan
  • Monaco
  • New Zealand
  • Republic of Korea (requires sponsorship)
  • Taiwan

Applicants must also show:

  • their current passport or other valid travel ID;
  • a bank statement showing at least £1,890 in savings; and
  • TB test results if relevant to home country.

Additional documents may be required depending on the circumstances.

Applications can be made 6 months before travel. Decisions are usually made within 3 weeks.

It costs £230 to apply. In addition, the visa holder will have to pay the healthcare surcharge as part of their application.