Team Working Photo, photo by White Rose Visas

Can I be self-employed on a Tier 2 General Visa?

Article published/ edited on 12 February 2019

On our UK Immigration Forum Visr we have frequently been asked whether it is possible to be self-employed on a Tier 2 General visa. The short answer is yes, if you have a licensed sponsor, but the full answer is much more complicated. Allow us to explain this further:

What is the difference between employed and self-employed?

To understand this question, it is important to understand the difference between being employed and being self-employed in the UK. This is what’s known as your employment status, and relates to the rights you have in employment and your obligations under tax laws.

Self-employment usually relates to those who run their own business, instead of those who are employed to work for someone else’s company. However, in certain situations, an individual is self-employed even though they are working for somebody else. The most important difference is that someone who is self-employed is not paid through PAYE (Pay As You Earn) but pays their tax directly to the UK government through a process called Self Assessment. They also have fewer employment rights and responsibilities.

The simplest way of thinking about this difference is like this:

  • Employed people are hired under a contract of service; they are under the overall management of the company and are protected by the rights of employ. For example, a receptionist is usually classed as employed because they have to work the hours they are given and have a right to the national minimum wage, holiday pay and other benefits.
  • Self-employed people agree to a contract for services; they are in control of their own work patterns and output to the conditions agreed by the employer, and because of this independence have less access to worker’s rights. For example, a taxi driver is usually classed as self-employed because they can work whenever they want, but they are not entitled to earn the national minimum wage, receive holiday pay or obtain other employee benefits.
Kim Day, photo by White Rose Visas

Self-Employment on Tier 2 General: Is it possible?

You cannot hold a Tier 2 General visa without a sponsor, and the visa is dependant on you working for a particular employer. You cannot therefore set up your own business instead of or in addition to your main sponsored employment – if you wish to do this you would instead need to apply for a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa.

However, we have been in contact with the Home Office regarding this question and they have confirmed that it is possible in certain situations to work for a Tier 2 General sponsor in a self-employed capacity. Further details on this are found in pages 178-179 of the Tiers 2 and 5: guidance for sponsors document. This document states the following:

If the migrant is self-employed, there must be a genuine contract for employment/services between you and the migrant…

Put simply, this means that you can be self-employed on a Tier 2 General visa as long as an employer sponsors you and issues you with a clear contract listing the work you have been contracted to perform with them. The sponsor also has their usual responsibility to ensure that you receive at least £30k per year, or your role’s minimum salary when relating to the relevant SOC code if this is higher than £30k.

It is worth remembering that the purpose of Tier 2 General is for skilled workers, meaning that even if the applicant is classed as self-employed, the employer must be able to evidence that there are currently no other settled people who are suitable to fulfil their sponsored role. Here are some examples where self-employment would be allowed on a Tier 2 General visa:

Example 1: Dental Associates (Dentists)

A dentist who doesn’t own their own dental practice but instead works in a dental practice owned by somebody else can often legally be employed as an independent contractor. We have dealt with many cases where dentists are technically self-employed, even though they work for the same employer on a regular basis.

This means that their dental practice will need to register as a licensed sponsor and issue them with a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) per the SOC code, as well as the genuine contract of employment to further prove the terms of their position. The dentist will remain legally self-employed but will not be in breach of any Tier 2 General immigration requirements.

Gavel, photo by rawpixel unsplash

Example 2: Barristers

Most practising barristers in the UK act as independent practitioners and are classified as self-employed. Like dentists, they will often be employed by a barristers’ chambers and are responsible for their workload based on the amount of individual cases they take. The Bar Council, a representative body of barristers in the UK, are accredited as Tier 2 General Sponsors and are committed to supporting talented non-EEA barristers with their visa applications. They are able to produce a CoS for qualified barristers in both pupillage and tenancy positions at chambers, where applicants are able to hold a Tier 2 General visa in a self-employed position.

Example 3: Private Tutor

Some companies control a large network of employees who are then paid based on the work they fulfil in their role. The employee is technically self-employed but contracted by their employer to complete tuition on their behalf.

In these situations, the employer would need to be a licensed sponsor and issue a Certificate of Sponsorship for the applicant with evidence that there are no settled workers capable of providing the same level of tutorship in their specialist field.

If you were looking to work as a private tutor for a company registered with the Home Office as a licensed sponsor, who can guarantee your minimum salary, provide a contract and evidence that you are the only person capable of fulfilling the role, you would be eligible to apply for a Tier 2 General visa and undertake this role in a self-employed capacity.

If I’m on a Tier 2 General Visa can I take additional self-employed work?

Another question we are often asked is whether those already on Tier 2 General visas can also perform additional self-employed work.

This is allowed, in very specific circumstances. The work you are doing must be on the Shortage Occupation List or be at the same SOC code level as the work you have been sponsored for. It cannot be higher or lower than this SOC level. This work must be classed as supplementary work, meaning that it can’t be for more than 20 hours a week or interfere with your sponsored employment. Finally, you can’t start your own business and class this as self-employment on a Tier 2 visa, meaning your self-employment must be for another sponsored employer with a new Certificate of Sponsorship.

Lauren Appleby, photo by White Rose Visas

If you are unsure about whether the self-employed work you are looking to begin on your Tier 2 General meets these requirements, please do get in contact with us here at White Rose Visas. This is a complex part of immigration law and we would recommend seeking the expertise of our qualified advisers to assess your personal situation.

Are there any other visas designed for self-employment?

As mentioned previously, Tier 1 Entrepreneur, as well as Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur, are routes designed to allow you to be completely self-employed by establishing and running your own business in the UK. You are also able to be self-employed on a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa and a Tier 1 Investor visa.

For individuals looking to be employed in creative or sporting positions, as well as religious or charity workers, the Tier 5 route might be better suited to your situation.

If you are unsure which route you are qualified for or have any further questions regarding self-employment on UK visas, please do get in touch with us using our contact information below.

Holly Cope, Team Photo by White Rose Visas

Holly Cope, Immigration Adviser at White Rose Visas, comments:

“There are some options for you to be self-employed on a Tier 2 General visa, but you must always be sponsored by a company who are licenced by the Home Office. This company then must guarantee to pay you the minimum salary for your role as well as provide you with a formal contract.”

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