Want to Visit and then work?

Change visitor visa in the UK?

We understand that getting a UK work visa is not as simple as one would have hope. Not easy for South Africans (without birth rights or marriage ties to the UK) that is.

Naturally we find that applicants often consider the thought of getting a visitor visa first and then going to the UK to find work opportunities. We also find that applicants then consider these longer term visitor visas as a means to better enable them to be in the UK longer (which isn’t the truth – based on the permitted 180 day entry into the UK annual restriction).

Unfortunately the 2 year Working Holiday Maker is no longer available to South African passport holders.

What happens though is that some applicants actually follow through with this thought process and they get visitor visas (under the pretense that they are looking to visit the UK as a tourist).

The complication is that the UK government have set up quite a comprehensive and technical visa system. Their updated immigration legislation now no longer makes provision to change their status from visitor to employment category (whilst in the UK).

The British government has setup these terms and conditions upfront. Therefore, there is no argument for applicants who try and say “but I didn’t know it wasn’t possible”. There rules are quite clear in this regard.

What we have also witnessed is that UK Solicitors (UK lawyers) get approached by South Africans in the UK with visitor visas. These Solicitors then say to the desperate traveler “we can help lodge a case and appeal to the British government on compassionate grounds that they consider changing the applicants status”.

To date, Move Up has yet to come across such a case that has been accepted. The legislation and rules in place are clear (and they were there when applicants applied for their visas). Therefore there is no turning the provision around without being in breach of the visa conditions.

Our experience has given witness to the follow cases:

Common Cases

Case example 1: Independent Naivety

This case happens to applicants that do not do their research. Instead, they wish to take the opportunity (blindly) and hope for the best. Brave and adventurous (with tough future consequences).

This example usually follows these steps:

Step 1: Applicant misrepresents themselves and demonstrates intent to visit (knowing that they are open to the idea of working and staying in the UK longer than their visitor visa permits).

Step 2: Applicants are awarded the UK visitor visa and then fly to the UK.

Step 3: Applicant attends job interviews in the UK (which is permitted) and gets a UK job offer (subject to getting a work visa).

Step 4: Applicant then realizes that their visa does not permit work (paid or unpaid) in the UK.

Step 5: Applicant then tries to apply for a work visa in the UK.

Step 6: Applicants visa is automatically rejected and applicant is asked to return to SA (with cancelled visitor visa).

In this case, any future visa applications that the applicant wishes to submit will be scrutinized. The applicant does not realize that their character has been legally compromised twice (in immigration terms). The first time is that they demonstrated intent to only visit the UK (in order to get their visitor visa).

When they applied for permission to work, is goes directly against “visiting” intent. The reality is that there intent was to work (and not visit). Hence the first compromise.

The second compromise is that applicants accept the terms of their visitor visa, which prohibits both status in the UK. By applying for the UK visitor visa, with its specific terms, and then entering the UK with that visa, the applicant has told the British government (from a legislation perspective) that they will honor the terms and conditions which the rules make provision for. Asking to change status breaches those conditions though.

As you can see, without realizing it, the applicant will not be permitted to return to the UK (easily) for a period of 10 years.

Case example 2: UK Expert Help

Case example 2: UK Expert Help

This next example is the motivating reason why Move Up pursues solutions that operate in South Africans best interest.

Similar to the above example, the applicant first applies independently for their visitor visa. Once awarded, the applicant travels to the UK, seeks employment and gets a UK job offer.

At this point, Move Up receives the following questions:

  1. My friend in the UK is offering me a job – do I qualify for a work permit?
  2. My family live in the UK and are offering sponsorship – do I qualify for a work permit?

Some cases though, we have witness applicants (South Africans) think it would be best to approach a UK solicitor. In our opinion, they get tricked into paying UK solicitors for help, under the belief that the solicitor is able to change the UK governments ruling on “changing visitor status in the UK“.

They pay really high fees for legal assistance. The cases tend to be drawn out and ultimately further compromise the applicants character.

In our professional opinion, it is unethical to even offer representation to cases where South Africans try to change visitor status in the UK. The visa system does not make provision for this. Hence our opening sentence “motivating reason why Move Up pursues solutions that operate in South Africans best interest“.

In this second example, we witness that the applicants have actually compromised their character three times. Their original intent does not align with having intent to find work opportunities in the UK (compromise 1), the applicant has tried to change status whilst in the UK (when the system does not make provision for this) (compromise 2) and finally, the third compromise is that applicants have used legal representatives to add additional  work load onto the Department of UK Visas and Immigration (unnecessary) to second guess and question the rules in place.


The reality is that South Africans can apply for visitor visas and South Africans are permitted to attend interviews in the UK with their visitor visa. The key though, is that they have to acknowledge that they are aware of the terms of their visitor visa (accepting that a change of status in the UK is not permitted and that paid or unpaid work in the UK will not be pursued).

Should South Africans secure a UK job offer, the next logical step is that the South African has to negotiate Tier 2 sponsorship. The prospective UK employer has to issue the applicant with a Tier 2 Certificate of Sponsorship in order for their case to be feasible (assuming the South African does not have a UK born grandparent).

The expectation is that South African have to fly back to SA to apply for the Tier 2 visa.

In country (ie in the United Kingdom) visa status change, from visitor to settlement or employment category visas is strictly not permitted.


What we find though, is that UK employers love South Africans. They easily offer UK jobs to South Africans with a very specific condition (that gets overlooked often): “job offer is subject to the applicant having independent working rights in the UK”.

In laymen terms this simply means “I will give you a job offer if you are permitted to work in the UK. If you are not permitted to work in the UK (with your own visa), we are not willing to offer Tier 2 sponsorship”.

Hence, it is important that South Africans find out if the UK employer is willing to offer Tier 2 sponsorship.


Our recommendation for South Africans looking to work in the UK is that they should first conduct a “Market Related Assessment”.

This will help them understand the feasibility of their case.

To do market research, applicants need to go online and research the available UK jobs (applicable to their current equivalent skill set).

Applicants need to be realistic though when they conduct the research. To keep themselves in check, they can only consider positions that they have been paid for in the past.

After researching the amount of positions currently available, applicants can draw two conclusions:

The first relates to the demand for their skill set. If there are more than 10 positions available in one area, it is a good sign. The second relates to the average wage that the UK pays (or is willing to pay).

The second aspect (average expected wage) can be used to determine Tier 2 sponsorship feasibility. In the Tier 2 visa, UK employers have to offer a minimum salary of £20 800 per annum.

If the Market Related wage is below the minimum required salary, then applicants can conclude that Tier 2 is not feasible.

If however the Market Related wage is way above the £20 800 pa salary, they can negotiate their starting salary (as a means to attract prospective employers).


Only once the applicants has been offered a Tier 2 Certificate of Sponsorship can we step in.

At present, Move Up does not provide recruitment services. Our expertise lies in UK immigration legislation.

We trust this insight is valued and that viewers remember Move Up for their pro-South African expertise.


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