Ways for an American to work in the UK?
September 23, 2014 4:50 AM   Subscribe

Let's say I, a California software engineer and journalist, wanted to find an employer who would sponsor me to work in London. I've read a little about the work visa situation and various recent restrictions closing various avenues. Assuming the odds are probably pretty bad against succeeding, how might one try for this anyway?

I was wondering, for example,

* if there are specialties of computer programming that might increase the chances of being snapped up as the provider of some job skill of which there is a vast shortage (i.e. what if Great Britain is desperately short on Python bioinformatics programmers or something?)

* What's this about exceptions for Jewish agency workers? (I am Jewish)

* What about getting a U.S. company to hire me and then trying to go overseas? Has anyone ever gotten hired by a U.S. corporation they have never worked for before, with the express purpose of getting a job at the company's UK branch?

Any help much appreciated, especially anecdotes from anyone who has ever tried something like this. Again, I realize it sounds difficult and have no illusions about it working out. Mostly just wondering how it might be done for those who are able to be among the few who are able to do this.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
There's a bit of a shortage of programmers at the moment, so if you're senior or fit a particular skill set you could try just applying.

If you have specialist (especially scientific) programming expertise, you can try looking for a position at an international organization that's exempt from UK visa requirements. Here is a list of them.

Are you particularly set on London? Cambridge has a large and growing software industry. Check out The Cambridge Network's job posting site for an idea of the current local market here.
posted by penguinicity at 5:16 AM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Things have gotten fairly bad recently. The HSMP (Highly Skilled Migrant Programme) was a great option and I had friends who came to London on that but it is dead now.

The Tier 2 (General) you should know, has an annual cap of 20,000 so even if you do get hired remotely (very difficult) there might not be any visas left that year. (If the job offers more than £150,000 then you're exempt from the cap.) I'm not aware of a cap on Intra-Company transfer but I don't know how difficult it is to find a job that will send you abroad quickly. That may be your best option.

Finally, there is of course heritage and marriage. Not just UK of course. A passport from any EU country (or being a spouse of an EU citizen) will allow you to live and work in the UK.

A Jewish friend of mine living in the US was able to get a German passport based on Restored Citizenship that derived from their grandparents. So there might be routes there you hadn't realised.
posted by vacapinta at 5:40 AM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

There's also a shortage occupation list of jobs that are exempt from the 20,000 Tier 2 visa cap.
posted by penguinicity at 6:02 AM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I work for a global software company and we have a requirement of a years employment in the home country before you can be eligible for a transfer. I was able to transfer like this, but I had a role that needed to be filled abroad and spoke the local language. There will obviously be more competition with the shared language US/UK.
posted by ellieBOA at 8:36 AM on September 23, 2014

If you are flexible on the London location, the European Bioinformatics Institute in Cambridge is an exempt organisation that often hires software engineers and developers.
posted by penguinliz at 2:27 PM on September 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I work at ThoughtWorks, a dev shop consulting firm that makes most of its bread in enterprise development. Offices all over the world. I'm from the US, but am currently working in the UK on a project.

ThoughtWorks is freaking awesome. Super-hard to get work here (ranked by glassdoor as the second-hardest application process in the US) but it is totally worth the trouble. The organization is flat: I don't really have a boss. There are project managers, of course, and clients that you have to keep happy, but if I'm on a project and it's not a good fit for me, I can ask to be rolled off to something else.

Currently, TW expects US employees to work a year within the US before going overseas, but personally I was working in Asia within six months of getting hired.

There are two things to be aware of: first, at TW, you travel pretty much all the time. In the US, most employees are working outside of their home cities all week, and are only home on the weekends. This is tough for a lot of people.

Second, salaries for devs in the UK are shit. Like half of what you'd get in the US at best. And London isn't a cheap city either. This isn't a ThoughtWorks policy, this is the standard all over the UK. They just don't pay devs very well.

Memail me if you want more info.
posted by nushustu at 3:39 PM on September 23, 2014

Just to throw out some more bad news. The immigration changes made in April 2011 also closed the avenue of most work visas, including Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer, leading to settlement.

What that means is that you can renew the Tier 2 ICT for a while but it does not lead to a track that will allow you to be in the UK permanently. So if your intent is to live in the UK indefinitely you'd have to switch to another track.
posted by vacapinta at 11:02 AM on September 25, 2014

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