Updates, commentary, training and advice on immigration and asylum law
How to apply for a UK domestic worker visa
Credit: Volha Flaxeco on Unsplash

How to apply for a UK domestic worker visa

There is a UK visa for overseas domestic workers, first introduced in 2002. Although the Immigration Rules do not define “domestic workers”, the route is typically used by nannies, cleaners, chauffeurs, cooks, personal carers and protection staff. 

The domestic worker route has undergone a number of changes over the years, the most significant of which came in 2012. Domestic helpers who came to the UK under this route before April 2012 were able to apply for extensions of stay and settlement. That is no longer the case: the visa is only valid for six months at a time (although those still in the UK on the pre-2012 route can continue to make extension/settlement applications). 

Where can I find the rules?

The immigration requirements for domestic workers in private households are in Appendix Overseas Domestic Worker of the Immigration Rules. An overview of the requirements is on gov.uk.

There are two other Appendices to the Immigration Rules that mention domestic workers. One is Appendix Domestic Workers in a Private Householdwhich caters for people extending their stay in the UK on the pre-2012 version of this route. The other is Appendix Domestic Worker who is a Victim of Modern Slavery. This allows people brought to the UK under the domestic worker route who are later recognised as victims of slavery or human trafficking to remain in the UK legally for two years. We don’t cover these two sets of rules in this article.

Core requirements for a domestic worker visa

There are four core requirements:

  1. the domestic worker must be at least 19 years old;
  2. the domestic worker must have already worked for their employer for at least a year before a visa can be applied for;
  3. they must not intend to stay in the UK for more than six months; and
  4. they must be coming to the UK with an employer who also does not intend to remain in the UK for more than six months.

If these core requirements are not met, an application for a domestic worker visa cannot succeed.

Before getting into more detail on the core requirements, we should mention for completeness that there are also some standard requirements that crop up in most UK visa requirements. These are that the person should be able to maintain and accommodate themselves without recourse to public funds, and not fall foul of the general grounds for refusal. They must also obtain entry clearance, which means applying for a visa in advance: you cannot simply arrive at a UK airport or port and ask to enter as a domestic worker.

1. Age

The self-explanatory paragraph ODW 4.1 says that “the applicant must be aged 19 or over on the date of application”. 

2. Employment history

The applicant’s employment as a domestic worker for at least a year prior to their application must have been under the same roof as their employer, or in a household that the employer uses on a regular basis. The exact wording of this rule is in paragraph ODW 5.1:

ODW 5.1. A person applying for entry clearance as an Overseas Domestic Worker must have been employed as a domestic worker and living with the employer or in a property that the employer uses as a home for themselves on a regular basis, for 12 months or more immediately before the date of application.

The employer must provide a letter to confirm this, along with one of the following documents covering the same period of employment:

(a) pay slips or bank statements showing payment of salary; or

(b) confirmation of tax paid; or

(c) confirmation of health insurance paid; or

(d) a contract of employment; or

(e) a work visa, residence permit or equivalent passport endorsement from the country in which the domestic worker has been employed by the employer; or

(f) a visa or equivalent passport endorsement to confirm the applicant has travelled with their employer.

3. Six-month stay

Paragraph ODW 5.7. requires:

(a) that the applicant will leave the UK at the end of six months in the UK or at the same time as their employer, whichever is the earlier; and

(b) will not live for extended periods in the UK through frequent or successive visits; and

(c) will not make the UK their main home.

We’ll come back to the bit about “frequent or successive visits”.

4. Coming with employer

Domestic worker applicants must also “intend to travel in the company of” their employer, their employer’s spouse/civil partner or their employer’s child. The employer can either be a British national who usually lives outside the UK and who does not intend to return for more than six months, or a non-UK national who is coming to the UK to visit and who does not intend to remain for more than six months.

Written contract and minimum wage

The applicant and their employer must agree a written employment contract in the form set out in Appendix Domestic Worker Statement of the Immigration Rules. The template contract covers the likes of:

  • Duration of employment
  • Employee’s duties
  • Working hours
  • Holidays
  • That the employer must pay for the employee’s travel to the UK, visa fees etc
  • That the employer must provide accommodation
  • That the employer cannot keep the employee’s passport

The contract must also confirm that the applicant will be paid in accordance with the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 and any regulations made under that act. It includes a declaration that the employee is not an au pair and does not come under paragraph 57 of the National Minimum Wage Regulations 2015. If the Home Office is nevertheless not satisfied that the employer actually intends to keep their promise to pay minimum wage throughout the worker’s employment in the UK, it has the power to refuse the application under paragraph ODW 5.5.

What does “frequent or successive visits” mean?

There is no current explanation of what this means. Old caseworker guidance, which is no longer available, said the following which continues to be worth complying with:

Domestic workers cannot live in the UK on a continuous basis, even if they leave the UK for short periods to avoid overstaying.

There is no specific limit on the number of times a domestic worker can come to the UK, or a definitive rule which states they can only stay in the UK for ‘6 months in a 12 month period’. Domestic workers, however, must not be living in the UK for extended periods because of frequent, successive visits.

For example, an individual spends 5 or 6 months in the UK as a domestic worker and returns after a short break outside of the UK for a further 5 or 6 months.

This could amount to genuine residence. However, this is not a hard and fast rule and you must consider the circumstances of each case on an individual basis.

This is probably best explained with a couple of examples.

Example 1: the private chef

A few years ago I arranged a domestic worker visa for the private chef of an international movie star. The movie star, a US/UK national living in the United States, was due to film in the UK for six months initially. But production was delayed and delayed. We had to keep sending the chef back to the USA for a new visa. 

Despite the flurry of trips back and forth, I wasn’t worried about a “frequent/successive” refusal. It was obvious from the evidence that the chef wasn’t intending to live in the UK long term — only long enough for the movie to be filmed, and to accompany the actor on promotional activities in the UK.

Example 2: the chauffeur

A few months later, I was advising a Saudi billionaire whose son wanted to spend spring and summer in the UK. My client wanted him to be accompanied by a trusted chauffeur (who also kept an eye on the son for my client). We obtained a domestic worker visa for the chauffeur.

My client’s son met a girl in London. The initial six-month visit soon turned into 18 months, with intermittent romantic trips to Europe, and an occasional trip back home to see dad / reset his multiple entry visit visa. 

A second domestic worker visa application for the chauffeur was successful. But once that expired, my client decided not to pursue a third visa for him, as in my view there was quite a high risk of a refusal. My client’s son had no plans to leave the UK and we had already started work on his Investor visa application.

My client was able to send another member of staff — a Polish national, this being before Brexit — to the UK to drive his son around.

With the “frequent or successive” requirement you have to look at everything in the round and then decide if you have enough evidence to support further applications.

Application process, fees and restrictions

Domestic worker visas contain the following restrictions:

  • no recourse to public funds;
  • no intention to study;
  • work permitted only as a domestic worker.

The application form is online.

The visa fee is £516. There is no Immigration Health Surcharge, as that only applies for stays longer than six months.

Can the visa be extended and does it lead to settlement?

A domestic worker visa can only be extended if the person was initially granted permission to stay for less than six months. Otherwise they have to leave the UK and make a fresh application.

The domestic worker route now does not lead to indefinite leave to remain, or ILR. As I explained at the start, though, those who are still in this route under the pre-2012 rules may be able to get ILR.

Oh. Are there any other options?

There aren’t usually many options for employers to get their domestic staff into the UK if the domestic worker route is ruled out, but I have known some to go to extreme lengths to ensure their nanny or other helper is able to stay in the UK on a long-term basis.

I had one client who paid for their child’s nanny to study a degree during the father’s four-year assignment in London. The university fees alone were significant, but the family were happy to make this investment to ensure their child had familiar care — even if the nanny could only work in line with the conditions of her student visa (20 hours during term-time and full-time during vacations).

Families were even willing to make use of the Tier 1 (Investor) route, which required the domestic worker to invest £1 million in the British economy. This route has now been scrapped. 

This article was originally published in October 2020 and has been updated so that it is correct as of the new date of publication shown.

Nichola heads the immigration team at Carter Thomas (www.carterthomas.co.uk). A lawyer with 20 years' experience, she also sits on The Law Society’s Immigration Committee. Nichola's main work relates to advising businesses, universities and schools on sponsor applications and compliance, and individuals seeking to come under the Global Talent, family and other routes . She regularly provides media comment including for the BBC and FT and is happy to be contacted for comment. Nichola tweets from @carternichola and her email is [email protected]