UK visa requirements for people like me who might want to teach a fiber workshop, as far as I can understand them

I'm putting together this somewhat technical post in case any other potential fiber instructors or workshop sponsors might want to try to figure out the visa situation as it relates to U.S. residents (in particular) who might want to teach short workshops in the U.K. I'm summarizing my research and welcome any discussion, insights, ways other people have managed to leap the bureaucratic hurdles, and so on.


(Photo I took on one of the lovely walks I enjoyed around Stirling while the visa situation for UK Knit Camp was churning its way to conclusion.)

As I've mentioned, in the case of UK Knit Camp in 2010 even though there was preparatory correspondence about visa requirements and even though we overseas, non-EU instructors had supplied all necessary information in advance, once we arrived the paperwork was not in order. We could not teach initially, even as volunteers (notes about why below), and one instructor was turned back—i.e., had to spend the night in an approved location and fly back across the Atlantic the day after her arrival, and never did teach. One consequence of being found in violation of the visa requirements is not being able to enter the UK for any reason for ten years. (This did not affect the turned-back instructor, fortunately. She just had a very expensive round-trip, anxiety-wracked adventure.)

My source of information is the UK Border Agency website, which I must say is amazingly complicated.

The most promising category for traveling instructors in the fiber arts appears to be:

"Permitted paid engagement visitor"

"If you want to come to the UK as a visitor to do short-term, fee-paid activity you can apply for a visa as a permitted paid engagement visitor." The time covered is limited to a month. That's okay for almost all of us.

"The category of visitors undertaking permitted paid engagements is for a defined list of visitors who are invited to come to the UK because of their particular skills and expertise. They may apply to come here for up to 1 month without the need to be sponsored under the points-based sytem. The category is for visiting examiners or assessors; lecturers; overseas designated pilot examiners; qualified lawyers; and professional artists, entertainers and sportspersons."

In order to do this: "You must provide a formal invitation to undertake the pre-arranged engagement, and show that the engagement relates to your: expertise and/or qualifications; and full-time occupation in your home country."

The option requires sponsorship that may be possible for many of us to obtain, except that it isn't clear what level of formality is required in the sponsoring organization: "Visiting lecturers: You must be invited by a UK higher education institution or UK-based arts or research organisation to give a lecture or series of lectures in your field of expertise." or "Arts, entertainment or sports professionals: You must be invited by a UK-based arts or sports organisation or broadcaster to carry out an activity related to your profession in the arts, entertainment or sports. This may include fashion models coming to the UK to undertake a specific engagement, providing they do not intend to base themselves in the UK long-term." Would a fiber guild qualify as an "arts or research organisation"?

There are limitations to this option that apply to most of the other alternatives as well: "You must also be able to show that, during your visit, you do not intend to: take paid or unpaid employment, produce goods or provide services, including the selling of goods or services directly to members of the public other than as permitted for by the permitted paid engagement." I think this means that the "permitted engagement" list needs to include each workshop, if more than one will be taught. And I'm not sure what the paperwork and coordination for that would involve. I don't think sponsor licenses are required, but I may have missed that tidbit in the morass of detail.

How the mess was ultimately managed at UK Knit Camp

For a while, it looked like all the U.S. instructors were going to need to fly to Ireland and then re-enter the U.K., because all visa details have to be in place before entry. As it was, we took a useless round-trip drive to Glasgow, and then had to send our passports off for special treatment. High levels of government got involved in creating a way through the tangle of red tape, and while we didn't have to do a quick visit to an Irish airport, we did end up anxiously awaiting the outcome (as did the people registered for our classes: because the schedule had to be rearranged, I ended up teaching two classes simultaneously on the Friday of that week—fortunately, in the same room).

I was in a significantly better position than some of the other instructors because the teaching was only part of the agenda for my trip. Admittedly, I would not have made the trip in the first place if the teaching had not promised to pay the expenses and permit me to make enough to meet my bills at home. However, by the time I made the trip I was also going to do freelance research for the book (Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook) and for some magazine articles, which I did write and publish (although by themselves those articles would in no way have even begun to cover the trip's expenses). So I did have legitimate reasons for being in the U.K. beyond the teaching engagement, and those reasons did not require a visa or any additional paperwork.


(I had a wonderful time researching the Stirling tapestry project. Unfortunately, the magazine that published the piece had nowhere near enough space for what I wanted to write. Actually, what I did write, before I cut back to their word count.)


(The Sheep Day sponsored by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust took place at this lovely location, and there were amazing people in attendance.)

For the teaching portions of the activities, the UK Knit Camp instructors ended up with temporary residence permits as Tier 5 TW (Cre-Sport) Migrants; Cre-Sport means Creative/Sporting and the category is intended for entertainers (and presumably other creative types) and athletes. This classification requires a sponsor, who has to have a sponsor license for tier 5 (there are several tier types, and each requires that the sponsoring-and-employing organization pay a £500 licensing fee). Each sponsored individual must also be issued a Certificate of Sponsorship (a quite affordable £13).

A common theme within the visa requirements is that the person does "not intend to: take paid or unpaid employment, produce goods or provide services, including the selling of goods or services directly to members of the public." That "unpaid" provision meant that at UK Knit Camp we could not even work for free until the bureaucratic machinations had been completed.

Other categories

Here are the other options I have taken notes on—all are far more restrictive, expensive, or complicated than the "permitted paid engagement visitor."


– "General visitor" – "must . . . be able to show that, during your visit, you do not intend to: take paid or unpaid employment, produce goods or provide services, including the selling of goods or services directly to members of the public." This was what I was, as a freelance writer researching for future publications.

– "Business visitor" – "This includes academic visitors, visiting professors, overseas news media representatives and film crews on location." Sounds promising. But "you must be able to show that: you receive your salary from abroad (although it is acceptable for you to receive reasonable travel and subsistence expenses while you are in the UK)" and same as above (no paid or unpaid employment or services). I.e., no payment from U.K. sources.

(Admittedly, for tax purposes it is far better for U.S. instructors to be paid in U.S. funds on an U.S. bank. Otherwise we also have to figure out how to negotiate international tax filings, something I am failing at this year with regard to brief Canadian employment. The Canadian government will be benefiting to the extent of the money withheld, which I could legally reclaim if I filed another double set of tax returns, both provincial and federal—yet it would cost me more to complete this process than I would be refunded.)


(View from a hotel room in Glasgow.)

Kelvingrove_4720.JPG - Version 2

(Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow.)

Temporary workers:

"High value migrants" – these are on what is called a points-based system, and require a sponsor as one of the components of getting enough points to qualify. I think these are intended for people who plan to stay for a longer time and actually work a job that might otherwise be held by a U.K. resident (perfectly understandable that those would be protected).

– The writers, composers and artists category is closed and not taking any new applications.

– Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) includes "people who are recognised or have the potential to be recognised as leaders in the fields of science and the arts." Might be supportable in some environments, but there are a strictly limited number of these types of endorsements, and they can only be issued by the Royal Society, Arts Council England, British Academy, or Royal Academy of Engineering. And the application fee is £816.

– Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) requires even more money (investment of a huge amount of cash and guarantee of two new jobs for people already in the U.K.).

– Tier 1 (General) would have been promising, since "The Tier 1 (General) category allows highly skilled people to look for work or self-employment opportunities in the UK. Tier 1 (General) migrants can seek employment in the UK without a sponsor, and can take up self-employment and business opportunities here." EXCEPT "This category is now closed to applicants who are outside the UK, and to migrants who are already here in most other immigration categories."

"Temporary workers" of other types require sponsorship. This includes the previously used Tier 5 (Creative & Sporting), for which the sponsor must have the appropriate £500 license and the aforementioned individual Certificate of Sponsorship (£13).

In sum

This visa question poses interesting (if frustrating and befuddling) challenges. It would be helpful if those of us in the position of wanting to share information about fibers through workshops or presentations, and also to be able to meet our household expenses when we return home, can work together on what we learn about negotiating this labyrinth, climbing these cliffs, safely navigating these waters, or whatever it takes to get the job done. Especially, in my case and some others', because a huge part of what we do involves the use of British breed-specific wools and also carrying back to North America information that will increase awareness of, and presumably income from, British knitwear designers' and teachers' efforts.


If appropriate visa or permit conditions can't be puzzled out in a way that works efficiently and economically for the upcoming hypothetical trip, I'll have no problem simply enjoying the research and writing aspects (even though I do like to teach) and will plan upon my return to teach related workshops (somehow) by way of the internet, from my home base on this side of the Atlantic.

But it's so much more enjoyable and rewarding for everyone involved if I can put fibers directly into people's hands, and if we can talk in real-time about what we're discovering. I just don't know how it's possible.


(I have a lot of wonderful photos from my extensive walks around Stirling during the visa complications.)


3 thoughts on “UK visa requirements for people like me who might want to teach a fiber workshop, as far as I can understand them”

  1. I wasn’t able to leave a comment in previous post but this is what I wanted to say:
    “I could do a face plant in those books! And as a friend once said to me when I was hauling my horses cross country to compete “I’m living viciously through you”. Vicariously, she meant. Though right now, I feel viciously enthralled in your fall plans. How wonderful. And yes, I’ll be donating.”

    M and I want to visit the Shetlands before much more time has passed… you give me more incentive (as always!)

  2. That’s good news about the Canadian tax forms, and not what I was told by the folks who hired me there–nor what the research I did (before I got fed up) indicated. AND I am more inclined to believe you, Linda!!! I don’t know that the hirers have a clue and the research was complicated enough to put me off more boring digging . . . about 10 percent as complicated as the visa stuff. But there’s more at stake in the visa quest.

    Viciously enthralled! I love the idea. Assuming I get there (and I assume I will, since the research trip isn’t visa-dependent), I’ll report in.

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