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Unlocking opportunities abroad: A comprehensive guide to Specialist Worker Visas


The Senior or Specialist Worker Visa allows senior managers or specialist employers from overseas to work in a UK branch of their organisation.

As organisations grow, they seek opportunities to expand their reach beyond national borders and tap into new markets. One critical aspect of doing business abroad is navigating the visa and immigration process to ensure that key personnel can operate legally in a foreign country.

For companies aiming to establish or expand their presence in the United Kingdom, the Senior or Specialist Worker Visa and other relevant Global Business Mobility (GBM) visas might provide the right pathway to migrate skilled employees.

This guide discusses the Senior or Specialist Worker Visa and how it can help your employees to easily contribute their expertise to and drive the success of your UK operations.

An overview of the Senior or Specialist Worker Visa
The Senior or Specialist Worker route is one of the five Global Business Mobility visas. They allow overseas businesses to send their existing workers to the UK for a temporary work assignment that a UK-based worker cannot do. Each GBM visa caters to specific purposes and requirements.

The Specialist Worker Visa is specifically designed for individuals who are senior managers or specialist employers in their overseas companies. It allows them to enter the UK and undertake an assignment at a UK subsidiary or branch of their overseas organisation.

The UK Specialist Worker route is a temporary worker visa. As such, any time spent on the visa will not count towards settling permanently or obtaining Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK.

Once a specialist worker exhausts their maximum allowable stay in the UK, which can be up to 9 years if they’re high-income earners, they must leave the country. However, they may be able to switch to another visa that counts towards ILR for a permanent stay in the country.

Eligibility requirements for Senior or Specialist Worker Visa
Employees applying under the Specialist Worker route must fulfil the following requirements to be eligible for the visa:

  • They must be an existing employee of an organisation that is a Home Office licenced sponsor.
  • They must have worked for their employer outside the UK for:
    – At least 12 months if they earn less than £73,900 a year or
    – No specific time requirement if earning more than £73,900 a year.
  • They must have a valid certificate of sponsorship from their employer that shows details about the UK-based job.
  • The job they intend to do in the UK must be on the list of eligible occupations.
  • They must be paid at least £48,500 per year or the annual going rate for the job, whichever is higher.
  • They must have at least £1,270 to support themselves for their first month in the UK unless their employer is sponsoring them, which must be indicated in the certificate of sponsorship.

If the specialist worker is applying with their dependents, they must prove they have a certain amount of money to support them in their first month in the UK. The required amount is:

  • £285 for partners
  • £315 for one child
  • £200 for each additional child.

Documents required for the Specialist Worker Visa
When applying for the visa, applicants are expected to provide the following documents:

  • A passport or valid travel document
  • Their certificate of sponsorship reference number
  • Details of the UK-based role, including the job title, occupation code, and salary
  • Details of their employer and their sponsor licence number
  • Evidence that they’ve worked for their employer outside the UK before with documents such as payslips or bank or building society statements.
  • Evidence of sufficient funds to support themselves with
    – A bank statement or
    – A completed section of the ‘sponsor certifies maintenance’ section on their certificate of sponsorship (if their employer will support them.)
  • A valid ATAS certificate (for applicants working in a role that involves researching a sensitive subject at PhD level or higher.)
  • A tuberculosis test results if they are from a country required to provide one.
  • A marriage or birth certificate to prove their relationship with their dependents if they are applying together.

How to make an application for the Specialist Visa
Individuals intending to apply for the Specialist Visa are required to first obtain a certificate of sponsorship from their employer before starting the application process. They’ll have three months from obtaining the certificate to make their application.

The Specialist Visa application process is usually online via the UK government website. Applicants must complete the online application form, upload their supporting documents, and pay the required fees.

Afterwards, they must prove their identity. There are two ways to do so, depending on the applicant’s country of origin and passport type. The most common is to visit a UK visa application centre in their home country and submit their biometric information, while the second is online via the UK Immigration: ID Check app.

The cost and processing time of the Senior or Specialist Visa
During the online application, applicants and their dependents must pay a visa application fee and an Immigration Health Surcharge. Here’s a breakdown of what’s expected:

For applicants applying from outside the UK

  • £719 per person for a stay of up to 3 years
  • £1,420 per person for a stay of more than 3 years

For applicants extending their visas or switching to the Specialist Visa from inside the UK:

  • £827 per person for a stay of up to 3 years
  • £1,636 per person for a stay of more than 3 years

The IHS costs £1,035 for each year an applicant will be in the UK. Additionally, the Home Office takes three weeks to process a Specialist Visa application.

Allowable stay in the UK on a Specialist Visa
The Senior or Specialist Worker Visa is usually valid for an initial period of up to 5 years or the time specified on the applicant’s certificate of sponsorship plus 14 days, whichever is shorter.

When the visa expires, specialist workers can apply for an extension up to the maximum allowable stay of the visa. Here’s a breakdown of the maximum total stay allowed for a Senior and Specialist Worker visa:

  • 5 years in any 6-year period if the applicant earns less than £73,900 a year
  • 9 years in any 10-year period if they earn £73,900 a year or more

It’s essential to note that any time an applicant had previously spent on other Global Business Mobility visas will be included in their maximum total stay.

The Senior or Specialist Worker Visa can help facilitate the movement of your key employees to the UK.

However, the eligibility requirement is strict, and the process can involve a lengthy two-part procedure. You might need to obtain a sponsor licence first before your employee can submit their visa application.

You should seek legal advice from an experienced UK immigration lawyer to ensure a seamless application.

Photo by Global Residence Index on Unsplash