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

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 (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 for a while.), e.g. Americans, Canadians, Australians, etc. Specifically they want to do more than just a field school experience. 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.

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 get immigration under 100,000 per year but include students in those numbers so they will continue to be an impossible goal.

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 hard to get:

  • There is a limit of only 20,000 per year for everyone- when that limit is up  you are out of luck e.g. bankers, doctors, or computer experts have used them all up.
  • 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.

That is the easy part.

  • Your work must be a registered sponsor. OK this what will kill it for almost all archaeology. ONE commercial archaeology-only company is registered sponsor. You can look at the list here- – LET ME REPEAT THAT ONLY ONE COMMERCIAL ARCHAEOLOGY-ONLY FIRM CAN HIRE YOU, at the moment (December 2016,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 register either. National Museum of Scotland is, British Museum is too. 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.
  • You need to make over £ 30k (an exception to that). Now I don’t mean to stereotype but most people who express interest in working here are straight out of University.  YOU CAN NOT GET A 30k+ JOB with limited experience (field school) and a BA in archaeology. 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 £20k, not the £30k required of experienced staff.
  • 30k is the minimum to make but they hand out those 20,000 visas based on salary, with higher salaries getting more points and thus likely to get one of those limited visas.
  • 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 British or EU person can do the job with two months experience than they get it, even if you have 20 years of experience.

Essentially, the only job you can really get is as a post-doc or as a lecturer in Archaeology at a University. This is because Universities are registered sponsors, those jobs pay more than £30k,  AND there is an exception to the ‘suitable for the job’ requirement- ’employers may recruit the most suitable person for the job not necessarily the most suitable person from the resident labour force’ IF the job requires a PhD.

Best Routes

Alright, now that I have shown that it is damn near impossible to come over and work as an archaeologists if you are a non-EU citizen 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 citizen ship 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.

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.

  • Job does not need to be advertise for 28 days.
  • You don’t need to do the labour market test- huge!
  • It does not count as one of the 20k limited Tier 2 visas. No Quotas!
  • The minimum pay can by in the 20k range (it depends on the job)

Honestly, if you are going to go for a Tier 2 visa it might be good to spend thousands on a degree from a UK university. Yes, I know how sad that sounds but it is the route I am taking.

Academic Jobs

If you get an academic job i.e. lecturer, you will be able to pass a labour market test. This is about the only archaeology job you can get that will meet the criteria for a Tier 2 visa in archaeology.

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.

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