Under the UK’s immigration rules, non-UK nationals have to have permission to work in the UK, which includes doing an internship, short-term work experience and training.
The following guide explains the type of temporary work visa you would need to do an internship in the UK, including the eligibility requirements, the application process, the costs, how long it will take to get this visa, and how long a successful intern visa-holder can stay in the UK.
What visa do I need to do an internship in the UK?
Under the UK’s new points-based immigration system there are a number of short-term visas to enable foreign nationals to work in the UK with a Home Office approved sponsor. This includes the T5 (Temporary Worker) Government Authorised Exchange (GAE) visa.
The T5 (GAE) visa replaces the old Tier 5 (Temporary Worker – Government Authorised Exchange) visa, and is typically the type of visa that a foreign national subject to immigration control will need to come to the UK to gain career-related work experience.
The T5 (GAE) route is specifically for individuals who want to come to the UK for a temporary period for the purpose of work experience or job shadowing through an approved internship scheme. This route can also be used by those wanting to undertake training in the UK, to participate in an overseas government language programme, or to undertake research or a fellowship, through an approved exchange scheme.
Who can sponsor a foreign national under the T5 (GAE) route?
Individual employers and organisations are not permitted to sponsor migrants on the T5 (GAE) route, even if they’re licensed as sponsors under other Temporary Worker categories. However, there are a number of approved overarching bodies that manage a wide range of schemes, and sponsor a host of different roles, across various sectors. A list of these schemes can be found under Appendix N: Authorised Exchange Schemes of the UK’s Immigration Rules.
These schemes provide pathways for a wide range of organisations in the UK to offer and to benefit from work experience opportunities. Sharing industry knowledge, experience and best practice with people from around the world through internship programmes is essential to business development. Internships are also a great way for foreign nationals, including recent graduates, to gain valuable work experience and build professional networks.
What does the T5 Government Authorised Exchange visa allow?
The T5 Government Authorised Exchange visa will allow the visa-holder to undertake an internship in the UK, typically for a period of one year. This route is for applicants coming to the UK under an approved exchange scheme that aims to share industry knowledge, experience and best practice with foreign interns. This route cannot be used by employers or organisations to fill job vacancies or bring unskilled labour to the UK.
Once granted entry clearance under the T5 (GAE) route, an intern will be able to undertake the work experience as set out in their Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). They can enter the UK up to 14 days before the start date of their internship.
In addition to any sponsored work experience, the intern can accept part-time supplementary employment, provided any job is on the UK’s shortage occupation list or in the same occupation code and at the same level as the work for which the CoS was assigned.
A T5 (GAE) visa-holder will also be able to bring their partner or children with them to the UK, so long as they meet the eligibility requirements for dependants under the rules. If granted leave, the dependent partner/child’s visa will end on the same date as the interns.
How long does the T5 Government Authorised Exchange visa last?
An intern with leave under the T5 Government Authorised Exchange route will be able to come to the UK for up to 12 or 24 months, depending on the scheme they’re applying for, or the time given on their Certificate of Sponsorship plus 14 days, whichever is shorter.
An individual can apply to stay in the UK for up to a maximum of:
- 12 months, if they’re doing work experience
- 24 months, if doing research, training or an overseas government language programme.
A T5 (GAE) visa-holder can extend their stay whilst in the UK, subject to the maximum permitted period, provided they continue to meet the requirements under this route and apply prior to expiry of their existing leave. Any eligible dependants in the UK can also apply to extend their leave in line with the intern’s application for leave to remain.
T5 (GAE) visa requirements
To apply for this visa, a prospective intern will first need a Certificate of Sponsorship from a T5 (GAE) sponsor. The sponsor must be an overarching body that manages the exchange scheme and has the support of a UK government department.
When a sponsor issues a CoS, they must confirm the applicant:
- is seeking entry to work or train temporarily in the UK through an approved exchange
- scheme listed in Appendix N of the Immigration Rules
- will work or train at or above the minimum skill level required
- will work or train in a role that complies with all relevant legislation
- will not fill a vacancy in the workforce
- meets the requirements of the individual exchange scheme.
Any work that is undertaken by interns on an exchange scheme must be skilled work. This is defined as being equivalent to National or Scottish vocational qualification level 3 or above.
To be eligible for a T5 (GAE) visa, the applicant must also show that:
- they genuinely intend, and are able, to undertake the work experience for which they’re being sponsored, and do not intend to undertake any other work, except part-time work as permitted under the supplementary employment rules
- they meet the specific requirements for the type of internship for which they’re being sponsored under this route
- they meet the financial requirement.
T5 (GAE) route financial requirement
To meet the financial requirement under the T5 (GAE) route, the intern must be able to show that they can support themselves on their arrival in the UK. An applicant will usually need to show proof of funds when they apply for entry clearance or leave to remain, unless either they’ve been in the UK with a valid T5 (GAE) visa for at least 12 months, or their employer can cover their costs during their first month in the UK, up to £1,270. Additional funds may be required for any dependants applying to join or stay with the intern in the UK.
If the interns’ sponsor is prepared to maintain and accommodate their sponsored worker, and their family, this must be certified on the Certificate of Sponsorship. Otherwise, the applicant must show that they’ve held the required level of funds for at least 28 consecutive days.
How to apply for the T5 (GAE) visa
An application for a T5 (GAE) visa must be made online, using the intern’s unique CoS reference number. It must also be made from overseas, unless an existing intern is applying to extend their leave under this route whilst in the UK, up to the maximum time permitted, or a prospective intern is switching into this route as a qualifying graduate.
Individuals in the UK on another immigration route are not generally permitted to switch to the T5 (GAE) route from within the UK, where they must normally leave the UK and apply for entry clearance from overseas. The only exception to this rule is if the individual was last granted permission as a student, they’ve completed a recognised bachelor’s or postgraduate degree and are being sponsored to undertake work experience relevant to their qualification.
The intern must pay the relevant fee and provide their biometric information as part of the application process. They must also provide various documents in support, including:
- a passport or other travel document that shows the applicant’s identity and nationality
- where applicable, evidence that the applicant has enough personal savings to support themselves in the UK, for example, bank statements
- the applicant’s tuberculosis test results if applying from a country where a test is required.
The applicant may need to provide additional documents depending on their circumstances.
When applying for entry clearance, any dependants will need to apply separately, although they can be included in the intern’s application for leave to remain. Additional documents will need to be submitted in support of any application for dependants, including proof of their relationship with the primary applicant and, where applicable, proof of funds.
How much is the T5 (GAE) visa?
The application fee for applying for a T5 (GAE) visa is £244, although most European nationals will receive a £55 reduction. The fee is the same whether a person is applying from outside the UK or applying from inside the UK to extend their stay under this route.
The applicant and any dependants will also need to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) if they’re applying to come to the UK for a period of more than 6 months. The IHS is to help cover the cost of the applicant and their family using the NHS whilst in the UK, and is payable at a rate of £624 per person for each year of stay.
T5 (GAE) visa processing times
The earliest a prospective intern can apply for this type of visa is 3 months before the date that they’re due to start work. This date will be set out in their Certificate of Sponsorship.
Having made an application, and submitted their biometric information and supporting documents, they should get a decision on their visa within 3 weeks. It may be possible to get a faster decision. The applicant will be told if they can pay for a priority service when they apply.
If applying from inside the UK for leave to remain, a decision will usually be made using the standard service within 8 weeks, although the applicant will be able to continue with their work experience placement, provided they apply prior to expiry of their existing leave.
Can interns apply to stay longer in the UK?
The Government Authorised Exchange route is not a route to settlement. An existing intern with a valid T5 (GAE) visa can apply to stay longer in the UK, but only up to the maximum permitted period under this route. However, it may be possible for an intern to switch to another sponsored work route whilst in the UK.
Under the new rules, a T5 (GAE) visa-holder can now apply to switch into the Skilled Worker route, provided they meet all the eligibility requirements, including having a job offer from a relevant licensed sponsor that meets the minimum skill and salary threshold. An overseas Skilled Worker can extend their stay in the UK an unlimited number of times and, after a period of 5 years, they may be able to apply to settle permanently.
Internship visa FAQs
Do you need a visa for an internship in the UK?
All foreign nationals who are not settled workers or do not otherwise have permission to work in the UK will need a visa to undertake a UK internship. This is known as a T5 (Temporary Worker) Government Authorised Exchange visa.
What visa is required for internship in UK?
A T5 (Temporary Worker) Government Authorised Exchange visa will usually be required for an internship in the UK. This visa can also be used to do training, an overseas government language programme, research or a fellowship.
Can I get a visa for an internship?
An overseas national may be able to get a visa for an internship in the UK through an approved government authorised exchange scheme. They will need a certificate of sponsorship from a sponsor licensed to recruit interns under this route.
Do interns get paid UK?
An intern’s rights to pay will depend on their employment status. If an intern is classed as an employee or worker, then they should be paid at least the National Minimum Wage (NMW).
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.