How To Get A Well-Paid Job And A Work Visa In The UK

It is a general perception that it is tough for skilled expats to come and work in the UK. It might be a lengthier and bumpier process than in other countries popular with expats, however, getting a UK work visa is far from being impossible.

The fact is that the number of UK work visas granted to skilled foreigners is growing!

According to the Home Office numbers, in 2017 they granted 165,131 work-related visas, an increase of 1 percent on the previous year. 

Among them:

  • 5,127 high-value (Tier 1) visas, up 13%
  • 94,247 Skilled (Tier 2) visas, up 1%
  • 40,864 youth mobility and temporary workers (Tier 5), down 3%

This article tells you how to become one of those lucky numbers in the UK Home Office statistics.

If you don’t have a minimum £50K of disposable savings stashed in your bank account and a great business idea, then Tier 1 Visa is probably not the right choice for you. 

If it’s the case, then what you want is General Work Visa (Tier 2, T2).

As you can see from the Home Office statistics, a General Work Visa is what most of the skilled professionals go for. The real and only challenge here is to find a UK company willing and eligible to sponsor you.

Why a UK General Work visa?

Because there’s much more to UK work visa than just work, that’s why.

Yes, perhaps it gives you a perfect chance to earn more money than you could ever do back home, save a whole lot and come back a wealthy person. The UK is one of the highest-paying countries after all and ranks really high in the list of the best countries to work in the world to make money.

However, it also gives you an opportunity to stay and live in the UK permanently if you wish so.

You can come to the UK with a General Work visa for a maximum of 5 years and 14 days, or the time given on your certificate of sponsorship plus 1 month, whichever is shorter.

You can extend your Tier 2 Visa for a period of up to six years if you still work in a skilled role for a UK company eligible to hire skilled immigrants. 

If you want to stay in the UK for a longer period, without being restricted by your Tier 2 Visa regulations, you can apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after living in the UK for five years.

With ILR you can continue your professional career in the UK without any restrictions in terms of sponsorship, salary or actual jobs you do.

UK Work Visa – applying tactically and strategically

You can get a UK work visa in three ways:

  • Look and apply for a job directly from your home country. If you can find a job with a UK company that can and wants to sponsor you, you are more than half-way there. The rest is much easier provided you can meet certain conditions (we will talk about them in detail later in Essential Tips).
  • Come into the UK as a full-time student and then use your university years not just to upgrade your existing qualifications, but also to network and get to know the job market in your field.

As a student, you can work up to 20 hours a week. It means you have an opportunity to find part-time work or internship in companies eligible to employ non-EEA nationals.

Then you build up your relationships with the company and your reputation as a specialist. 

Remember, at this point, you have got your foot in the door and are in a more advantageous position than the same level specialists who are applying from abroad.

  • Come into the UK on a Youth Mobility Scheme if you are between 18-30 years old and from Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, Taiwan.

You can stay for two years, work in most jobs, be self-employed and start your own business (as long as you don’t have employees) or use this time creatively to find a permanent position with an employer eligible to hire non-EEA citizens who can sponsor you to switch to a General Work Visa.

Whichever way you choose, the end result will always be a General Work Visa application. In the first case, you apply from your home country, in the case of the Student visa or Youth Mobility Scheme – you can switch the visas without leaving the UK.

Getting UK Work Visa: essential tips

General Work Visa is what they call Point Based Immigration scheme.

There are certain conditions that you have to meet to be granted a visa. Every condition has a certain number of points attached. You have to meet every condition and collect as many points as possible to be eligible. 

Some conditions are pretty straightforward, and you can easily make sure you are ready to satisfy them:

  • You must be able to demonstrate you have sufficient English language ability – 10 points

You will get your ten points for the language proficiency if, for example, you take IELTS test and score at least 6.5 on each component of the test: writing, speaking, listening and reading. IELTS test centres are all over the world so usually, you don’t have to travel far to take a test.

  • You must have sufficient available settlement funds – 10 points

You must have at least £945 in your bank account for 90 days before you apply or demonstrate that your sponsor will provide you with a minimum of £945 to settle in the country.

  • You must provide evidence of your qualifications:

School qualifications (GCE A level or equivalent) – not very impressive 5 points

Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree – 10 points

Doctoral Degree (PhD) – 15 points

Other conditions are a bit trickier as at this point the second party is involved – a UK company eligible and willing to sponsor your UK work visa application.

We will talk later about how to get a job with UK companies eligible to sponsor an overseas applicant. Now let’s have a look at what your UK employer must do to help your visa application.

Your employer’s Certificate of Sponsorship.

Your employer provides you with a Certificate of Sponsorship.

A certificate of sponsorship holds your personal details and information about the job you’ve been offered. It’s an electronic record, not a paper document. Your sponsor will give you a certificate of sponsorship reference number to add to your application.

You can only use your certificate of sponsorship reference number once. You must use it 3 months after getting it.

Depending on the job you are offered your Certificate of Sponsorship scores a different amount of points. 

In the UK skilled jobs usually need to be advertised to residents of the European Economic Area (EEA) for a set period before they can be offered to a Tier 2 worker, this requirement is known as the Resident Labour Market Test. 

However, each year the UK publishes a list of shortage occupations, which employers struggle to fill. Jobs on this list do not need to be advertised before they can be offered to a non-EEA immigrant.

Certificate of Sponsorship points:

  • If you have a Certificate of Sponsorship and your job is on the Shortage Occupation List – 50 points (Really great!)
  • If you have a Certificate of Sponsorship and your job offer passes the Resident Labour Market Test – 30 points 

Points for salary

The salary you’ve been offered by your UK employer also scores you points. 

In most cases, the requirement is at least £30,000 per annum at the experienced worker rate. There are some exceptions to this rule, for example for nurses and new entrants.

If you currently have a long-term visa in the UK and can switch to a Tier 2 visa you may be able to come under the lower salary requirement of £20,800 per year as a new entrant.

For example, Tier 4 visa students who have finished their degree can come under this lower “new entrant” requirement. 

This is how various levels of pay score in the point-based system (in the time of writing):

  • UK £20,000 to £23,999 – 10 points
  • UK £24,000 to £27,999 – 15 points
  • UK £28,000 to £31,999 – 20 points
  • UK £32,000 and over – 25 points

You must score at least 70 points to have a chance to be successful in your application. As you can see, it’s not really hard to achieve this. The real challenge is to find a UK company eligible and willing to sponsor you.

How to secure a sponsor company for UK Work Visa application

There are about 28K UK companies on a registered sponsor list, which can employ skilled workforce from outside the EEA. However, they have to jump through various bureaucratic hoops and pay an arm and a leg for every skilled immigrant they hire. 

If you keep this in mind and plan your job hunting strategically, you will have good chances to succeed.

Remember – preparation is key! So, do your research carefully and make sure you leave nothing to chance.

Apply for the right kind of job

Your best option is to apply for a job featured on the Shortage Occupation List with a company eligible to hire from outside the EEA.

Currently and most probably in the foreseeable future, all kinds of engineering, nuclear industry waste, IT, AI, science, healthcare, and some other industries are among the worst affected by skill shortage. 

If you work in one of those industries, your chances are already looking good and most likely you will find your job on the Shortage Occupation List.

If not, don’t despair. You can still go for a job that demands the Resident Labour Market Test, just make sure you score as high as possible for other conditions. 

Also, keep in mind that with Brexit the fate of the Resident Labour Market Test looks very dubious.

In the nearest future, it may well be so that your chances of getting employed in the UK will be the same as for any European national – it will be a fair competition of the skills rather than citizenship.

Give your prospective employer what they want (and a bit more)

Research what particular skills in or around your area of expertise are most desperately needed in the UK, hone them and get more experience while looking for a UK employer. 

It’s worth looking through various job sites such as Indeed, Total Jobs or Reed to see what exactly most companies in your area of knowledge are looking for and what they are ready to pay for the skills like yours. 

Make it easier for a company to hire you by eliminating their possible doubts

For a UK company to hire a non-EEA resident means dealing with more bureaucracy and financial demands. Naturally, they want to be sure they get what they want. 

Make it easier for them to take a positive decision about you by covering all the bases: 

  • Craft an excellent CV using what you have learnt about the company and the job you are applying for
  • Ensure the company can easily verify and prove your qualifications and experience
  • Have your portfolio ready if it’s applicable to your profession
  • Make sure you have all the references translated 
  • You might want your qualifications to be evaluated in the UK so that your prospective employer could see at once how your degree compares to a similar degree from a British University. UK National Recognition Information Centre can help you with this
  • It might be even worth coming over to the country for a short while to be available for face-to-face interviews if you can. 
  • Use the help of a professional recruitment agency that specialises in international recruitment.

Looking for a job yourself is great and surely you should do it, however, using an agency (or even a few) might sufficiently boost your chances. 

Agencies often have built up good relationships with a lot of top employers and can give you exclusive access to their jobs. 

You’ll also get put forward for positions that you wouldn’t otherwise have heard about.

They can also help with CV and cover letter and even provide interview coaching and make sure that your job application looks as compelling, professional and relevant as possible.

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Ola Degteva
Ola Degteva is the overseas retirement research director at Expatra. Coming from a teaching and research background, she has been working in online publishing since 2010 when she became an expat. Having done 3 major international moves herself, Ola knows exactly what relocation and settling down in a new country involves and how important it is to plan ahead to make moving abroad less stressful.
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