Which UK visa will allow me to work for a UK startup?

Applciations & passport

There are a few visa options for talents outside of the European Union that would like to come work for a startup in the UK and London. Your options  will mainly depend on the  job position, the length of stay and your UK visa history. Check out if you need a visa via Migreat free visa tool, or just go through our list of available UK work visas below to know your different options and avoid losing money on the wrong visa application!


1. The toughest to get but most wanted: the Tier 2 general work visa. 

In 2013, there were 17,212 granted visas out of the annual cap set at 20,700. This visa is the most commonly applied to by foreigners who have secured a full-time job in the UK. It will grant you three to five years in the UK which is why it is the one very much searched for. For the Tier 2 general worker visa, your startup will have to sponsor you and your job position must fit the Tier 2 requirements. The process is not the easiest for a startup but it is highly doable. The job position requirements are quite demanding, but again, not too challenging if you at least have a graduate degree.

To qualify: you must be a skilled worker, which means you have to at least have a recognised Bachelor Degre (NQF6 in the legal jargon of the UK immigration border agency) and you must be paid an appropriate salary for your job – at least £22K a year. For the documents to include in your application, you can find a simple detailed list on migreat.com. Basically you have to prove you speak English, you have the right qualifications for the job and that you have enough money to sustain yourself for the first month – unless your employer can guarantee it.

Your employer will need to show the startup is complying to some simple HR rules and submit official documents that prove your company is serious  (Find out how to get the sponsorship licence and which papers you will need in details in a previous post).

Timeline: the sponsorship is obtained in two to three months after the application is sent. If you hire a lawyer to do the sponsorship, from experience, it takes much less time and removes the hassle.

Costs: the Tier 2 visa costs £515  for you as an employee. The company sponsorship costs £515 for small companies; £1,515 for bigger companies as of June 2014

Entrepreneurs in a hurry

2. Working for an international startup: the business visitor visa

If you are working for an international startup company, you can consider the Business Visitor visa. It allows foreign employees from a UK startup, to come for meetings and business conferences for a six months period total.

The cool thing about the visa is that you can come for six months total each year for a maximum period of 10 years on and will allow you to do a fair amount of business activities listed here. It is an ideal visa for freelancers, or startups in tech that do not need its employees to be sitting in an office together to work. It can also be a temporary visa if you are not looking to engage yourself long-term for the startup – or it can buy you time before you make the decision to move on to a more serious UK work visa.

Thought, let it be said and clear: it won’t let you work and get paid in the UK only to conduct a few permitted business activities


3. For the recent graduates – the tier 5 internship visa option

That is one new visa that promises a great opportunities in the next years. It is a visa for graduates that would like to come or stay in the UK to do an internship. It does not require the startup to apply for a sponsorship license but for the startup to just comply to some elementary HR rules, checked by an overarching body;

The most important thing for you to qualify is that you get offered the internship; and that this internship fits your skills or graduate diploma – which only a trusted overarching body can testify. You can find the list of overarching bodies and what they offer on Migreat. Any graduate can apply in theory. It is not restricted to UK graduates.

Timeline: the process of applying to the visa depends on how long it takes your employee to gather docs and which overarching body you use, but it can be as quick as a week.

Costs: On average, it will cost your employer £600 for the 12 months period sponsorship grant from the overarching body+ £750 approximation for issuance of each COS for each intern.

The only drawback is that it does not allow you more than a year officially. You should consider this UK internship visa if you are looking for a short time startup work experience at graduate level – and do not consider staying all your life in the UK. Read more about the benefits of this visa for Startups from our expert Zenia. Special tip: you can apply to stay for 12 more months with Migreat’s overarching body partners. Just go on migreat.com and ask on the Questions & Answers forum


4. For talented Guinea pigs of visa – the Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa

That’s a new one reserved for the Digital Elite. There is a very strict cap of 200 visas each year for the ones working in tech startups, and another 800 for other Arts & fashion people in startups. It is one tough to get as you will have to prove what is so exceptional about you – unless you have been internationally recognised for skills you have.

The cost is high and process for this visa is quite particular as you will have to make two applications. Guinea pigs are welcomed 🙂 For more information on the topic, read our expert Leslie Sarma on the topic in her blog posts on the Exceptional talent visa for techies. Leslie notably wrote about what are the advantages of applying to the Exceptional Talent visa compared to other available visas. 


Other options, like spouse or dependent visas are options available for you and will allow you to work in the UK – but these visas are not made specifically for that use, so I excluded them from this blog post.

We hope this visa list can help you make your mind. You should know and bear in mind that each of these visa options have specific requirements that make them more or less easy to get; and a good or bad fit for your work situation. Find out in a few clicks which visa is best suited for you using Migreat free visa solution tool, or just ask immigration experts for free on our Questions & Answers forum.

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