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Religious Worker Visas

Religious ministers and workers with a sponsoring religious organisation may be able to come to the UK on either a temporary or permanent visa. Those working as ministers and in equivalent roles can obtain a permanent visa known as Tier 2 (Minister of Religion). Those working below the level of a minister can only obtain a temporary visa, which is called the Tier 5 (Religious Worker) visa.

Individuals wanting to apply via either visa route must be sponsored by a religious organisation in the UK. Sponsorship is a two-stage process. First, the religious organisation must obtain a sponsor licence for the route of either Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) or a Tier 5 (Religious Worker) – although there is the option to apply for both routes. Once the licence is granted, the religious organisation must then issue a Certificate of Sponsorship to the individual, who uses this to apply for a temporary or permanent visa.

Our team has extensive experience in this niche area of UK immigration law. We have helped clients from all denominations and faith groups, including US Evangelical churches, Islamic and Sikh faith organisations and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. We act both for organisations looking to sponsor their religious workers’ Tier 2 and Tier 5 visa applications and for the individuals applying via these routes.

Frequently asked questions

Here we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about Religious Worker visas.

An organisation that wants to obtain a Tier 2 Minister of Religion sponsor licence must:

  • Hold charitable status
  • Be structured as a faith-based community with a shared system of belief and spiritual goals, codes of behaviour and religious practice and with the goal of supporting or propagating common beliefs and practices
  • Not exclude anyone from the community on the basis of gender, nationality, or ethnicity
  • Receive financial and material support from the congregation or community on a voluntary (rather than compulsory) basis
  • Not breach or encourage others to breach UK law, and
  • Not work against the public interest or have a detrimental effect on personal or family life as it is understood in the UK

Yes. A temporary religious worker can extend their stay in the UK for up to 24 months. After that period has ended, they must leave the UK and wait 12 months before applying again. This is known as the ‘cooling-off period’.

Yes. If you are already working for the organisation in the UK, switching from the Tier 5 (Religious Worker) visa to the Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) visa from within the UK is permitted. However, these types of visa applications require careful handling and legal advice should be obtained before proceeding. The Home Office is likely to scrutinise these applications carefully to check that the Tier 5 (Religious Worker) visa role being carried out currently is not a role that ought to have been sponsored under a Tier 2 visa from the outset.

For the Tier 5 (Religious Worker) visa, there is no English language requirement. However, for the Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) visa, it is necessary to demonstrate a certain level of English proficiency. The individual must:

  • Be from a country that is exempt from the English language requirement, or
  • Have passed an approved English language test with at least CEFR level B2 in reading, writing, speaking and listening, or
  • Have an academic qualification that was taught in English - academic qualifications must be recognised by Ecctis (formerly UK NARIC) as being equivalent to a UK Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree or PhD

How can Thorntons help?

At Thorntons, our specialist Immigration lawyers regularly act for religious organisations in both acquiring and maintaining Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) and Tier 5 (Religious Worker) sponsor licences. Ongoing licence maintenance is required because, in exchange for being granted a licence, sponsors must fulfil a number of duties. We can provide tailored training for your staff on how to comply with sponsor duties, so they can support the work of your Authorising Officer, who is the person nominated within your organisation to be responsible for compliance.

Once the sponsor licence has been granted, we are then also able to support individual religious workers with their visa applications.

Call the Thorntons Immigration team on 03330 430350 or complete an online enquiry form below to find out more about how we can help with visa applications or sponsor licences.