Visa types available to work in the UK

Information on some of the visa routes that provide a generic and unsponsored right to work in the UK.

29 April 2024

There are a number of different visa routes available that allow individuals to travel to the UK to work in an unsponsored role.

Please note, there are separate web pages for the sponsored routes of Skilled Worker visa and the Health and Care visa, that cover details such as applicable job roles and minimum salary thresholds. 

Below are some of the routes used to give people a generic right to work in the UK (other routes such as family visas and dependants are also available):

  • Youth Mobility Scheme visa.
  • Student visa.
  • Graduate visa.
  • British National (Overseas (BNO)) visa.
  • Global Talent visa.
  • Youth Mobility Scheme visa.
  • Temporary Worker route.

Immigration Health Surcharge 

Please note, each of these visas require the Immigration Health Surcharge to be paid per person per year, unless they take up a role in public sector healthcare where they will be eligible for a refund. The current cost is £1,035 per person.


Refugees can work in the UK without any restrictions. Most refugees were working before arriving in the UK and have a background in many different roles. Many refugees want to find work in the UK and to make a contribution.  

International recruitment and retention toolkit

The international recruitment toolkit also hosts a wide range of information on recruiting from overseas with top tips and good practice examples. The toolkit is updated quarterly to keep in line with any developments in the international recruitment space. 

The international retention toolkit includes useful information on retaining overseas staff. This includes good practice examples, steps on how to make overseas recruits feel welcome and supporting their professional growth. 

Right to work 

The visa routes outlined below all come with a right to work and therefore are subject to right to work checks. An online checking portal is available for holders of certain types of right to work, such as biometric residence permits (BRPs). Evisas will be rolled out over 2024 and replace BRPs. 

  • The Youth Mobility Scheme visa is a temporary route that provides young people, from participating countries, with an opportunity to experience life in the UK and gives young people the opportunity to live and work in the UK for up to two years. 

    Eligible applicants must be aged between 18 and 30 or 18 and 35* at the time of application, have £2,530 in savings and citizens of countries within the arrangements or are a British Overseas Citizen, British Overseas Territories Citizen or British National (Overseas). The application fee costs £298.

    The scheme exists between certain countries, which enables young British citizens to benefit from similar opportunities overseas. 

    Applicants cannot apply for the Youth Mobility Scheme if they have children under the age of 18 who live with them or who they are financially responsible for.

    The UK currently operates youth mobility scheme arrangements with: Andorra, Australia*, Canada*, Monaco, Japan, New Zealand*, San Marino, Hong Kong, South Korea*, Uruguay, Iceland and Taiwan.

    Applicants from Hong Kong or Taiwan must be selected in the Youth Mobility Scheme ballot before they can apply for a visa.

    *The Youth Mobility Scheme visa is available for applicants from New Zealand, Australia, Canada or South Korea if you’re aged 18 to 35. You must be aged 18 or over when your visa starts, or 35 or under when you apply for it. 

    For more information, please visit the GOV.UK website.

  • The Student visa is available for individuals who are over 16 and have been offered a place on a course by a licensed student sponsor. A student who has been granted permission to work in the UK should have an endorsement which states that they are able to work for 20-hours per week during term time and full time during holidays. This information can be available on their passport, or electronically on their eVisa or a biometric residence permit (BRP).

    The student route requires the individual to have: 

    • a sponsor 
    • English language capability
    • the ability to financially support themselves
    • have consent from parents/guardians.

    Students may need to prove that they can support themselves financially and be able to pay for their course. The application fee for a student visa is £490.

    Dependents may be allowed to come to the UK or stay longer in the UK if a government-sponsored student starting a course that lasts longer than 6 months or a full-time student on a postgraduate level course (RQF level 7 or above) that lasts 9 months or longer.

    Employers can check a job applicant’s right to work details on GOV.UK.

    More information about sponsored work and student categories can be found on the GOV.UK website Annex C.

    For more information, please visit the GOV.UK website. 

  • The Graduate visa is available to international students who have completed a degree in the UK and is an unsponsored route.

    This route enables international students to remain in the UK and work at any skill level for two years after they have completed their studies (or three years if they have a PhD).

    Individuals cannot extend a Graduate visa but may be able to switch to a different visa including the Skilled worker or Health and Care visa.

    For eligibility and application details, please visit GOV.UK.

    On 4 December 2023, the UK government announced that the Migration Advisory Committee will review the graduate route. We will keep employers informed of any further developments and you can view more details on the GOV.UK website.

  • The British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) visa gives applicants a generic right to work in the UK. The BN(O) visa applies to those who were British Overseas Territories citizens by connection with Hong Kong and registered as a British national (overseas) before 1 July 1997. 

    The BN(O) visa allows those who are eligible and their family members to live, work and study in the UK but cannot usually access public funds.

    When applying, they will need to show that they have enough money to pay for housing and prove that they can support themselves (and their family) for 6 months.

    Once individuals have a BNO visa, they might be able to apply for access to benefits if, for example, they:

    • do not have a place to live and cannot afford one
    • have a place to live but cannot afford essential living costs like food or heating
    • are at risk of losing your place to live or being unable to afford essential living costs
    • have a very low income, and not having access to benefits would harm your child’s wellbeing.

    Under this route, applicants can stay in the UK from two years and six months up to five years. Their stay can also be extended as many times as they wish, and they have the right to apply to settle in the UK or for British citizenship. 

    The BN(O) visa costs £180 for two years and six months or £250 for five years. Applicants will need to show they have enough money to pay for housing and to support themselves and their family for six months. 

    On entry, there will be no English language requirement. However, applicants must demonstrate a commitment to learn English in the UK and require a good knowledge of the English language if they choose later to make an application for settled status (indefinite leave to remain) after five years. 

    To work in an NHS skilled role, applicants will also have to meet the English language requirements of the relevant regulator, such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) or the General Medical Council (GMC)

    East Midlands Council has produced a promotional video and has a Hong Kong BNO Welcome Hub available online.

    There is also the national Hong Kong Nursing Association UK.

    For more information, please visit the GOV.UK website.

  • Individuals can apply for a Government Authorised Exchange visa if they want to come to the UK for a short time for work experience, training or to do an Overseas Government Language Programme, research or fellowship through an approved government authorised exchange scheme. They also need to make sure to have:

    A certificate of sponsorship from a licensed sponsor is needed before applying to come to the UK to work. They will also need to pay the application fee of £298.

    Depending on the scheme applied for, the visa can be for a maximum of 12 months or 24 months. On this visa applicants cannot take on a permanent job, however, they can study, work in a secondary job or do a job on the immigration salary list for up to 20 hours per week. Applicants may be able to apply to extend their visa if they meet the requirements

    For more information, please visit the GOV.UK website.

  • The Global Talent visa allows highly skilled individuals, such as top scientists and researchers who achieve the required points, to enter the UK without a job offer. Individuals need to be endorsed by a relevant and competent body and can stay in the UK for up to five years at a time. 

    Applicants can also work in the UK on a Global Talent visa if they’ve won an eligible award, and can benefit from a quicker endorsement process as part of a fast-track STEM scheme. 

    To get a Global Talent visa, individuals may need to apply for an ‘endorsement’, as well as for the visa itself. However, they do not need to apply for an endorsement if they’ve won an eligible award, this will allow them to apply for the visa straight away.

    If an endorsement is needed, the application process will depend on whether an eligible job offer as an academic or researcher is in place, whether they have an individual fellowship, a research grant approved by UKRI, or an application that is being peer reviewed.

    The total cost for the visa, and endorsement, is £716. If you’re including your partner or children in your application, they’ll also each need to pay £716. 

    For more information, please visit the GOV.UK website.

  • The High Potential Individual (HPI) visa is intended to attract overseas individuals who demonstrate exceptional promise and are at the early stages of their careers. These individuals help to provide an additional pool of talent from which UK employers can recruit.

    To be eligible, candidates must have been awarded a qualification by an eligible university in the last five years. Individuals can apply from within or outside the UK. They will not need a sponsor for work purposes and will have a general right to work for most jobs.

    The HPI visa usually gives individuals the right to work for two years. If they have a PhD or other doctoral qualification, this will be extended to three years.

    After that time, they will not be able to extend their HPI visa but may be able to switch to other routes such as Skilled Worker and the Health and Care Visa

    Individuals can only apply for a HPI visa once and cannot apply for a HPI visa if they have already been granted a graduate visa.

    As part of their application, individuals will need to ensure that they have enough money to pay for fees, £210 for Ecctis (an organisation which provides official UK national agency services on behalf of the UK Government in qualifications, skills, and migration), to check that the qualification is valid, pay the £822 application fee, and be able to support themselves on arrival in the UK with at least £1,270 available.

    For more information on visas, please visit the GOV.UK website