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A lot of news reports appearing lately of visitors to the UK from elsewhere in Europe being detained and deported for entering with the intention to work illegally. e.g.

https://www.politico.eu/article/eu-citizens-detained-uk-work-visas-brexit/

Some of these stories seem really quite shocking and potentially very dodgy.

It is known that coming to the UK and working without a visa is illegal and should get you this treatment. However; what of coming to the UK as a visitor with the intention to try to get a job, albeit not to work it, on that visit?

Just what is the legal situation around coming to the UK for job hunting without a work visa?

I think it's pretty certain that coming for a pre-arranged interview is completely fine. But what about applying for a job whilst you are in the country?- again, assuming there is no intention to actually work illegally and to get your documents in order before you start doing any work.

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    In these days when everything is done on the internet, the first question is going to be "why do you need to come to the UK to look for a job, when you could do it just as well from outside the country?". What will your answer be? Commented May 7, 2021 at 13:11
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    Even if you were successful in finding a job, you would have to exit and apply for your work visa from outside the UK. There is no mechanism to switch from visitor status to work visa from within the UK
    – Traveller
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 13:59
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    The answer is simply: don't do this. There are better targets than the UK.
    – user4188
    Commented May 8, 2021 at 8:30
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    Though applying online from anywhere in the world is technically fine, it goes without saying that employers will always favour locally available candidates who could potentially interview at reasonably short notice. I don't think it's so daft that people would want to apply from within the UK if working in the UK is something they specifically want to do. Commented May 8, 2021 at 13:11
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    @jcaron I don't think you understand quite how easy travel between countries in Europe is. Somebody from Madrid is far more locally available to an employer in London than somebody from say Blackpool. There's no "Fooling" at all here, if somebody is in a city then they're in that city and available to interview at short notice, if they're not then they're not. This has nothing to do with visa status. Commented May 10, 2021 at 11:01

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It is absolutely legal to look for work on a UK business visa (meaning a standard visitor visa). You do not need a work permit. However there are some serious traps that you can fall into.

  • If you have a pre-arranged interview, you will be fine (as long as the job is real and one for which you could reasonably expect to be given a work permit.) If you need to come to the UK for an interview, apply for a standard visitor visa.
  • It must be realistic and necessary that you have to come to the UK to look for work. Frankly that is extremely unlikely to be true for the pre-interview stage. Every job above retail server allows - no, requires - that you apply online. You will never get a work visa for a low level job, so there is no point in applying for them. For every other job you gain no benefit from being in the country, so why would you spend money to come to the UK? Immigration will assume that you have another agenda, and you will probably be denied a visa.
  • If you say you are coming as a tourist, but they find evidence that you are coming as a job hunter you will be banned for deception. It doesn't matter that looking for work is legal on the visa you have - you lied about your purpose. Now if you are genuinely on holiday and genuinely coincidentally run into someone who offers you a job, that will probably be OK, but any pre-planning will get you in trouble.
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    There’s no such thing as a UK business visitor visa. Certain business-related activities are allowed within the rules of the Standard Visitor visa gov.uk/guidance/immigration-rules/… Looking for work as the main purpose of a visit is not listed as a permitted activity. Attending a meeting/interview is however allowed, proof from the inviting organisation would be expected IMHO
    – Traveller
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 13:53
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    I'm aware of that. But it's a commonly used term, and I'm using it to indicate that the user needs to specify business as the reason for travel. Commented May 7, 2021 at 14:00
  • "If you need to come to the UK for an interview, apply for a standard visitor visa": the question is about non-visa nationals. It's not necessary for such people to apply for a visa. "It must be realistic and necessary that you have to come to the UK to look for work": where does this requirement arise? Suppose I have a dream of working in London; why can't I just go to London and knock on doors of businesses to ask why they're hiring? "Any pre-planning will get you in trouble": only if you have claimed to be a tourist. If you say you're coming for professional reasons then planning is fine.
    – phoog
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 22:45
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I don't think there is anything legally preventing you from doing so.

However, see it from the perspective of an immigration officer. How can they be sure that once you've found a job you won't start working right away?

Then you have the fact that if the job can wait a little while for you to start (usually more qualified jobs, where prospective employers are willing to wait for you to end your notice period with your previous employer, deal with visa issues, and usually with slightly longer processes, multiple phone and face-to-face interviews...), then there's no reason for you to arrive in the UK first and look for jobs while there: you can do all the initial preparation (apply, go through phone interviews...) while outside of the UK, then plan face-to-face interviews and get to the UK for those.

On the other hand, jobs where you could find an opening quickly via a more direct door-to-door type approach are usually lower paid jobs, where you are expected to start quickly, definitely not with enough time to get back home, apply for a work visa, get one, move, etc.

In regular times, the chances of you slipping through the net would be quite large. Only if something tips them off and they start digging would there be an issue. But in this period where travel is often restricted, IOs will naturally be a little more inquisitive of the reasons you are coming to the UK, and once you say "I'm looking for work", they won't hear the "but I won't be working on this visit, just looking for a job".

If you've watched any of the "Border protection" shows, you must have seen that finding a pile of resumes in your bag, or a suit and tie when you pretend you're on holiday, usually ends up badly.

Don't forget the UK are flexing their muscles to try show that they are left with a shred of power after Brexit. You don't want to get caught up in that. Not only is it highly inconvenient and uncomfortable on the spot, but it will in addition leave a stain on your record, so be extremely careful.

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    The UK is not ‘flexing their muscles’ after Brexit any more than the EU is flexing its muscles by applying the 90/180 rule. The rules changed as a result of Brexit, simple as that.
    – Traveller
    Commented May 7, 2021 at 14:07
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    No it's definitely valid to say the UK this past few years has been particularly draconian on immigration. Commented May 8, 2021 at 16:42
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    @Traveller how many British citizens have been detained in immigration detention in the EU recently?
    – phoog
    Commented May 16, 2021 at 22:50
  • @phoog At least 500? majorcadailybulletin.com/news/local/2021/03/29/81645/… And others with legal resident status were denied entry thelocal.dk/20210104/… How many people are detained in eg US immigration for being suspected of intending to work? I’m not denying the reports about the UK. I object to the ‘flexing their muscles’ opinion-based element of the answer, is all.
    – Traveller
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 7:45
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    @Traveler I don't see any mention of detention in those articles.
    – phoog
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 15:24

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