Employing overseas nationals and right to work in the UK

When you're appointing someone, you'll need to consider whether they're eligible to work in the UK.

Who can work in the UK?

If your appointee falls into one of the following categories, they are able to work:

  • They're a UK or Irish national
  • They're an EEA/Swiss national (until 30 June 2021 their right to work can be evidenced by their passport or national ID card; afterwards, they'll need pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, or a visa)
  • They hold a valid work visa
  • They have Indefinite Leave to Enter (ILE) or Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK
  • They're a dependent (spouse/partner, fiancé/fiancée/proposed civil partner, child, parent) of someone who has an existing right to work in the UK, and they have a dependent visa
  • They're a dependant (spouse/civil partner, child or grandchild under 21 years old, dependent child/grandchild of any age, dependent parent/grandparent) of an EEA/Swiss national or their spouse/civil partner who has an existing right to work in the UK and they have a dependant visa
  • They have a valid Student/Tier 4 visa which allows them to work on a part-time basis - this is normally limited to a maximum of 10 or 20 hours per week during term-time, subject to the permission of their course supervisor, and they must complete a Tier 4 Student Declaration form (download below) at least once per academic year.

If they don't, you can still offer them the role, but they'll need to get permission.

Types of permission

EEA/Swiss nationals and their non-EEA/Swiss family members

If resident in the UK by 31 December 2020, EEA/Swiss nationals are eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme for pre-settled or settled status. Indeed, they must apply to the Scheme by 30 June 2021 to able to continue to access services and benefits in the UK beyond that date. As long as they lived in the UK by 31 December 2020, their family members who are coming to/already in the UK based on their relationship with the EEA/Swiss national will also be eligible, even if they're not in the UK yet.

If they enter the UK from 1 January 2021 and don't already have a status under the EU Settlement Scheme, they won't be able to apply. Freedom of movement with the EU ended on 31 December 2020 and therefore, from 1 January 2021, EEA/Swiss nationals must have permission to work in the UK as with the rest of the world. 

Sponsored visas

If they’ve indicated in their job application that they don’t have an existing permission to work in the UK, the University can provide information on the options they have to apply for permission. This may involve the University applying to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to allow us to appoint them to a role (sponsorship).

If sponsorship is needed and is granted, they’re responsible for applying for a visa. The University can’t act on their behalf or offer any detailed, professional advice. Sponsorship doesn’t automatically mean they (and any dependants) will be granted a visa; the decision is at the discretion of UKVI and the University has no influence.

Unsponsored visas

Certain types of visa don’t need to rely on sponsorship from the University (eg dependent visas), though the applicant will need to meet the relevant criteria. Even though we’re not sponsoring them, we’ll still need to know that they have permission to work in the UK, so it’s helpful if they keep us up to date on their application progress.

How long does a visa last?

If their visa application’s approved, they’ll be able to enter, live and work in the UK for the period stated on their visa, which may be attached to their passport or may be a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP).

Each visa type has different maximum residence timescales.

Types of permission to work in the UK

There are several types of work visa. The most common at the University are Global Talent (formerly Tier 1 Exceptional Talent), Tier 2 General (now Skilled Worker Visa) and Temporary Worker - Government Authorised Exchange (T5).

Important: until 30 June 2021, EEA/Swiss nationals can prove their right to work using a valid passport or national ID card. After that date, new staff will need to show they have a status under the EU Settlement Scheme or some other form of permission (ie a visa). Irish nationals are not affected and may continue to use a passport to prove right to work in the UK.

For scenario-based guidance, please see our pages on the UK's immigration system from 2021

Global Talent

This immigration route is for highly skilled individuals in the fields of science, humanities, engineering, the arts (including film, fashion design and architecture) and digital technology who’ll enrich the UK’s knowledge, economy and society.

There are 3 fast-track and 1 standard paths:

  1. Fast-track 'academic and research appointments' path (for those who have responsibility for academic/research/innovation leadership and development or who direct or lead an individual or team in a research/innovation project or programme of work)
  2. Fast track 'individual fellowships' path (for recipients of eligible awards under either 'exceptional talent' - those internationally recognised as having made significant contributions as a leader in their field - or 'exceptional promise' - those who’ve demonstrated the potential to contribute significantly as a future leader in their field)
  3. Fast-track 'endorsed funders' path (for researchers and specialists whose name or job title is specified in a successful grant application from an endorsed funder)
  4. Standard 'full peer review' path (for individuals who wish to be considered for endorsement by peer review undertaken by the British Academy, Royal Academy of Engineering or the Royal Society).

This is a work visa, but doesn’t require sponsorship by the University.

Skilled Worker Visa

This immigration route's predecessor, Tier 2 General, is now closed to new applications. This route is for skilled workers coming to the UK to fill jobs at graduate level and above.

They’ll need a job offer from the University, and we’ll need to apply for sponsorship from UKVI. Both they and the University need the meet all of the criteria to be able to employ they.

Temporary Worker - Government Authorised Exchange (T5)

This visa type is primarily for sponsored researchers who want to come to the UK for up to 2 years and, during their time at the University:

  • will take part in financially sponsored research
  • won’t be employed by the University
  • won’t be self-funded
  • will receive funding from a UK/overseas funding body or from their overseas employer which is at least the equivalent of the UK National Minimum Wage
  • won’t fill a genuine vacancy (one that’s part of our normal staffing requirements)
  • will do skilled work at NVQ3 level (‘A’ level in the UK) or above
  • will be able to support themselves (and any dependants) without public funds
  • intend to leave the UK at the end of their visit

They’ll need the offer of a role, and sponsorship by the University, to be able to apply for this visa type.

Dependent visas

We can also employ someone who's in the UK as a dependent of a Points-Based System visa holder, an EEA/Swiss national or a British citizen, and the restrictions on their employment are much less onerous. 

Other work visas

You can find information on other types of work visas on UKVI’s web pages.

If you or your appointee have any questions about permission to work in the UK, you can contact your HR hub.

Other visa types

There are other options for someone who wants to come to the UK, though they do not permit what UKVI defines as 'work'.

Work includes (but is not limited to) the following:

  • paid and unpaid employment
  • paid and unpaid work placements undertaken as part of a course or period of study
  • self employment
  • engaging in business or any professional activity

If someone doesn't want to do any of that, the more common types of permission to enter and remain in the UK are:

  • Visitor visa: for those coming to the UK for a short time to, for example, engage in private research or attend a conference (you can download our guidance document below)
  • Student/Tier 4/Short Term Study: for students
  • Asylum seeker/refugee: for those who've left their country and aren't able to go back for fear of persecution

Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS)

If you work with PhD students, you may already be familiar with ATAS. It's a UK government scheme which, since 2008, has provided a vetting service for students from certain countries who have an offer to study at a UK HEI in certain, sensitive subjects. The aim is to prevent technology research/knowledge from being used to support military programmes “of significant concern” overseas.

The Home Office has decided to extend the scheme to workers and therefore it is now a legal requirement for relevant individuals to hold an ATAS certificate.

Who needs an ATAS certificate

Everyone who is carrying out research in the UK (whether employed or visiting, including academics whose work involves an element of research), if they meet the following criteria:

  • applying under the Skilled Worker, Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange (T5) or Visitor immigration routes*, and
  • not a citizen of an exempt country. and.
  • researching in a relevant field.

*Other visa routes, such as Global Talent and PBS dependent, do not currently require an ATAS certificate.

Existing staff who meet the criteria do not need to apply for an ATAS certificate unless/until they are applying to extend their permission to stay in the UK, or to switch into one of the above immigration routes from another route.

How to decide whether an ATAS certificate is required

  1. Under which immigration route is the person coming to the UK? If it's not one of the routes mentioned above, or they're not coming to the UK at all, they won't need an ATAS certificate.
  2. Are they a citizen of an exempt country? These are countries in the EEA, and 8 others.
  3. Skilled Worker and Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange (T5) only: is the SOC code under which their job is classified on the list? Our ‘usual’ codes are 2119 for research roles, and 2311 for teaching – both of these are on the list.
  4. Does their job involve an element of research, even if it is not a ‘research role’?
  5. Is their field of research on the list of CAH3 codes? These are quite wide-ranging and would cover many areas of research in Arts, Humanities and Cultures, Biological Sciences, Engineering and Physical Sciences, Environment and Medicine & Health.

You can check whether an ATAS certificate will be required by completing our form.

When they need to apply

If an ATAS certificate is required, an application should be submitted as early as possible. The application will be free of charge, and the processing time will be 10-15 days from the date it's submitted. The certificate is valid for 6 months, during which time it must be used.

Skilled Worker and Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange (T5)

Anyone sponsored by the University under these immigration routes will need to provide their ATAS certificate when they apply for a visa. If they need a certificate, but do not provide one, their visa application will be either be refused outright, or will not be granted until a certificate is received.

When we apply to UK Visas and Immigration for a Certificate of sponsorship, we must tell them if an ATAS certificate is required. We cannot issue a Certificate of Sponsorship to the person until they provide evidence that they have applied for an ATAS certificate.

Visitor visa

Visitors will need to show their certificate to the University before they are permitted to carry out any activity. If they do not have a certificate they will not be allowed to start the engagement.

What support can we provide?

We must provide a research statement to the employee/visitor which they'll need to submit with their application. You can download a template form below. The statement should include as much technical detail as possible, and should cover the whole of the employment/visit period. If the research expands outside the detail on the research statement, or changes focus, a new ATAS certificate will be required. 

This page is publicly available, so please feel free to share it with prospective employees and visitors. There is further information for applicants in the Staff Information section of this website, and they can also complete our online form if they're not sure whether they need an ATAS certificate or not.

The links at the bottom of this page may also be helpful.


Though it is the employee/visitor's responsibility to apply for an ATAS certificate, UK Visas and Immigration places responsibility for making sure it's in place squarely with the employer/host institution.

If you allow employment or a visit to begin without an ATAS certificate if it is required, both the University and the employee/visitor will be breaking the law. The employee/visitor may be forcibly removed from the UK, and the University could lose its licence to sponsor overseas employees, visitors and students.

Contact us

If you have any queries, please email InternationalHR@leeds.ac.uk.

You can download this information in printable format below.