Work permits are issued by Work Permits (UK), part of the Home Office's Border and Immigration Agency. A work permit relates to a specific person and a particular job. The work permit scheme lets UK employers recruit or transfer people from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), while still protecting the interests of resident workers in the UK. Work permits also allow overseas nationals to come to the UK for training or work experience.
Main types of UK work permit visa:
There are 6 types of work permit.
1. Business and commercial.
These allow UK employers to recruit people from outside the EEA who will fill a vacancy that the employer has not been able to fill with a resident worker.
2. Sportspeople and entertainers
These allow UK employers to employ established sportspeople, entertainers, cultural artists and some technical and support people from outside the EEA.
3. GATS (Global Agreement on Trade in Services)
This allows employees of companies that are based outside the European Union to work in the UK on a service contract awarded to their employer by a UK-based organization.
4. Sectors Based Scheme (SBS)
From 1 January 2007, this scheme only allows workers from Romania and Bulgaria to enter the UK for up to 12 months to take low-skilled work in the food manufacturing industry. More details on this scheme are available from Work Permits (UK). (Contact details are under 'More advice and information' at the end of this guidance.)
5. Training and Work Experience Scheme (TWES)
This scheme allows people from outside the EEA to carry out work-based training for a professional or specialist qualification, or a short period of work experience as an extra member of staff. To qualify for TWES, you must:
- hold a valid TWES work permit and be able to carry out the training or work experience it applies to
- intend to leave the UK after the training or work experience
- be aged over 16
- not intend to take employment except as set out on the permit, and
- be able to support yourself and your dependants, without needing any help from public funds.
6. Multiple-entry work permits (MEWPs)
- The MEWP is designed for employees traveling regularly for short periods of work permit employment with the same employer in the UK (other than Northern Ireland). It is not valid for the Training and Work Experience Scheme (TWES).
- The MEWP is valid for between six months and two years for individual work permit holders. For sportspeople and groups of entertainers the maximum period is 12 months.
- MEWP holders do not qualify for indefinite leave to remain in the UK (in other words they cannot apply for permission to stay in the UK with no time limit).
- MEWP holders must support themselves and live without taking other employment or needing any help from public funds.
- They cannot bring their husband, wife, civil partner or dependent children with them to the UK.
- Letters of approval can be used in place of individual work permits when a large group of people (20 or more) are travelling together.
Working in UK without work permit:
The Immigration Rules allow people to come to the UK for certain types of employment without a work permit. You can get more information from other guidance notes:
Overseas domestic workers
Work Permits (UK) Guidance - Innovators
Work Permits (UK) Guidance - HSMP
Setting up in business
1. What is a visa?
A visa is a certificate that is put into your passport or travel document by an Entry Clearance Officer at a British mission overseas. The visa gives you permission to enter the UK.
If you have a valid UK visa we will not normally refuse you entry to the UK unless your circumstances have changed, or you gave false information or did not tell us important facts when you applied for your visa.
When you arrive in the UK, an Immigration Officer may ask you questions, so take all relevant documents in your hand luggage.
2. How do I apply for a work permit?
You cannot apply directly for a work permit. The employer in the UK who wants to employ you must do this. They should contact Work Permits (UK). (Contact details are under 'More advice and information' at the end of this guidance.)The employer should send the filled-in application form at least eight weeks before the date they need you to start work.
3. Can I travel before my work permit has been issued?
No. You should not travel to the UK to start work before you get your work permit. If you arrive in the UK without a work permit to take up a job that needs one, you will be refused entry.
4. Can my dependants join me in the UK?
Your husband, wife, civil partner or eligible partner and children under 18 can join you as your dependant in the UK if:
they have a visa for this purpose, and
you can support them and live without needing any help from public funds.
5. Can my other dependants join me in the UK?
As a special condition outside the Immigration Rules, children over the age of 18 and dependent parents can join you if:
you have been posted to the UK branch of your employer's company by your employer, and
the person applying:
is genuinely dependent on you
is, and will continue to be, part of the family unit, and
will not stay in the UK after your stay has ended.
6. Do I need a visa?
You will need a visa if you:
are a national of one of the countries listed on the Visa and DATV nationals page on this website.
hold a work permit valid for more than six months (unless you are a British national without the right of abode)
hold a non-national travel document, or
hold a passport issued by an authority not recognised by the UK.
7. Do my dependants need a visa?
Yes. Your dependants must get a visa to join you in the UK, even if you do not need a visa. If they travel without a visa they will be refused entry to the UK
8. How do I apply for a visa?
You can apply in a number of ways, for example by post, by courier, in person and online. The visa section will tell you about the ways in which you can apply.
If you cannot apply online you will need to fill in a visa application form (VAF 2 – Employment). You can download the form from this website, or get one, free of charge, from your nearest British mission overseas where there is a visa section.
You should apply for a work permit visa in the country of which you are a national or where you legally live.
9. What are visa application centres?
In some countries, we are working with commercial companies to run visa application centres (VACs). The VACs are in largely populated areas, making it easier and more convenient for people to apply for a UK visa. Trained staff at each VAC deal with all visa enquiries and applications. They collect your biometric information (see the relevant section of this leaflet) along with the relevant fees, and provide unbiased, face-to-face advice on the application process, including whether or not you have included all the necessary documents. Entry clearance staff at the British mission will then consider your application and decide whether to issue or refuse your visa. VAC staff have no say in this decision
10. What will I need to make my application?
You will need to make your application online or fill in the following visa application form:
Application form VAF2 - Employment (PDF, 152K)
Employment form guidance notes (PDF, 122K)
11. You will also need the following:
Your passport or travel document.
A recent passport-sized (45mm x 35mm) colour photograph of yourself.
This should be:
taken against a light coloured background
clear and of good quality, and not framed or backed
printed on normal photographic paper, and
full face and without sunglasses, hat or other head covering unless you wear this for cultural or religious reasons (but the face must not be covered).
The visa fee. This cannot be refunded, and you must normally pay it in the local currency of the country where you are applying.
12. What is 'biometric' information?
In some countries currently - and in all countries by April 2008 - you will need to provide 'biometric' information as part of the visa application process. This biometric information consists of scans of all 10 of your fingers and a full-face digital photograph. You will have to go to the nearest VAC in person to provide this biometric information. In those countries where there is no VAC, you will need to go to the British mission. Your visa applications will not be processed until you have provided the necessary biometric information. The finger scans are electronic so staff do not need to use any ink, liquid or chemicals. You will have your digital photograph taken at the same time and the whole procedure should take no more than five minutes to complete. You should make sure that you do not have any decoration (such as henna), or any cuts or other markings on your fingertips before having your finger scans. You should also make sure that if you have any cuts and bruises on your face, they have healed or disappeared before you have your photograph taken. Digital photographs must be of your full face and you should not wear sunglasses, a hat or any other head covering (unless you wear it for cultural or religious reasons but the face must not be covered).
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