Foreign firms relocating to the UK are faced with a host of administrative tasks, not least navigating their way through the UK immigration system.

Transferring staff overseas quickly and efficiently is often vital to the success of a cross-border business. And in order that the relocation process goes smoothly, employers need to know what is involved in obtaining work permits for employees relocating to the UK.


Permit scheme

The Work Permit Scheme is designed to prevent foreign, non-European Economic Area (EEA) workers competing against the resident labour force.

Work permit applications are considered by the Border & Immigration Agency (BIA) and must always be applied for by the UK employer, not the employee. Employees must be paid at least the ‘going rate’ for the job, which should constitute pay and conditions of employment at least equal to those normally given to resident workers undertaking similar work.

If the UK employer is applying for a work permit for the first time, it is particularly important for them to show that their company already has a UK presence and submit as much company information as possible to the BIA.

Work permits will normally be issued for jobs which require a UK equivalent degree qualification or Higher National Diploma (HND)-level qualification which is relevant to the position on offer.

Otherwise, a HND-level qualification that is not relevant to the position on offer, plus one year of relevant work experience and three years of using specialist skills, acquired through undertaking the type of job for which the permit is sought, is also an alternative to fulfilling the requirements. But this should be at National/Scottish Vocational Qualification (N/SVQ) level three or above.

Tiered permits

For the highest level of roles in the tier one category, it is not necessary to advertise the appointment before applying for a work permit. This is applicable only to board level positions or roles which involve personal daily input into the direction of the company at a strategic level for an employee with substantial senior board level experience.

It also applies to high level executives linked to inward investment of more than £250,000 ($493,000) in the UK.

Another situation in which advertising is not necessary before applying for the permit is in the case of intra-company transfers within multinational companies which are transferring employees to the UK.

Specific knowledge

The post must require an established employee who has essential company knowledge and experience that is specifically required in order to carry out the duties and functions of the position, and which could not be provided by a resident worker. The employee must have at least six months’ experience working for the overseas company and the UK company must have a direct link with the overseas company by common ownership.

Candidates with rare technical skills not available in the UK and the EEA are also exempt but beware that the occupations included in this category change over time.

If the application does not fall within tier one, then advertising the position is essential. The employer must demonstrate they have gone to all reasonable lengths to advertise the post to recruit an EEA resident.

Multiple-entry work permits (MEWP) allow employers to apply for a permit to allow their current or future employees from abroad to enter the UK regularly, for short periods, without having to apply for a separate permit each time.

MEWPs are issued for a minimum of six months and a maximum of 24 months and cannot be extended. Employers must submit a fresh application if the person is required for a further period. The individual must be out of the country when the application is made. Supplementary employment is not permitted under the terms of the MEWP.

With certain exceptions, the employee must be outside the UK when the work permit application is filed. Once the work permit is issued, if the permit holder is a visa national, entry clearance must first be obtained before applying to enter the country.

A work permit holder’s spouse, civil or unmarried partner and dependant children under the age of 18 can apply as his or her dependent to come to the UK for the duration of the assignment

Permit duration

Work permits can be issued for a maximum period of five years. However, in certain instances the length of approval may be limited; for example, if it is a new company, then this is usually issued for a period of 18 months.

At present, after a continuous period of five years of work permit-approved employment, the permit holder and his or her family are eligible to apply for permanent residence in the UK (indefinite leave to remain). Time spent working under the terms of the MEWP will not count towards indefinite leave to remain.

Work experience


There is a training scheme designed to enable individuals to gain skills and experience through work-based learning, building on their previous education and training and which they intend to use on their return overseas. The Training and Work Experience Scheme (TWES) permits are approved on the clear understanding that the individual intends to leave the UK at the end of the agreed period to use their new skills and experience.

There are a number of training and work schemes including the International Graduate Scheme (IGS). The IGS was launched on May 1, 2007, to allow non-EEA graduates who have completed studies in the UK access to employment or self- employment for up to 12 months in order to gain work experience.

Another initiative is the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP), which is designed to allow highly skilled workers to migrate to the UK to look for work or self-employment opportunities. The main difference between the HSMP and the work permit arrangements is that participants do not need a specific job offer in the UK in order to apply.

Applications are awarded on a points-based scheme using Master in Business Administration (MBA) provision, qualifications, previous earnings, UK experience and age as assessment criteria. The individual must also demonstrate English language skills and score 75 points or more to qualify as a highly skilled migrant.

HSMP applications are considered by the BIA. Successful applicants will be issued with a Home Office document confirming that they meet the criteria for entry under the HSMP. This document should then be presented for entry clearance or leave to remain depending on their UK immigration status.

However, a new points-based system, similar to that operating in Australia, is to be introduced on a phased basis. This will consolidate more than 80 existing work and study application routes into five different tiers.

Points will be awarded to reflect aptitude, experience, age and also the level of need in any given sector, to allow the UK to respond flexibly to changes in the labour market. Applicants in four of the five tiers will also require sponsorship from a UK employer or educational institution in order to enter the UK.

The top tier, which aims to attract highly skilled migrants, scientists or entrepreneurs, and so on, will be the first phase to be introduced from the first quarter of 2008.



  • If the employer has not applied for a work permit before and time is short for the overseas national to start employment, the application for the work permit should be made as soon as possible because a first-time application process can take longer than normal.
  • If the application falls under tier two, the advertising process alone can take four weeks.
  • To avoid application queries, furnish the BIA with as much information as possible with the work permit application.
  • If the location or any conditions of employment change for an employee on a work permit you must apply to the BIA for a technical change of employment seeking approval for this.
  • If an employee on a work permit leaves your employ, the employer has a duty to notify the BIA by completing a Notification of Premature End of Employment form.
  • If you want to apply for an extension to a work permit, you should apply before the person’s permission to stay in the country runs out. You should apply at least one month but no more than three months before this date.
  • An accommodation allowance can be added to the salary of the work permit employee, providing it is totally disposable, non-deductible and guaranteed to the overseas national.
  • For certain senior level or specialist posts, the BIA may accept the use of head- hunters as the most appropriate way of recruiting people. This will normally involve the head-hunter giving advice on suitable candidates after considering people within a well defined, eligible group.