Who wouldn’t want to describe themselves as “knackered” when drunk, refer to sweaters as “jumpers”, and hang out with the cast of Harry Potter every day? Plenty of Americans dream of adopting a fake accent, hanging out on the Thames, and falling in love with a handsome stranger at the Tate who bears a striking resemblance to Christian Bale. But turning this dream into a reality is much more difficult than one might think. Getting work in the UK as an American is notoriously laborious, and there are some very specific steps you have to take to get there.
The Basics Of UK Work Visas
The UK is particularly strict about work visas. You cannot just move to England, get a job, and then get that job to sponsor you for a visa. You must have sponsorship before you go. When you apply for a visa, you will be placed into one of five tiers, which measure your application against a set of criteria (source).
Tier 1: Reserved for highly skilled and talented migrants from outside the EEA, this Visa tier covers investors, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who falls under the category of “exceptional talent.”
Tier 2: This category is for skilled workers from outside of the EEA with a job offer in England. It applies to workers who are transferred to the UK by an international company, workers who are filling a void where there is a proven shortage of workers in the UK, ministers of religion, and athletes.
Tier 3: Has been shut down completely.
Tier 4: This category is reserved for students who are already registered at a UK educational institute.
Tier 5: These visas are reserved for young people from countries that have reciprocal arrangements with England. It allows young people to temporarily work in the UK on holiday in a variety of fields, including creative, sporting, and charity.
Other Options For Working In The UK
If you are one of those punishingly lucky people who has dual citizenship and are both American and a member of a Commonwealth country, you may be eligible for a UK Ancestry Visa. These are pretty rare, though, and the chances that as an American you are eligible are slim, unless you have strong familial ties to the UK.
If I Don’t Have A Job In England Already, How Do I Get One?
There are several ways: the easiest is to apply to an American-based company that has offices in London. Even if you aren’t immediately placed in the London offices, you can make it clear that that is a goal of yours, and have that be one of the steps in your advancement. Here is how an intra-company visa sponsorship works:
If you are an existing employee of an international company, and are being transferred to the UK branch to fill a specific and highly skilled vacancy, that cannot be filled by an English worker, you can qualify for an intra-company transfer. There are 4 subcategories to this type of visa:
1. Long Term: if you have been working for your organization for at least 12 months directly prior to your transfer, you can get a visa of up to 5 years under this route (or 9 years for any staff earning £155,300 a year or more).
2. Short Term: if you have been working for your organization for at least 12 months directly prior to your transfer, you can get a visa of up to 12 months.
3. Trainee: if you have recently graduated and must be sent to the UK for training purposes, with the goal of being equipped for a managerial role, you can get a short-term visa.
4. Skills Transfer: if you need to impart your specialist skills, or need to acquire specific skills from the UK office, you can get a visa for a maximum of six months.
You can also apply to jobs in London from the US, in the hopes that one will sponsor you. That said, if you apply to a job that is relatively unskilled (barback, barista, retail, etc), even if you do find a company willing to sponsor you, your sponsorship will most likely be rejected, as there are plenty of English people who can do those jobs. Also, keep in mind that the company you are seeking sponsorship from will need to be licensed to sponsor.
Best Sites For Finding A Job/ Sponsorship In The UK
Here is a handy list of the organizations that are licensed to sponsor migrants under tiers 2 and 5.
Here is a list of shortage occupations for Tier 2. If your area of expertise falls under one of these categories, you are much more likely to qualify for a Tier 2 visa.
Here are some great job boards specific to the UK:
The Long And Short Of Working In The UK As An American
The best way to get sponsorship to work in the UK is through an American-based international company with offices in England. Barring that option, check the list of shortage occupations to see if there is a government-recognized need for your area of expertise. Still coming up short? You can always study in England, make connections, and try again.