Skip to main content

Contracting in the UK: A guide for non-UK residents

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Yorkman)

If you’re a non-UK national and want to spend some time living and working in the United Kingdom, contract work could be your route in. The UK is currently experiencing a severe skills shortage in many industries. These include science, technology, construction, engineering, healthcare, and the creative sector.

The skills gap in the UK is a problem that has worsened over the years, and despite being addressed, it is predicted to worsen over the next 10. The demand for skilled people in the UK has never been higher, and the UK could be crying out for you.

Snobbery from past decades has been the cited as the reason for the current skills shortage. People often viewed jobs within sectors such as construction and engineering for those who are less academically able. With the growing demand for workers across a range of industries to be competent in science, English and maths, this notion is gradually phasing out and proving to be a myth.

The beauty of possessing a particular skill or trade is that you can set up your own company, become your own boss, have the freedom of freelancing, and potentially work anywhere in the world.

Why work in the UK?

  • Broaden your vocational skills
  • Access facilities and markets not available in your home country, especially if you have a technical background and work in IT, telecoms, engineering, oil, gas or energy
  • Experience a higher standard of living and ability to send savings home

NOTE: The impact of Brexit has yet to make itself fully known for overseas contractors. Please bear in mind that all information written here is subject to change and that you should engage the counsel of a good immigration lawyer before making any significant life changes.

To successfully navigate the UK's immigration laws you will need:

  • Substantial savings
  • Sponsorship from a supportive UK national/institution
  • A valid visa


There are two main visas that could grant you access to the UK:

  • Tier 1 (high value) worker visa
  • Tier 2 (general) skilled worker visa

Tier 1

Tier 1 visas are for 'high-value migrants' from outside the EEA and cover the entry of entrepreneurs, investors, graduate entrepreneurs, and leaders in arts and science who qualify for ‘exceptional talent' visas.

If your contracting business is already established or you have a great business idea, you could qualify under for the Tier 1 visa.

Entrepreneur visa

For business people from outside the EU who would like to run their own business in the UK, or become a part-owner of a UK business. You must be actively involved in the running of the business, have access to at least £50,000 in investment funds to apply, plus application fees of around £1,000 (depending on your location) and health care surcharges.

The application and healthcare fees must also be paid for each family member you wish to bring over.

With this visa, you can stay up to a maximum of three years and four months, but can apply for extensions and then an indefinite leave to remain after five years.

Investment visa

For people who wish to invest £1,000,000 or more in UK government bonds, share capital or loan capital in active, and trading UK registered companies. To qualify, you must score 75 points or more under the Tier 1 points based system.

Graduate entrepreneur visa

For graduates who have been endorsed by either the Department for International Trade or an authorised UK higher education institution as possessing world-class entrepreneurial skills to apply to stay in the UK after graduation.

Your application will be around £360 per person, and you will also have to pay health surcharges for each family member coming with you.

This visa allows you to stay in the UK for one year, but you can't apply for leave to remain afterwards.

Exceptional Talent

For those who have been endorsed as internationally recognised leaders or emerging leaders in their field of science, humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology or the arts.


You can apply to extend or switch your current visa to Tier 1 (General) if you have permission to stay (‘leave to remain’) in the UK under one of the following categories: Tier 1 (General), self-employed lawyer, Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP), writer, composer or artist. You must also meet all the other eligibility requirements.

If you are granted leave in the UK under Tier 1, you will be able to bring your dependants provided you can support them during their stay. Dependants include children under 18 years of age, spouses, civil partners, same-sex partners, and unmarried partners.

Tier 2 visa

The Tier 2 category is for 'skilled workers' from outside the EEA with a job offer in the UK. It includes skilled workers who are transferred to the UK by an international company, ministers of religion, sportspeople, and those filling a place where there is a proven shortage in the UK, ministers of religion and sportspeople.

For this type of visa, you need a licensed sponsor

There are four categories under Tier 2. If you are applying for entry under this visa scheme, you must be in possession of a job offer and a Certificate of Sponsorship from a UK employer with a valid Tier 2 sponsorship licence.

If you’re applying for up to three years, you will be paying application fees that can range from £600 to over £1,000, depending on your location and method of application. You will need to pay the same fees for each family member you wish to bring with you.


For people coming to the United Kingdom with a job offer to fill a position that cannot be filled by a settled worker. In 2011, an annual cap on the number of Tier 2 (General) visas was introduced. It currently stands at 20,700. People who earn £150,000 a year or above are excluded from the cap.

Intra-company transfers (ICT)

For employees of multi-national companies who are being transferred by an overseas employer to a skilled job in a UK-based branch of the organisation.

Sports people

For elite sports people and coaches whose employment will make a significant contribution to the development of their sport at the highest level.

Ministers of religion

For those people coming to fill a vacancy as a minister of religion, missionary or member of a religious order. Ministers of religion and sports people on temporary assignment should apply for entry under Tier 5 for Temporary Workers. Tier 5 (creative and sporting) visas last for twelve months while Tier 5 (religious) visas last for up to two years.

Healthcare surcharge

This is mandatory no matter which visa you apply for (although there are exceptions) and breaks down as follows:

Student visa: £150 per year

All other visas: £200 per year

Finding your niche

The best way to secure a visa is to run a business or possess a trade or skill that fills a skills gap in the UK marketplace.

You can take a look at the UK skills shortage list to work out if your line of work is in demand. If it’s not, then you might want to consider refocusing or retraining so that you stand a better chance of securing a visa.

Keep checking the list as shortages do change and fluctuate. It’s also a good idea to make a habit of reading the financial section of British news so that you have a clear idea of market trends in your industry.

How to apply for a Tier 1 or Tier 2 visa:

1. Go to to complete your visa application form, book an appointment and pay your fee.

2. Prepare your application, using the guidance online to assemble your supporting documents

3. Visit a visa application centre to submit your application and provide your biometric data (fingerprints and photo)

Good luck – we’ll be excited to welcome you!

Joe Emery, freelance writer, Contractor Supermarket (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/Yorkman

Joe Emery is a freelance writer for Contractor Supermarket - a services & advice site for contractors.