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Skilled Worker visa

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This guide is split into the following sections:

Skilled Worker visa introduction

The Skilled Worker visa is the main UK visa route for skilled workers with a job offer coming to the UK to take up employment. The salary in some cases will need to be at least £25,600 per annum.  There are many exemptions to this and the salary can be as low as £20,480 per annum in some circumstances.  Since 1 December 2020 the Skilled Worker visa route replaced the Tier 2 General visa. Now that there are no restrictions on share ownership, it should be easier for business owners to come under the Skilled Worker visa scheme.  All applicants must meet the English language requirements.

In order to apply for the Skilled Worker visa you must have a job offer and a certificate of sponsorship from a UK employer with a valid sponsor licence.  There are many occupations under the Shortage Occupation List.which makes it easier to gain enough points.  Processing times for Skilled Worker visa applicants applying from overseas should be much reduced under the new points-based system, as obtaining a Defined Certificate of Sponsorship should not take longer than about a day to obtain. Under the previous Tier 2 General visa system in many cases it took weeks or about a month to obtain a Certificate of Sponsorship to employ someone living abroad.

The Tier 1 General Visa Category for independent skilled immigration to the UK without a job has not been available for new applicants since April 2011.  Therefore for many skilled workers the only option is the Skilled Worker visa category, Intra-Company Transfer visa or in a small number of cases the Global Talent visa, which is similar to the previous Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa.  In some cases if a company is sending a senior employee to set up a new office in the UK the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business visa category may be worth considering.

Skilled Worker visa length of stay

You can apply for entry for up to 5 years initially if you apply as an "experienced worker".  There is actually no maximum period of time under the Skilled Worker visa category.  Most people will probably apply for indefinite leave to remain towards the end of five years in the UK.  If the Skilled Worker visa was originally for a shorter period of time than five years, then an application for an extension will need to be made, and then towards the end of five years you can apply for indefinite leave to remain.  The salary rate of £25,600 per annum, or the going rate, whichever is higher, will in many cases need to be paid.  If you have a relevant PhD or come under the Shortage Occupation List a lower salary can be paid.  Further details in the Skilled Worker points system.

If you apply for a Skilled Worker visa under the lower new entrant salary rate if you are under 26 years of age, a student visa holder already in the UK, or in a few other circumstances, the maximum initial period you can apply for is four years.  The salary rate of £20,480 per annum, or 70% of the going rate, whichever is higher, will need to be paid.  Towards the end of four years under the new entrant rate, you will need to meet the points requirement to extend your Skilled Worker visa. 

You can apply for indefinite leave to remain twenty-eight days before the five year period ends in the UK if you meet the residence requirements and wish to continue with your employment.  You can as an alternative to indefinite leave to remain continue to extend the Skilled Worker visa indefinitely.

Skilled Worker financial requirements

In many cases the Skilled Worker sponsor licence employer will guarantee maintenance, which will meet this requirement.  Most employers are "A rated" and are allowed to do this.  Alternatively, Skilled Worker visa applicants as well as Intra-company transfer visa applicants must show that they have funds of at least £1,270, and have had this money continuously for a 28 day period ending no more than 31 days before the date of the Skilled Worker visa application

Skilled Worker visa salary requirements

The job stated on a certificate of sponsorship must pay the required salary and meet the points requirement:

  • Those who are under twenty-six years of age can come under the new entrant salary rate of at least £20,480 or 70% of the going rate for the job, whichever is higher.
  • Those who have completed a degree in the UK or have three months or less to completion of any age (not necessary to have graduated), and wish to switch from a Student visa or Tier 4 visa, to a Skilled Worker visa can also come under the salary rate of £20,480 per annum, or 70% of the going rate, whichever is higher. This also includes those who have completed twelve months of a course leading to a PhD, or those who have completed or have three months or less to completion of a Postgraduate Certificate in Education or Professional Graduate Diploma of Education.
  • Those who are 26 years of age or older and who does not come under one of the exemptions, will usually need to be paid £25,600, or the going rate for the job whichever is higher.  Those whose occupation comes under the shortage occupation list or those who have a relevant PhD can be paid a lower salary.  Under the new Skilled Worker visa system it is important to look at the new points system closely as well.
  • Medical related occupations typically come under the NHS salary bands.  However, a minimum salary of £20,480 still needs to be paid.  If the NHS salary band shows a higher salary, then the higher salary needs to be paid.
     

Under the Skilled Worker visa category a lower minimum level of skills RQF Level 3 is needed, than under the previous Tier 2 General visa category. You should also look carefully at the Skilled Worker visa points system to make sure you gain enough points. 

If the salary is close to the minimum hourly rate required, this will need to be considered as well. Further details of the minimum hourly rate can be found in going rates for eligible occupation codes.  The number of hours mentioned excludes lunch breaks.  If the hourly rate is lower than the minimum required then the Skilled Worker visa application is likely to be refused.

If you are currently based outside the UK and need to apply for UK entry clearance for a visa, or are currently in a visa category such as Tier 5 Youth Mobility that requires you to apply for Skilled Worker visa entry clearance then you will need to have a defined CoS.  Since 1 December 2020 there is no longer a quota of Skilled Worker visas for those who need to apply for visas from outside the UK.  

There are salary exceptions for certain groups, workers whose previous OR current permission to enter the UK fall under the following categories have different salary rules:

  • Religious workers, including ministers, missionaries, and religious order members.

  • You are being paid at least at NHS Band 3 and are sponsored as a pre-registration nurse or midwife.

Skilled Worker visa English language requirements

There are specific English language requirements to come under the Skilled Worker visa category.  It is interesting to note that there are no English language requirements for the Intra-Company Transfer visa scheme.  Those who are already in the UK and are applying from within the UK are more likely to have already met the English language requirement. However, even for applicants applying from within the UK, care needs to be taken to make sure that an applicant meets the English language requirements. Nationals of majority English speaking Countries on the list below already meet the English language requirements.

Some people will need to take an English language test. Please note that, where relevant, tests by IELTS or other organisations must be the UKVI version of the test.  If it is not the correct version of the English language test the Skilled Worker visa application will be refused.

In most cases you will meet the English language requirements in one of the following ways:

  • By passing an approved English language test with at least CEFR level B1 in reading, writing, speaking and listening.  If you have an IELTS English language test certificate then it must mention UKVI in the certificate. Any test taken with any test provider must be the UKVI version of the test.
  • By having an academic qualification that was taught in English and is recognised by UK NARIC as being equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or PhD.  It should be noted that some degrees awarded outside the UK are not considered to be equivalent to an UK degree.  You will need to apply to UK NARIC for an evaluation.
  • By being a national of a majority English speaking Country on the list.
  • By having previously met the relevant English language requirements in a previous UK visa application.
     

English language exceptions based on nationality

If you are a national of a majority English speaking Country on the list below then you meet the English language requirements:

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • the Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Canada
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Jamaica
  • New Zealand
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • USA

If you have in the past met the English language requirements for a UK visa category you will most likely not need to take another English language test.

Skilled Worker visa and new or additional employment

Skilled Workers on this visa who wish to leave their job and work for a new employer will need to update their Skilled Worker visa.  The new employer will need a Sponsor Licence and will need to make sure that the new employee gains enough points under the points system.  Skilled Worker visa holders are free to work for an additional 20 hours per week in the following circumstances:

  • In another job on the shortage occupation list or a job in the same sector and at the same professional level as the work for which the Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) was assigned.
  • Outside the working hours covered by the CoS for the Skilled Worker visa.
     

Further information, help, and advice

Workpermit.com's team of specialists has over thirty years of experience in international visa services, and have helped thousands of people to study and work in the UK. We work in conjunction with OISC registered advisers who can submit your UK sponsor licence application and visa application to UK Visas and Immigration at the Home Office. 

For more information and advice on UK immigration law and UK visa applications please contact us on 0344 991 9222 or at london@workpermit.com

Frequently Asked Questions: 

Do you need a job in the UK to come under the Skilled Worker visa?

Like the Tier 2 General visa that it replaced, you still need to have a job in the UK with a UK sponsor with a Skilled Worker visa sponsor licence.  The employer will also need to assign a certificate of sponsorship to employ you in the UK on a Skilled Worker visa.  For a small number of top people who meet the requirements there is the Global Talent visa.

Do you need to show a shortage of local workers under the Skilled Worker visa?

The Resident Labour Market Test has now been abolished and so advertising to show a shortage of suitable resident workers is no longer required in all cases.  Previously, under the Tier 2 General visa category you had to complete the Resident Labour Market Test in many cases.  This was for many employers a time consuming process; you had to advertise the vacancy, deal with job applicants and explain why the applicants were not suitable. 

Are there any ownership restrictions for the Skilled Worker visa applicant?

There are no restrictions on shareholdings under the Skilled Worker visa category.  Under the previous Tier 2 General visa category the visa applicant could not own more than ten percent of the UK business, unless the salary was at least £159,600 per annum.  There were no shareholding restrictions for the previous Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer visa category and the same is true of the current Intra-Company Transfer visa.  However, the Intra-Company Transfer does not lead to indefinite leave to remain.  Now business owners have the option of firstly starting a business in the UK under the Skilled Worker visa category with say a UK resident manager, and then having the UK company sponsoring them for entry to the UK.

What are the requirements for indefinite leave to remain (permanent residence) as a Skilled Worker?

You need to have been living and working in the UK for almost 5 years, and spent no more than 180 days outside the UK in any 12 month period during the five years to qualify for indefinite leave to remain.  Those who have a Skilled Worker visa for less than five years will usually need to have this extended and wait towards the end of the five year period to meet the requirements for indefinite leave to remain.  You also need to pass the “Life in the UK Test”.  The minimum salary for indefinite leave to remain is £25,600 or, if higher, the going rate for the job.  For many people it should now be easier to gain indefinite leave to remain.

Do EU, EEA and Swiss nationals need to come under the Skilled Worker visa?

Since 11pm on 31 December 2020 newly arriving nationals of EU and EEA countries need to come under the usual expensive, complicated and bureaucratic UK visa system.  Irish nationals are free to continue to live and work in the UK as they are part of the Common Travel Area.  If you are an EU or EEA citizen and were in the UK  before 31 December 2020, then you may be able to come under UK pre-settled status or settled status.  You should apply usually by 30 June 2021.  In some cases perhaps later.