Dec 16, 2022

Written By Annabel Gooden

What kind of visa do I need to work as a lawyer in the UK?

Dec 16, 2022

Written By Annabel Gooden

In the post-Brexit landscape, the UK remains open to foreign lawyers and overseas students. However, it is important to be aware of the visa requirements that exist for professionals working in the UK.

The Skilled Worker Visa

In order to work as a lawyer in the UK, you will need to obtain a Skilled Worker Visa. This used to be called a Tier 2 (General) work visa.

It is not possible to get a UK work visa without sponsorship. You must have already secured a job to be eligible for this visa. The visa lasts for up to 5 years at which point you can extend or update your visa, or you can apply to settle permanently.

To obtain the Skilled Worker Visa, foreign lawyers have to meet certain requirements and must submit an online visa application complete with documentation. If you already have a different type of UK visa, there are ways to switch.

What are the requirements for a skilled worker visa?

The requirements are that you must:

- Work for a UK employer that is Home Office approved. You will need their sponsor licence number when you apply.

- Have a ‘certificate of sponsorship’ from your employer.

- Do a job on the list of eligible occupations. Most legal professions are included.

- Be paid a minimum salary. For legal professionals this is usually the ‘going rate’ for your job.

- Prove that you have knowledge of English to at least level B1 on the CEFR scale. There is a list of exempt countries so if you’re from one of these this rule will not apply.

You can find a more detailed list of requirements on the government website here 

How can I apply?

You can apply up to three months before your start date. Decisions are usually made between three and eight weeks after you apply.

It’s also possible to pay a surcharge if you need your application to be processed faster. There is a fee to apply, which typically costs between £625-£1,423.

You must also pay a yearly healthcare surcharge and provide proof of sufficient savings. Information on costs is available here.

Several kinds of documents are required, including a valid passport or ID card and certificate of sponsorship.

Will I need to do anything further after 5 years with a skilled worker visa?

As long as you are eligible, you can continue to extend your Skilled Worker Visa every 5 years. If you switch jobs, you may need to make an application to update your visa.

Once you have been in the UK for 5 years, it is also possible to apply for indefinite leave to remain and settle in the UK permanently.


Are there any exemptions?

Irish citizens do not need to apply for a visa.

Some citizens from the EU, Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland were eligible to work in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme if they or if a family member was living in the UK by 31 December 2020. The deadline for applying has passed but applications are still accepted in certain circumstances. Check the website for details.

Note that the qualifications needed to practise law in Scotland and Northern Ireland are different. Click here to learn more about qualifying as a lawyer in Scotland, and here for information about qualifying in Northern Ireland. 

How does this affect aspiring lawyers from outside the UK?

Both lawyers who are qualified in their home jurisdiction and overseas students must pass the Bar Practice Course (BPC) or the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), and the practical training in order to qualify as a lawyer in England and Wales.

Check out our SQE section for more information about this new exam, and how it affects students from overseas.

Depending on your qualifications and work experience, you might be eligible to skip some or all of the SQE exams, as well as have overseas work experience count towards the two year requirement. Read more about possible exemptions here.

If you obtain a Training Contract or Pupillage in the UK, your firm or chambers may offer visa sponsorship, especially if it is London based. However, it is important to check this with each individual employer when you submit an application.


Becoming a Lawyer in the UK - International Students