If you’ve been dreaming of moving to the UK, you’re probably wondering where to start in making plans. The boring, but most important detail you need to pin down is how you’re going to get permission to stay here. UK visas for Americans do not come with a simple process, but there are options out there.
I’ve entered the UK on three different forms of permission: Visitor, Student (Tier 4) visa, and dependent on a Skilled Worker visa. These permissions are always subject to change – my Tier 4 visa no longer exists, but has been replaced by what I consider much more valuable Student and Graduate visas.
Here’s everything you need to know about the visa options that may be available to you and what you’ll need to apply for each of them:
This is the permission you receive when you show up as a standard American tourist. US citizens do not need a UK visa for this type of entry, which allows you to stay up to 6 months for the purpose of visiting the country or seeing friends. You are not allowed to work on this type of visa or live in the UK by making frequent visits.
If you have the time and funds to support yourself and want a taste of life in the UK rather than a chance to fully move here, your entry can be as simple as securing your flights and updating your passport.
I first moved to the UK on a Tier 4 Student visa. That allowed me to enter the UK just prior to my course and stay for up to about 6 months after the end of the course. I was also allowed to bring my husband and daughter as dependents on the visa. I had very limited rights to work during my course, but my husband’s dependent visa made him eligible to work full-time while here.
The Tier 4 visa plan has ended, but has been replaced with the current Student visa plan. This visa will give you permission to live in the UK during your course. Postgraduate students can also bring qualifying dependents. If your spouse or partner qualifies as a dependent, they can still work while you study. How long you can stay in total will vary depending on your course, but the bit I wish had been in place when I studied here was the option to extend your stay by switching to a Graduate visa.
UPDATE: Effective January 2024, only students on postgraduate research degree programs will be allowed to bring dependents.
The Graduate visa will allow you to stay in the UK for 2-3 years after successfully completing an eligible course. Most importantly, you’re eligible to work on this visa without gaining sponsorship! This is such a benefit as you have time to gain valuable local work experience and make your case for eventual sponsored work on a Skilled Worker visa.
Main requirements for Student visa:
- Sponsorship by a licensed student sponsor – your course provider, likely a university.
- Evidence of ability to financially support yourself and any eligible dependents. You’ll get a breakdown on this when you apply, but conservatively expect to show at least £12,000 for yourself and £10,000 for each dependent.
If you’re looking to move to the UK on a long-term basis and like having a paycheck to support yourself, this is the route you want to look at. We are currently here on my husband’s Skilled Worker visa. As a dependent, I am eligible to work full-time without separate sponsorship.
Skilled Worker visas provide permission to live and work in the UK and are valid for a period up to five years. One of the biggest benefits of obtaining a Skilled Worker visa is that after five years, you may be eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). ILR will allow you to settle permanently in the UK.
In order to move on a Skilled Worker visa, you have to have a job offer from a UK company that’s been approved by the Home Office. Many employers hold this approval, and may be willing to gain it for the right candidate if they do not. The specific job you’re applying for must also be included on the eligible occupations list. This list is longer and much more inclusive than you may fear. Finally, the job must pay a minimum salary. There are some exceptions to the minimum salary for limited jobs on a shortage list.
If you need help figuring out how to find a Skilled Worker job in the UK, check out my post here.
Main requirements for Skilled Worker visa:
- Sponsorship (job offer) from an eligible UK employer.
- Hired into a job included on the eligible occupations list.
- Be paid a minimum £25,600/year or your job’s usual “going rate”. *some exceptions for shortage occupations.
Do you already work for a company that has operations in the UK? If your work can be beneficial at a UK office, your employer may be able to sponsor an Intra-Company Transfer visa. This visa has fewer hurdles than the Skilled Worker visa, but keep in mind that it is not intended to be a settlement visa. The time you spend on this type of visa does not count toward obtaining Indefinite Leave to Remain. If your hope is to settle in the UK for more than a few years, you should speak with your employer about sponsoring a Skilled Worker visa instead.
Update: Changes to this visa are pending
Note that this visa is soon to be replaced by the Senior or Specialist Worker visa. Requirements for this will remain substantially the same and this visa will still not provide a path to Indefinite Leave to Remain
Main requirements for Intra-Company Transfer visa:
- Be a current employee of an eligible employer.
- Have worked for your employer at least 12 months or be paid at least £73,900 per year to work in the UK.
- Perform a job on the eligible occupations list.
- Be paid at least £41,500 (£42,400 once replaced by the Senior or Specialist Worker visa).
Health and Care Workers
If your occupation is on the eligible occupations list, but you’re also a health or care worker, it’s worth looking to see if you are eligible for a Health and Care Workers visa. This visa has all of the same benefits as a Skilled Worker visa, but the application fee is lower and some associated entry fees are waived.
Main requirements for Health and Care Workers visa:
- Qualified as a doctor, nurse, health professional, or adult social care professional.
- Sponsorship from an eligible UK employer.
- Minimum salary requirements vary depending on the job.
Other UK Visas
Family – partner or spouse being the most common, but a 6-month extendable visa is also available for fiancé status. Parents can apply for a visa to care for a child living in the UK, and children can apply to care for elderly parents if proof can be shown that such care is necessary.
Innovator – new business, minimum £50,000 plus other fees and proof of income to support yourself.
Start-up – new business unlike anything already available. Must be approved by evaluating board. Fees and proof of income required.
This is not a full list of available visas. To find a detailed look at eligibility requirements, take a look at the UK government website on visas.
As you can see, visa and settlement routes tend to change over time. If you don’t see a route that fits you now, don’t assume that will be the case in a year or so.