How can a Non-British Citizen work in British Archaeology? – All you need to know about visas

Posted on July 14, 2014


Every couple of months I get an email or see a post on Facebook, etc. about someone wanting to work in the UK archaeology and who is not an EU citizen e.g. Americans, Canadians, Australians, etc. EU citizens don’t need a visa to work in the UK, so if you are an EU citizen you can skip this post and start to apply to jobs. At least for a few more years as Brexit may change that but not till at least 2019.

Specifically they want to do more than just a field school experience, they want to work as an archaeologist. Currently, I am working in the UK and have some experience in this area. If you are interested and coming over to the UK as a Non-EU citizen here is a quick run down of what you need to know about Visas and permissions to work.

Crushing Your Dreams

Non-UK workers are not popular at all right now in the UK… Brexit was about immigration. It doesn’t matter if your family all came from England, Wales, Scotland, etc. a few generations ago. It does not matter that the UK and US have a “special relationship”.  Heck, it is not even that easy for Canadians or Australians, who still have the Queen and are members of commonwealth, but more on that in a minute.

The current government is hell bent are curbing immigrations and so have tighten the rules over the years. They has set an impossible goal of getting immigration under 100,000 per year. Why is it impossible? Because the official numbers include students who come over to study. They are not migrants but they are still considered as such in the official statistics and there are several 100,000 foreign students studying in the UK so it will continue to be an impossible goal. Which means to get any of the migration numbers down they need to squeeze out those that get work visas i.e. what you want.

Hoops of Fire

If you want to work in the UK and you don’t have UK or EU citizenship than you have to get a visa and that is tough.

Your normal working visa, the Tier 2, is very hard to get:

  • There is a limit of only 20,000 per year for everyone. You get points for salary and those 20,000 are given out to those with the highest points. Archaeologists make £18,000 starting in the UK which is a lot less than doctors, nurses, lawyers, etc.
  • Your must be sponsored by your work. That means you must have a job before coming over.
  • The job must be advertised for 28 days in several different locations e.g. national news papers, trade journals, etc. – not many people advertise jobs for that long. Also, most people advertise on BAJR and not in major newspapers so most jobs don’t qualify.

That is the easy part. Here are the aspects that will make it nearly impossible:

Registered Sponsor

Your work must be a registered sponsor to give you a COS number so you can get a Tier 2 visa. How many commercial archaeology companies are registered sponsors?

ONE- You can look at the list here- – LET ME REPEAT THAT ONLY ONE COMMERCIAL ARCHAEOLOGY-ONLY FIRM CAN HIRE YOU, at the moment (April 2017, so this may change when you read this, check out the list to see if more employers have been added), that is MOLA. Also, employers like the National Trust are not registered either. National Museum of Scotland is, British Museum is too. Universities are too (more on that). Some large engineering firms that hire archaeologists as internal consultants might be able to because they usually sponsor other types of workers e.g. engineers. In other words, you can’t apply to 95% of all archaeology jobs.

Minimum Pay

You must be paid a minimum of your are a new entrant or if you are considered experienced (your work visa is for more than 3 years). For experienced workers the minimum for everyone is £30,000 per year. For the job category archaeologists will be in, 2114 Social and humanities scientists, the minimum for new entrants is £21,600.

Every single person who has ever contacted me about this are students or early career archaeologists. At that level it will be nearly impossible to make the minimum. Check out this article on pay rates for starting positions in archaeology, it’s not 30k. There are exceptions- if you are under 25 or were last a student in the UK/currently are then you can get an entry level pay threshold which has a minimum of £21.6k. But also remember they hand out those 20,000 visas based on salary, with higher salaries getting more points and thus you are not likely to get one of those limited visas making just the minimum.

Labour Market Test

Finally, if I have not crushed your dreams yet- there is the ‘labour market test’. You must prove that NO UK resident could do the job. This does not mean you have 18 months experience and the next Brit in line had 17 months. It means no one else in the UK can do the job, that there was no EU person who also applied who was ‘suitable for the job’. If the advert says you need six months of experience and you have 24 it does not matter they have to give it to the British or EU person who meets the minimum requirement for the job (there is one exception to this discussed below).

Employer Levi

Now employers have to pay £1000 per year for every Tier 2 person they employ. There is also a fee of several hundred pounds to sponsor someone. The sponsorship application fee is between £500-1000. So an employer will have to pay £1,200-2,200 just to hire you.

Why is this nearly impossible for Commercial Archaeology?

I realise most people reading this will be students or be unfamiliar with commercial archaeology in the UK. So here is a crash course- entry level jobs are temporary, sometimes weekly contracts and pay around 18k annually. No employer i.e. currently MOLA, is going to spend £1,200+ in fees to hire someone for only a week when they are only paying them £400 a week. Now there might be six month long jobs but again they are not going to pay a digger £21,600 (min pay required) + £1,200-2,200 to someone with limited experience when they pay everyone else £18k. Archaeology has very tight margins and pay is poor. I have yet to meet the commercial archaeology employer who has £2,000 to shell out on an entry level position above what they normally pay.

Also, this assumes that no one else local who meets the minimum requirements applied- whom they have to give the job to over you. Finally, getting a visa will cost you, personally, £800-1200 so it actually might not be financially viable for yourself, assuming everything else works out.

That does not include the £200 per year of your visa you need to pay for the healthcare surcharge. So if you get a visa for two years tac on another £400 in personal costs, per person. If you have a partner who you will be bringing with you then you will need to double the costs.

So if you are student or a new entrant to the field realise this is not a realistic possibility- working in UK commercial/CRM archaeology. BUT there are some other visas that might help (keep reading).

Even if you have experience and could maybe get a project officer job you have the problem of your experience is not in the UK. Unless you get to the very high management levels most employers are not going to hire people without UK experience so there is a catch-22 there (how do you get enough experience to get a higher level job when you can’t work) .

Best Routes

Alright, now that I have shown that it is damn near impossible to come over and work as an archaeologists on a Tier 2 visa I will show you the best possible ways to.

Get Citizenship

Look into getting citizenship, and not just in the UK, anywhere in the EU. You can get Irish citizenship if one of your grandparents had Irish citizenship. I don’t have space to go over the citizenship rules for all EU countries but look them up if your ancestors came from a EU country. EU citizenship means you can work in the UK… until the UK leaves the EU.

Get Married or be Married

Marry a EU citizen or if you are married your spouse might have a better chance of getting a Tier 2 visa if they work in a field other than archaeology. There are ‘shortage occupations’ which do not require as many hoops to jump through to get a Tier 2 visa in. A list of these occupations can be found here. Archaeology is not one of them.

Be from Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, or Taiwan AND ….

First, if you are from one of these countries AND under 30, you are in a bit of luck. You can apply for a Tier 5 visa and can come work in the UK for two years (not great but it is better than nothing). There are a few other things that can disqualify you- not enough money in the Bank, having a kid, etc. Check out the link for more details.

From the Commonwealth?

If you are from a commonwealth country AND can prove one of your grandparents was a UK citizen you can get an Ancestry Visa. Excludes Americans, I think they are still bitter about that tea party, and most citizens from conquered countries i.e. non-white members of the commonwealth who don’t have mixed ancestry but this is not the post to discuss how discriminatory this visa is.

Tier 1

Probably harder to get than a Tier 2. You have to be an academic and have to be a leader in your field with letters to prove it and a publication record. Moreover, they only give out a couple of hundred a year. If you want to try for it look at the details here.

Tier 2

Yes, I did just explain how hard it is to get such a visa but there are a few exceptions that can help you increase your odds of getting a job.

Get a UK Degree

Fair warning, they revise the immigration rules EVERY spring and fall. So how long this lasts is anyone’s guess. If you have a UK degree or have finished the first year of your PhD, at a UK university, then you get certain benefits when applying for a Tier 2 visa.

  • They can hire you, even if there is someone who meets the minimum job requirements. (this is huge)
  • It does not count as one of the 20k limited Tier 2 visas. No Quotas! Possibly, companies get an annual limit of unrestricted visas so if they have already spent those then you do have to try for one of those 20k.

Honestly, if you are going to go for a Tier 2 visa it might be good to spend 10s of thousands on a degree from a UK university. Yes, I know how sad that sounds but it is probably the only realistic way. But, that still won’t help you with the requirement to make the minimum salaries.

Go for Academic Jobs

If you get an academic job i.e. lecturer, they waive the requirement about meeting minimum requirements. That means they don’t have to hire a UK/EU person who meets the minimum over you. Starting academic jobs are in the 30-40k range so you don’t have to worry about minimum pay. Also, you get more points for PhD level jobs when you go into the pool of people seeking one of those limited 20,000 visas they give out each year.

Other Exceptions

There are a few other exceptions to the tests for the Tier 2 visa but most are not very practical in the field of archaeology, like making over 150K a year. I have not mentioned them because I don’t think they are relevant but you can read through the Tier 2 regulations to see if they might apply to your circumstances.

Don’t Work in Archaeology

Hate to say it but if you want a visa it is easier to get one in another field than archaeology, see the shortage occupation link above. There are also other visas one can apply to- sportsperson, setting up a company, etc. Check some of those out if you want to come to the UK. Though I imagine you might not be too interested if you want to come here to work in archaeology.

Check for Updates

Regulations are literally updated every six months, in the spring and fall. Always check the most recent ones. What I wrote here could go out of date very quickly.


Something like an Ancestry Visa or marriage is your best bet. Maybe you have an Irish grandparents i.e. get citizenship in an EU country so you can work in the UK (at least for a few more years). Or aim to get an academic job as it will meet all the requirements. Getting any other job in archaeology is not likely to happen through something like a Tier 2 visa.

Legal Bits

I am not a immigration lawyer and this should not be considered legal advice. I have read all the regulations and experienced some of this so am reasonably confident this is a good summary but it is only a summary. You really should read all of the regulations. Mostly, I have added bits about the realities of jobs in the UK compared to the regulations to help you better understand your odds.

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