Everything You Should Know About the UK Work Visa For South Africans

Every year, seduced by the vinegary tang of fish and chips, cosy charm of English pubs, and architectural elegance of Buckingham Palace, many South Africans find themselves relocating to the United Kingdom.

Perhaps you are one of them.

Maybe you’ve been offered your dream job in London or are moving to Scotland to head up a team in Edinburgh. Either way, you will need a UK work visa to pursue your professional pursuits in the land of redheads and royal families.

And although the rigid regulations and changing legislation can make it a confusing and scary process, this guide will be your saving grace on your journey to work in the United Kingdom.

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Can South Africans work in the UK?

Yes. However, the process has gotten a bit more complicated since the overturn of visa-free travel for South Africans in 2008, so you will need more than just a job offer and few quid in the bank.

Nowadays your job needs to be on the Shortage Occupations List or you need to have a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from a licensed company to be eligible for a UK work visa.

Note: This applies to South African passport holders wanting to work in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

The UK work visa does not apply to:

• Applicants who have parents or grandparents born in the UK or Europe.
• Applicants who have partners with UK or EU citizenship.
• Applicants who are attending a conference or conducting business  in the UK.
• Applicants who are visiting the UK for a holiday. See this guide to the UK Visa Application for South Africans.

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What is the Shortage Occupations List?

Skilled jobs need to be advertised to residents of the European Economic Area (EEA) for a certain amount of time before they can be offered to citizens from other countries. This is known as the Resident Labour Market Test and is in place to protect the domestic labour market.

The jobs that are on the Shortage Occupations List are the jobs that employers struggle to fill and that do not need to be advertised before being offered to a non-EEA citizen.

The jobs on this list include:

  • Production managers
  • Physical scientists
  • Civil engineers
  • Mechanical engineers
  • Electrical engineers
  • Electronics engineers
  • Design and development engineers
  • Production and process engineers
  • Engineering professionals not elsewhere classified
  • IT specialist managers
  • IT business analysts, architects and systems designers
  • Programmers and software development professionals
  • Information technology and communications professionals not elsewhere classified
  • Environmental Professionals
  • Medical practitioners
  • Medical radiographers
  • Health professionals not elsewhere classified
  • Nurses
  • Secondary education teaching professionals
  • Actuaries, economists, and statisticians
  • Social workers
  • Quality control and planning engineers
  • Engineering technicians
  • Paramedics
  • Animation artists
  • Dancers and choreographers
  • Arts officers, producers, and directors
  • Graphic designers
  • Buyers and purchasing officers
  • Welding trades
  • Aircraft maintenance and related trades
  • Line repairers and cable jointers
  • Chefs

A detailed list can be found on the GOV.UK website.

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What is a Certificate of Sponsorship?

A company needs to have or obtain a licence to hire workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). Once a company has a licence they can issue a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to a foreign worker.

This needs to be included with your application when applying for a UK work visa under the Points Based system and must be used within three months from when it is assigned.

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What is the points-based system?

The 5-tier points-based system is the main immigration route for people wanting to live and work in the United Kingdom. Applicants are separated into five tiers and need to pass a points-based assessment in order to qualify for any one of these visas.

Points vary for each tier and are awarded according to experience, ability, and age.

Condition Points
Having a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) 30
Receiving an Appropriate Salary for the job in question 20
Meeting the English Language criteria 10
Having enough Maintenance funds 10
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What are the different types of UK work visas?

There are three main tiers of UK work visas: ‘high value’ workers, skilled workers, and temporary workers.

These are the main routes for migrants wanting to work in the United Kingdom. Each has their own requirements and limitations.

Tier 1: ‘High Value’ Migrant

1. Entrepreneur visa

This is for people who want to set up or run a business in the United Kingdom, have access to £200,000 (about R3.5 million) investment funds, and meet the eligibility requirements.

How long you can stay in the United Kingdom: three years.

Cost of visa: about R18,286 + healthcare surcharge (about R3460 per year).

2. Exceptional Talent visa

This is for people who are endorsed as a leader or emerging leader in the fields of science, humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology, or the arts and meet the eligibility requirements.

How long you can stay in the United Kingdom: five years.

Cost of visa: about R10,889 + healthcare surcharge (about R3,460 per year).

3. Graduate Entrepreneur visa

This is for people who have been officially endorsed as having a credible business idea and meet the eligibility requirements.

How long you can stay in the United Kingdom: one year.

Cost of visa: about R6,501 + healthcare surcharge (about R3,460 per year).

4. Investor visa

This is for people who want to invest £2,000,000 (about R34 million) or more in the country and meet the eligibility requirements.

How long you can stay in the United Kingdom: three years.

Cost of visa: about R29,067 + healthcare surcharge (about R3,460 per year).

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Tier 2: Skilled Worker

1. General visa

This is for people who meet the eligibility requirements and have a skilled job offer and Certificate of Sponsorship from a licensed UK employer, or whose job is on the Shortage Occupations List (see below).

How long you can stay in the United Kingdom: a maximum of five years.

Cost of visa: from about R8,000 to about R21,000 (fees vary according to your situation) + healthcare surcharge (about R3,460 per year).

A guide to the fees for a General visa can be found on the GOV.UK website.

2. Intra-company Transfer visa

This is for people who have been offered a role in the UK branch of their company or organisation and meet the eligibility requirements.

How long you can stay in the United Kingdom: 12 months to a maximum of nine years.

Cost of visa: from about R7,650 to about R22,000 (fees vary according to your situation) + healthcare surcharge (about R3,460 per year).

3. Minister of Religion visa

This is for people who have been offered a job within a religious community organisation in the UK and meet the eligibility requirements.

How long you can stay in the United Kingdom: three years.

Cost of visa: about R10,925 + healthcare surcharge (about R3,460 per year).

4. Sportsperson visa

This is for people who are recognised by their sport’s governing body as being at the highest level of their profession internationally and meet the eligibility requirements.

How long you can stay in the United Kingdom: three years.

Cost of visa: about R10,925 + healthcare surcharge (about R3,460 per year).

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Tier 5: Temporary Worker

1. Charity Worker visa

This is for people who want to do unpaid voluntary work for a charity and meet the eligibility requirements.

How long you can stay in the United Kingdom: one year.

Cost of visa: about R4,370 + healthcare surcharge (about R3,460 per year).

2. Creative and Sporting visa

This is for people who have been offered work in the UK as a creative worker (e.g. actor, dancer, musician, or film crew member) or sports person and meet the eligibility requirements.

How long you can stay in the United Kingdom: one year.

Cost of visa: about R4,370 + healthcare surcharge (about R3,460 per year).

3. Government Authorised Exchange visa

This is for people who want to go to the UK for a short time for training, work experience, research, a fellowship, or an Overseas Government Language Programme and meet the eligibility requirements.

How long you can stay in the United Kingdom: one or two years.

Cost of visa: about R4,370 + healthcare surcharge (about R3,460 per year).

Also read: How to study abroad as a South African

4. Religious Worker visa

This is for people who want to do religious work such as preaching or working in a religious order and meet the eligibility requirements.

How long you can stay in the United Kingdom: two years.

Cost of visa: about R4,370 + healthcare surcharge (about R3,460 per year).

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Other

1. One Month Permitted Paid Engagement Visa

This is for people who have been invited to the UK for a short period to do specific work (e.g. lecturer, fashion model, student examiner etc.) and meet the eligibility requirements.

How long you can stay in the United Kingdom: one month.

Cost of visa: about R1,666

A detailed policy guidance for Tier 2 of the Points Based System can be found on the GOV.UK website.

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How do I get a work visa for the UK?

UK Work Visa Application Process

After figuring out which UK work visa you need and receiving your Certificate of Sponsorship from your future employer, you can begin the application process for a UK work visa.

  1. Ensure you meet the eligibility requirements.
  2. Gather your documents.
  3. Register on the Visa4UK website and complete the application form.
  4. Pay the visa fee and health care surcharge.
  5. Print out your application form.
  6. Attend your appointment and submit your biometrics at one of the visa application centres in South Africa.

Note: If you will be staying in the UK for more than six months, you will need to get a tuberculosis (TB) test at one of the approved testing clinics in South Africa. The certificate will need to be included with your UK work visa application.

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How long does it take to get a visa to work in the UK?

The processing times from the date of submission is approximately 15 business days.

How early can I apply for a UK work visa?

3 months before you travel (e.g. If you are travelling on 3 May you can apply on 4 February).

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Can I apply for permanent residence?

It is possible to apply for an Indefinite Leave to Remain (also known as permanent residency) after being in the UK for a minimum of five years.

To qualify for permanent residence you will need to meet certain criteria and take the ‘Life in the UK’ test.

You will be able to apply for naturalisation as a UK citizen one year after being granted indefinite leave to remain.

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Some things to remember

  • Go through a visa expert if you want to ensure your UK work visa application is 100% correct.
  • It is important that you familiarise yourself with the immigration rules.
  • Signing up for a Visa Denied Service is always recommended.

Also read: Travel regulations and documentation

Contact details

British High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa

Street Address: 255 Hill Street, Arcadia Pretoria, 0028

Telephone: +27 12 421 7500

Fax: +27 12 421 7599

Website: www.gov.uk

Email: pta.assistanceforbritishnationals@fco.gov.uk

Opening Hours: Monday to Thursday 8:00 to 17:00 / Friday 8:00 to 12:30

Consular Section: Monday to Thursday: 8:00 to 12:00

Visa Section: Monday to Thursday 8:00 to 16:00 / Friday 8:00 to 12:30

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*Disclaimer

All information on this page was correct at the time of publishing and may change at any time without prior notice. Travelstart is not affiliated with immigration authorities or their application centres and will not be liable for loss or inconvenience arising from the use of this volatile information.

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Our Readers Comments

  1. Hi, I am a 53 year old male with a Electrical Qualification. What are my chances of getting a work visa in the UK?

    • Hi Dean,

      As we don’t grant the visa’s this is hard to say. It depends on the demand and usually the age too.

      I would suggest contacting the Visa Experts, their contact details are mentioned in our blog and the relevant links provided.

      As they specialise in this area they will be able to provide you with more information.

  2. Hi. I am 39 years of age permanent residence of South Africa. Looking to work in UK as a Financial Administrator or Banker as I have work experience in those fields. I have a college Diploma(Bank Clerk)
    Which recruitment agencies should I contact for me to be able to apply for a job in UK.
    Thank you

    • HI Jeanett,

      For this I would recommend contacting the British High Commission, Pretoria, South Africa.

      They should be able to give you names and contact details of reputable recruitment agencies to apply through.

      Their contact details are below:

      Street Address: 255 Hill Street, Arcadia Pretoria, 0028

      Telephone: +27 12 421 7500

  3. I would very much like to work as a live-in carer in the UK. Would it be a problem for me obtaining a work visa as I am 65 year old female. I have a daughter and grandson living in the UK which would make it easier on weekend offs.
    My birth country is South Africa… Could you advice me as to any possibilities of achieving my goal.
    Thanking you
    Colleen Inez Hopgood

    • Hi Colleen,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      To my knowledge you would first need to find a job who would then need to send the relevant documents the Embassy requires when applying for a work visa.

      However as we do not specialise in work visa’s we recommend you contact the Embassy or official visa handling agency direct. They will be able to provide you with the most up to date information on the correct procedures to follow, what documents are required as well as the cost.

  4. Hi. I’m a 31 years old permanent resident of South Africa and in possession of a BSW, MSW-FP and PG DIP Information Sciences and would like to apply for a work permit to the UK. However, I am not certain on the appropriate steps I need to follow in order to accomplish my quest for job opportunities in the UK, particularly in London. Please enlighten me on the latter…Thank you

    • Hi Shaun,

      For this you would need to contact the Embassy or official visa handling agency direct.

      They will be able to provide you with the most up to date information on the correct procedures to follow when applying for a work visa. What documents you would need to submit from the company which has employed you, as well as other documents, correct procedures to follow as cost involved.

      British High Commission (Pry)
      Physical Address : 255 Hill Street, Arcadia, Pretoria, 0028
      Tel No : 012 421 7500

      UK Visa & Immigration – International Enquiry Service
      Tel No : 021 300 3758 or 00 44 2034 811 736
      Web Address : https://www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration
      *Please note: This is a paid service, at a cost per minute

  5. my husband is on the shortage Occupations List and is 58 years old. I can’t find anything about age restriction for the shortage occupation list.

    Is there anyone that can help us to find where we can find sponsors?

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