UK internships - Visa implications

27 May 2016

We often hear from potential interns and employers who have not considered visa issues until the last moment, meaning internship start dates are delayed and the time the intern can spend at the business is shortened. Internships are a great way for students and recent graduates to gain some valuable work experience, and also act as a helpful screening tool for employers who may be considering offering the intern a more permanent role. Immigration issues should be considered early in the process, to ensure work permission can be obtained in good time. We address some of the most common pitfalls in this set of FAQs regarding internships and Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange) visas.

Does a non-EEA intern need a visa to complete an internship with us?

Yes. An internship is work, and therefore requires work permission, and a Tier 5 visa would probably be most appropriate.

The potential intern is currently in the UK with a Tier 4 student visa. Can a Tier 4 student complete an internship with us?

Most Tier 4 students are able to work part time during their studies and full time during holidays and on completion of their course, so long as the role they work in is not a permanent one. It is usually possible, therefore, to complete an internship as a Tier 4 student. However, the student will only be able to work until the expiry date of their Tier 4 student visa and will experience difficulties returning to the UK if they travel overseas after they’ve completed their studies. If the internship on offer is for a longer period than that covered by the Tier 4 student visa, it will be necessary to obtain further permission for the remaining period, probably under Tier 5. In some cases, it is possible for Tier 4 students to switch from Tier 4 into Tier 5 within the UK, without returning to their home country.

We are offering an unpaid internship / work experience programme. Can a person coming to the UK as a visitor complete an internship with us?

No. Those entering the UK as visitors are not allowed to undertake work of any kind, including job shadowing, and an unpaid internship is still considered to be work. The intern must therefore obtain appropriate work permission before they start their internship. If the Home Office finds a visitor visa holder completing an internship in your office, you could be subject to a fine of up to £20,000 (per illegal worker).

If the potential intern doesn’t currently have a UK visa, a Tier 5 visa would probably be most appropriate.

We don't have a sponsor licence. Can we offer an internship to a non-EEA intern without a sponsor licence?

Yes. Under Tier 5, an overarching sponsor assesses the internship on offer and (if suitable) assigns a Certificate of Sponsorship to the intern. The Certificate of Sponsorship is used by the intern in their visa application, as evidence of their work offer in the UK. Together with the Certificate of Sponsorship, the intern may be required to submit evidence that they have sufficient funds to support themselves while in the UK.

If you do have a Tier 2 sponsor licence, although you must still obtain a Certificate of Sponsorship from an overarching sponsor, the process may be more straightforward as you have already demonstrated that you are compliant with Home Office requirements.

How long does it take for an intern to obtain a Tier 5 visa?

As the potential employer, you will need to register with the overarching sponsor, who will assess the internship on offer.

You will be expected to provide a detailed training plan and confirm that the intern’s role is supernumerary and not filling a vacancy. The individual will need to provide evidence of their studies to the overarching sponsor. It usually takes a few weeks to prepare the documents for submission to the overarching sponsor, who should then assess the internship within a few weeks and assign the Certificate of Sponsorship to the intern.

Depending on where the intern is making their visa application, that stage of the process will take between 5 and 15 working days.

We strongly recommend starting the process at least two months before the internship start date.

The intern did a good job. Can we extend the internship?

Permission under Tier 5 is generally capped at six months for an unpaid internship, or 12 months for a paid internship, although some overarching sponsors offer shorter durations. If the initial visa was for a shorter period, it should be possible to extend the intern’s permission up to the maximum. This application can be made within the UK.

We will assist you in choosing the most appropriate overarching sponsor for your situation and obtaining the right visa duration for your internship.

The intern did a great job. Can we offer them a permanent role?

If you want to keep the intern on in a permanent role after the expiry of their Tier 5 permission, it is likely you’ll need to sponsor them under Tier 2 (General). As a company, you must have a Tier 2 sponsor licence. It is likely the role on offer will need to be advertised as part of a genuine recruitment process. If no suitable EU/UK/permanent resident can be found, you’ll need to obtain a restricted Certificate of Sponsorship from the annual limit of 20,700, through a monthly request process. If you are successful in your restricted Certificate of Sponsorship request, the applicant will need to return to their home country to make their Tier 2 application.

We would recommend starting this process three months before the end of the Tier 5 visa, to ensure the applicant is overseas for the shortest period possible.


To listen our Immigration webinar: UK Internships, please click HERE

Further information

Should you have any questions or concerns about the issues raised in this blog, please contact a member of our immigration team for advice.

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