Coming to the UK for Contract Work – a UK Expat Contractor’s Guide

If you want to work as a UK expat contractor, there are a few things you need to know when it comes to UK contract work.

You may need to apply for the correct visa, find an employer to sponsor your visa application and you also should be aware of roles the UK Government is eager to fill due to the country’s skills shortage in certain industries, including IT.

Right to work and live in the UK

If you are an expat contractor and you are a citizen of a country outside the UK and the European Economic Area (EEA), you should check the UK Government’s site to see whether you need a visa, and what kind of visa you require to work in the UK.

You may need to engage the services of a professional immigration adviser to help you to secure a sponsor and a contract before coming to the UK, depending on your circumstances as an expat contractor.


An expat contractor looking for UK contractor work could apply for one of a handful of Tier 1 high-value worker visas or a Tier 2 (General) skilled worker visa. You can also apply to bring your dependents with you, or at a later date when you are more established in your role.

Applications for the Tier 1 (General) skilled worker visa are now closed but there are additional Tier 1 categories under which a UK expat contractor may qualify, including: entrepreneur, investor and graduate entrepreneur.

Under the Tier 1 entrepreneur category, you could carry out UK contract work if you set up/take over and work for your business. However, an expat contractor must have access to at least £50,000 investment funds to apply and you must check your work meets the conditions of self employment.

The rules of what you can and cannot do under a Tier 1 investor visa are more relaxed. You can, for example, work or study. However, you need access to at least £2 million in investment funds to apply. And, if you want to apply to settle in the UK after two years, you need to invest £10 million.

The Tier 2 (General) visa is usually the most suitable category for an expat contractor. You can apply for this visa if you’ve been offered a skilled job in the UK and if you’re from outside the EEA and Switzerland.

You need to be employed by a licensed sponsor to apply to live and work in the UK, and you can also do a second job in certain circumstances, do voluntary work, study (if it doesn’t interfere with your sponsored role) and travel abroad.

Skills shortage

There are many benefits to working as an expat contractor and the skills shortage within the engineering, IT, healthcare and creative industries has opened the door to a competitive UK expat contract market within these disciplines.

Under a requirement called the Resident Labour Market Test, skilled jobs in the UK usually need to be advertised to residents of the European Economic Area (EEA) for a set time before being offered to a Tier 2 worker.

However, the UK Government publishes a list of shortage occupations every year, where employers are struggling to find the right talent to fill these job types. These roles do not need to be advertised before they can be offered to a non-EEA immigrant and you do not need to go through the Resident Labour Market Test if you want to apply for one of these roles. However, the job must be for at least 30 hours per week and pay a minimum salary to qualify.

A shortage occupation list is produced for both the UK and Scotland and, at the time of writing, this was last updated in January 2018.

If you’re looking to UK contract work within the IT industry, a range of roles appear. These include: IT product managers, data scientists, senior developers and cyber security specialists employed by a qualifying company, where the job requires a person with a minimum of five years’ relevant experience and demonstrable experience of having led a team.

There are also a number of roles listed in the 2D/3D computer animation for the film, television or video games sectors where you are not required to have at least five years’ work experience, including: systems engineers, software developers, shader writers and games designers.

Within Scotland, a selection of medical practitioner and radiographer roles appear on the shortage occupation list but no IT roles were specified, at the time of writing.

Does the occupation shortage list change?

Yes. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which is the body that evaluates the UK skill shortages, examines a range of factors, including vacancy rates, changes in rates of pay and employers’ perceptions of the skill shortages.

However, some roles on the occupation shortage list are likely to remain there for the long term, particularly within IT and engineering where too few trainees are entering these sectors. As a result, you could retrain and apply for one of these long-standing shortage occupations, if you can to find an employer to sponsor you for a Tier 2 visa.

If you’d like to find out more and apply for UK contract work, check out the UK Contractor IT Contract Jobs Search.

Once you have secured a contract in the UK you will then need to work out the most suitable route and most tax efficient way to contract. For more information read here: Umbrella Company Vs Limited Company.  

ContractorUK also has an active forum if you have any specific questions. 

Monday 23rd Apr 2018