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International interns - what visa options are there?

Having interns and individuals undertaking work placements is often regarded as a good way to identify talent for graduate schemes and future recruitment, as well as being beneficial in providing individuals with a taste of particular work environments and industries. If you're thinking of hiring an intern from overseas, you'll need to consider the available visa options.

What visa options are there for interns?

It has been estimated that over a third of employers in Scotland offer some kind of work experience, internship or placement. In the past, numerous employers across Scotland have also attracted European students and graduates to undertake work placements and internships with them.

However, following the UK's withdrawal from the European Union and the end of the Brexit Transition period in December 2020, European citizens no longer benefit from freedom of movement, and most will require some kind of visa to work in the UK in the same way third country nationals always have (even for short periods of time). Accordingly, some Scottish employers are having to consider visa options to bring these individuals to the UK for the first time.

So what visa options are open to them, and what are the cost implications for employers to know about?

This is only a quick reference guide, and you should read the guidance on each route you are considering for full details.

Government Authorised Exchange visa (T5) route

Firstly, there is the Temporary Worker - Government Authorised Exchange visa (T5) route. This is a temporary visa route for those coming to the UK under one of the approved Government Authorised Exchanges (GAE) opens in a new window . Where that is the case, this visa option generally lets certain eligible individuals obtain a visa to 'work or train temporarily' in the UK.

There are two GAE's which have a particular focus on internships and work placements. These are BUNAC Blue Card Internships opens in a new window and the GTI Intern programme opens in a new window . Both of these schemes focus on eligible overseas students and recent graduates to provide them with eligible work experience and internships in the UK (including where an individual has found an eligible internship themselves).

To qualify, the internship (or the employer in some cases) must be approved by the relevant scheme and meet certain eligibility requirements set out by the scheme (for example, be for a period of up to six or twelve months, be paid the UK minimum wage, be supernumerary etc). The full eligibility criteria for the relevant scheme should be consulted to ensure the relevant criteria are met. These schemes are the sponsor for the purposes of the visa, which means that the UK employer does not have the same compliance and reporting obligations as it may have under visa routes (for example, the Skilled Worker Route).

This visa costs £259 and it usually takes up to 3 weeks to process from outside the UK (once the employer/internship has been approved by the relevant scheme). The immigration health surcharge opens in a new window must also be paid. Accordingly, these schemes under the GAE route can be a low cost and relatively straightforward route to access international interns.

Find full information about this route and eligibility criteria on GOV.UK opens in a new window  

Skilled Worker Route

The Skilled Worker route may also be available to UK based employers who wish to engage eligible international interns. The Skilled Worker route can be used to sponsor individuals to come and work for them in the UK in eligible skilled roles. Employers must first have a sponsor licence in place.

The work placement or internship must also meet the eligibility requirements. Specifically, the individual must be undertaking a role that is eligible on the list available on GOV.UK opens in a new window  and paid the minimum salary requirements for the role (usually the higher of £25,600 per year, £10.10 per hour and the going rate for the role opens in a new window ). In some cases, the individual can be paid less opens in a new window . The individual must also meet other eligibility criteria, including English language and financial requirements.

This visa type costs £625 for visa for up to 3 years (if applying from outside the UK) and usually takes up to 3 weeks to process (once UKVI receive the application form and documentation and on the assumption the sponsor licence is already in place). The immigration health surcharge opens in a new window  must also be paid. However, if the internship or work placement is for a period of less than six months, the employer will not have to pay the immigration skills charge, which can be a considerable cost saving if there was no other exemption or concession from paying the immigration skills charge available.

Find out more about this route and eligibility requirements on GOV.UK opens in a new window  

Youth mobility scheme (T5)

Depending on the nationality of the intern in question, the Youth Mobility Scheme visa opens in a new window  (T5) may also be an option. This visa is essentially a working holiday visa which gives certain eligible individuals the ability to work in the UK for a period of up to 2 years in any job.

This route is only open to applicants aged 18 to 30 from:

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Monaco
  • New Zealand
  • San Marino
  • Iceland

Additionally, applicants must be selected in the Youth Mobility Scheme ballot before they can apply for your visa if they’re from:

  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan

More details on this route can be found on GOV.UK opens in a new window . This route may be expanded in the future so it may begin to be a more popular way for Scottish employers to engage international interns. There is also the India Young Professionals Scheme which operates in a similar way to the youth mobility scheme but at present the ballot for Indian nationals is not open yet.

This visa also costs £259, and it usually takes up to 3 weeks to process from outside the UK (once UKVI receive the relevant paperwork and following successful selection in the Youth Mobility Ballot if applicable). The immigration health surcharge opens in a new window  must also be paid. This route also does not require the UK employer to be the sponsor, which means there are less compliance and reporting obligations for the employer. If a candidate is eligible, this scheme can be a flexible and cheaper way to employee interns in the UK.

Further information

The visa routes open to a specific intern are likely to vary and will depend on their own circumstances.

Each route has its own advantages and if you are considering ways to engage an overseas intern in Scotland you may wish to seek further support on the options open.

The key thing that employers should be aware of is that European citizens will usually need a visa to work in the UK in the same way that third country nationals always have – planning ahead and factoring in time to arrange the appropriate visa will be critical to try and ensure that opportunities to engage overseas talent for your intern and work placement schemes are not unnecessarily missed.

The information contained in this update is accurate as of 22 August 2022.

Contact us

TalentScotland can offer general guidance around visa and immigration. If you’ve got any questions about visas or the immigration process, get in touch with our team.