Looking for a Data Science job in the UK and need visa sponsorship? You’ll make it — and here is why!
Disclaimer: this is not an official document, and should in no way replace the official guidance at https://www.gov.uk/skilled-worker-visa/.
Update 21/02/2021: After many requests, I made the list of licensed sponsors available here in a friendly format, derived from the official pdf document.
Update 30/12/2020: The previous work visa route (Tier 2) has been renamed to “Skilled Worker Visa” (https://www.gov.uk/skilled-worker-visa/). Much of of the information in this blog still holds, with the exception of labour market test (which has been scrapped altogether)
Update 14/06/2020: The shortage occupation jobs have been updated. All jobs under the Standard Occupational Code 2135 IT business analysts, architects and systems designers (which includes Data Scientists) are now considered in shortage. The text below has been updated to reflect this
Update 01/06/2020: As of 2021, a new points-based visa system will take effect. The system will negatively affect many occupations, however data science and tech-related jobs application are not likely to be affected, and the steps and conclusions in this post are still valid.
Every year since 2009, when the UK government introduced a new immigration system, an average of over 140,000 people have been granted work-related visas. If you are a software engineer, a data analyst, a data scientist or a related professional, you might find it appealing to try and work in the UK, given the abundance of opportunities in this space. Depending on your nationality, you might need apply for a visa to do so. After a quick online search, you discover that the name of the visa you need is “Skilled Worker Visa” (formerly Tier 2 visa). Now what?
Unfortunately if you search online for data science + Tier 2 sponsorship (or skilled worker), most of the resources are sparse, including misleading and unhelpful information. In the last two years, I have been asked advice by many peers who needed visa sponsorship so I decided to write this text and share my experience.
Essentially the 5 steps to getting sponsorship can be summarised below. Throughout the text I will describe my experience with every step.
- Make sure you can meet the formal requirements for a skilled worker visa
- At the same time, apply for a job in one of the registered companies here
- Receive an offer, and get in touch with your employer HR to produce a Certificate of Sponsorship
- Book your visa appointment
- Receive your residence permit/visa vignette and start working
1. So who needs a Tier 2 visa and what are the requirements?
If you are not from the UK, not from Switzerland and n̵o̵t̵ ̵f̵r̵o̵m̵ ̵t̵h̵e̵ ̵E̵U̵̶, you probably need a Skilled Worker Visa to work in the UK. Check this link for full details.
To have a visa granted, you must meet some formal requirements. Get yourself familiarised with these so you are ahead of the game. Proof of english knowledge and personal savings are a bit of a chore, but essentially the most tricky part is that Skilled Worker Visa has to be tied to an employer, who has to produce a Certificate of Sponsorship.
2. Companies that can employ and sponsor your visa
The list of all companies that can sponsor your visa is here. It is not in a particularly data-friendly format however you can always search for a company to see whether they are able to sponsor (I made a more user-friendly version of the available on my website). If the company you are applying for is not listed there, they most likely won’t be able to sponsor you. It might be the case that some companies (especially small start-ups) are able to apply for a license just to hire one individual, however I believe this is rare.
Even if a company is in this list, there is still no guarantee that they will sponsor you. There is a lot of mis-information, and many companies on the list are in fact not friendly towards non-UK professionals, but you will only know if you try.
2.1 Be upfront
When I started applying for jobs, I had a dilemma between putting employers off with the fact that I needed sponsorship versus not telling them, and going through a process only to find out in the end that they are not willing to take non-UK citizens.
Having tried both strategies, I can assure you that the best strategy is to have it clear on your CV that you require sponsorship, for example by adding your nationality.
A lot of recruiters will ignore that part (do they actually read CVs carefully?), and a lot of the employers will reject you. But that’s fine, and that’s your natural selection. You probably don’t want to interact with these recruiters and work for these companies anyway!
2.2 The labour market test is nothing to worry about
Update 30/12/2020: The labour market test no longer holds. Please skip to Section 3. I left the original text for completeness.
Data scientists sponsored under a certain occupation code are considered in shortage, therefore the labour market test no longer applies. I kept the original text for completeness but please skip to 3 at will.
Since 2009, non-EU citizens have to go through something called the Resident Labour Market Test.
In order to produce a certificate of sponsorship, the company has to prove to the Home Office that the job has been advertised for at least 28 days in at least two different places (one of them has to be Find a job). This is referred to as the “Labour Market Test”.
Sounds complicated. Is this a problem? No, because most Data Science jobs are advertised for more than 28 days anyway! It is a field with more demand than qualified professionals, and that’s why companies have to resort to recruiters — and that’s why they’ll never fill all positions if they only look for UK individuals. According to a recent study, the average time taken to fill an IT position in the UK is over 55 days. So chances are that you are way ahead of the Labour Market Test game by far! Also if you are a student (Tier 4) transitioning to a job (Tier 2), you do not need to go through the Labour Market Test (according to this official document, page 123).
3. Certificate of sponsorship (COS)
If your employer offered you a job they will have to sign a certificate of sponsorship. This is a 2-page document that is usually very easy to fill.
You have to be sponsored under one of the occupations in this framework of Standard Occupation Codes (SOC). The SOC code mentions “Data science” in two instances (see this link for the official source from the Office for National Statistics):
2135 IT business analysts, architects and systems designers
2425 Actuaries, economists and statisticians
As far as I am concerned, 2135 is a valid SOC code for Data Scientists that work with engineering/coding/programming. Other related occupations under 2135 are:
Business Analyst (computing)
Big Data Engineer
Data Warehouse Analyst
Data Scientist (computing)
If you are a software engineer or programmer, you probably fall into the SOC code: 2134 Programmers and software development professionals. I am aware that some data scientists who are more software oriented have been sponsored under 2134.
4. I got an offer — and a COS — what now?
It might feel like it’s over, but it is not. Now it is time to apply for a visa. For me, this stage felt like a famous quote from the amazing movie Hidden Figures: ‘Every time we have a chance to get ahead, they move the finish line.’
If it is your first work visa you probably need to prove English knowledge, unless you have a diploma in English. If you are switching from Tier 2 or Tier 4 you do not. In any case, you’ll have to pay for the visa fees. Employers usually cover/reimburse this cost, which is really pocket money for them, especially considering that applicants negotiate salaries anyway.
Check, double-check, triple-check that you have all the documents https://www.gov.uk/tier-2-general/documents-you-must-provide and book the appointment.
If you are applying from outside the UK, you’ll have to apply at a local embassy and hand your passport. For those applying from the UK, I describe below my latest experience.
4.1 Applying from the UK
The company that the Home Office uses, as of 20/11/2019,(https://www.ukvcas.co.uk/home-internal) is absolutely dreadful. They will try to squeeze every penny of you by offering “premium” services, having very limited time slots and no direct contact whatsoever in case something goes wrong. The employers in the particular centre I used were quite friendly, which was the only positive aspect of it. If you pay for any of the extra services (e.g. earlier appointment), make sure you try and convince your employer to reimburse you.
If you are changing from one job to another you’ll have to be careful with timings, but do not, and I cannot stress this more, do not give your notice before knowing the outcome of your change of employment visa application. Otherwise you might find yourself in a very complicated situation.
If all this went fine you’ll receive your bio-residence permit by post. You have to be at home to receive it, but if you are not, the currier service, DX, will leave a letter and you can re-arrange delivery.
You’ve made it! You’ll receive (by post, or in a post-office) a document called Bio-residence Permit (BRP). Keep your BRP permit safe, because it is a proof that you made it. Remember that you cannot work before you receive this document.
If you have a successful story applying for a Tier 2/Skilled Worker visa in Data Science or related jobs, please comment below.