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The Right to Work in the UK

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There is an abundance of opportunities in the United Kingdom to grow one's career and expand one's professional horizons.  What a person needs, however, to access these opportunities in the UK labour market and society is either a qualifying nationality or a type of permission (such as a visa) that allows them to live and work in the UK.

British citizens with the right of abode and Irish citizens (who are now regarded as settled in the UK) are examples of where a person's nationality gives them full access to the UK labour market, economy and society.

Not all British citizens have the right of abode attached to their form of British citizenship to enable them to live, work and study automatically in the UK.  An example of a residual form of British citizenship that does not have the right of abode attached to it is British National (Overseas) citizenship (BN(O) citizenship) which was given to some residents of Hong Kong upon the return of Hong Kong to China by the UK in 1997.  Recent developments, however, have led to BN(O) nationals and their family members now being eligible to apply for visas that would allow them to come to the UK to live, work and study in the country with a view to settling here and eventually being eligible to apply to naturalise as British citizens. 

Commonwealth nationals with ancestral ties to the UK also have certain nationality and immigration options available to them to come to live and work in the UK.  Where a Commonwealth national does not already have a right of abode to live and work in the UK in immigration law, they may be eligible for a UK Ancestry visa or a Partner visa to come to the UK to live and work in the country with a view to settling here and eventually becoming a British citizen. 

European nationals used to have the opportunity to access the UK labour market automatically by way of their nationality of an EEA member state prior to Brexit which gave them a right to reside in the country and to work here.  From 1 January 2021, however, European nationals now require permission from the Home Office, otherwise known as "leave", to live and work in the UK, either by way of the EU Settlement Scheme or through the other normal immigration routes found in the immigration rules.

Close family members of British citizens, Irish citizens and permanent residents of the UK, along with close family members of European nationals with a status in line with the EU Settlement Scheme, certain Turkish nationals and certain Commonwealth citizens, can apply for leave in the immigration rules to come to live with their family member in the UK.  These close family members often get a type of leave in the immigration rules that allows them to work in the UK on an unrestricted basis.  In other words, they can work for one employer or multiple employers, they can be self-employed or be a business owner.  They can work full time or part time in the UK as they choose and as their family circumstances dictate.

Refugees and people with humanitarian protection in the UK can also work in the country as can their close family members with leave in the immigration rules.

Where an individual does not have a qualifying nationality, or they are not a close family member of a person with a qualifying nationality or status in the UK as mentioned above, they would normally require sponsorship by a UK employer with a sponsor licence issued by the Home Office in order to live in the country and work for their UK employer.

UK businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the value of having a sponsor licence in order to access the vast pool of global talent around the world to address their business needs and to develop their existing workforce in the UK. 

It is also advisable for UK educational institutions to work ever more closely with UK employers to ensure that the training on offer in the UK for both domestic students and for foreign students with Student visas is appropriate to meet the business needs of the UK economy and society effectively in what is sure to be a challenging and exciting future to come.

The field of British nationality law and UK immigration law is vast and complex, but hidden within it is a treasure trove of potential options for migrants to be able to live and work in the UK in various ways depending on the requirements and the conditions of the leave they are eligible to be given by the UK Home Office.

Independent, properly regulated professional legal advisers can be of great assistance to existing and future UK employers, and to foreign investors wishing to invest in the UK and start businesses here, to address the questions of whether a person has the right to work in the UK and whether that person can work for their organisation in the UK. 

Independent, properly regulated professional legal advisers are also ultimately able to assist a person to apply for the appropriate leave (visa) from the Home Office, either in the UK or abroad, to enable them to pursue their dreams and career aspirations not only for themselves but also for a better future for their family.


For expert immigration law advice for you, your business or organisation, please call Catherine Maclay on 01205 315337 or email