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UK Internships – what is the most suitable UK immigration category?

By Pina Mistry, Fragomen LLP



Undertaking work experience or an internship has many advantages to both the health tech applicant and employer.

However, navigating which visa category is most suitable can be a mine field, especially when a business is not a sponsor licence holder and is unfamiliar with the UK visa regime.

In such circumstances, the UK’s Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange (“TW GAE”) visa offers a number of benefits to both individuals and employers.    

What is the UK’s Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange visa?

It is a temporary work route for those who wish to come to the UK through an approved scheme that aims to share knowledge, experience, and best practice via an internship.

The visa route is targeted at young adults, those in higher education or new graduates.

The visa route requires sponsorship and unlike the Skilled Worker visa, an overarching body must provide the sponsorship to facilitate the visa, specifically providing a Certificate of Sponsorship (“COS”).

To stop exploitation of the visa route, the role must be adequately skilled at ‘RQF level 3’ and supernumerary, meaning, the role must be over and above normal staffing levels.

Indeed, there are other eligibility factors to meet such as a financial requirement, but this can be offset to the UK sponsor who can certify maintenance on behalf of the applicant.

Once the CoS is in place, the process mirrors most UK visa applications with the added benefit that the government fees are much lower, at approximately £280 per applicant.

Who are the overarching bodies?

There are a number of approved overarching bodies who are able to provide sponsorship.

Each body has had their scheme approved in their own right and therefore will have differences in qualifying criteria.

For over 12 years Fragomen LLP have been approved by UK Visas and Immigration to hold a Sponsor Licence under the TW GAE visa route under Fragomen’s International Internship Scheme (“Scheme”).

The Scheme is aimed at those seeking an internship as part of degree level studies overseas or for internships/work placements for new graduates wanting to take their first career steps in their chosen field and in some circumstances looking for a career change.

The category limits internships to a maximum of 12 months. Many may argue that anything over this would sail into the waters of a more permanent position and against the spirit of the category.

However, should a permanent position be secured following the internship, the intern may apply to switch within the UK into the Skilled Worker category.

An internship abroad is often the first time an applicant has had to navigate the daunting visa process.

Applicants should consult an immigration lawyer who can provide support with the visa application, to avoid filing incorrect forms and other missteps which can result in visa delays or refusals.

Experts often work directly with the applicant as well as the internship company to fully assess whether the applicant and the business are able to meet the criteria of the Scheme and satisfy the visa requirements.

What are the benefits to your business?

For many UK employers, internships are used to attract emerging talent across the globe.

This in turn contributes to developing a foundation of future leaders, whilst also building a diverse work force, the company’s brand globally and attracting investment into the UK.

Many businesses are not aware of the TW GAE visa route and thus tend to use the more costly Skilled Worker visa for internships, a route that should be reserved for permanent hires.

Another visa category that is often used for internships is the Youth Mobility Scheme Visa, which is available only for certain nationalities, but enables young adults aged 18-30 to experience life in the UK.

On face value this would be an appropriate visa route for an internship, however where there is a desire to return to the UK later in their later 20’s it provides greater flexibility for their first two years of employment in the UK as no sponsorship is required.

The TW GAE route is built to allow candidates to come to the UK to experience what it is like working in the UK for a UK company.

For businesses, not only is it a more cost-effective visa route, but it also allows access to candidates across the globe.

Companies benefit from this option as it allows them to ‘trial’ emerging talent and get an understanding of a candidate’s attributes and ‘fit’ for the business with the potential to then offering them a full-time position under the Skilled Worker visa route (subject to meeting the visa category criteria).

Some would say this is a ‘win-win’ situation for businesses in the UK.

About the Authors

Pina Mistry is a Manager and Solicitor at global immigration and mobility lawyers Fragomen.

She can be reached by email: [email protected]. Visit www.fragomen.com.

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