Skilled Worker Visa

The Skilled Worker visa is a game-changer for skilled overseas nationals eyeing opportunities in the UK. It has replaced the Tier 2 (General) visa, making it essential for both employers seeking global talent and individuals applying for sponsored work visas to grasp the eligibility and application intricacies.

Given the intricacies of these applications, seeking legal advice to ensure a successful outcome and to determine if the Skilled Worker visa is the best fit is of the utmost importance. The UK immigration system has seen significant post-Brexit adjustments, offering a range of work visa options tailored to various roles and industries. It’s crucial to ensure that the Skilled Worker visa aligns with your specific circumstances, whether you’re a potential applicant or would-be employer.

What is the Skilled Worker Visa?
The Skilled Worker visa allows employers to sponsor individuals for eligible, skilled roles in the UK. To qualify, applicants must meet specific requirements and attain 70 points. This includes skill and salary levels, English proficiency, and a qualifying job offer from a UK employer with a valid sponsorship license.

Moreover, the visa extends its benefits to spouses, ‘durable’ partners, and dependent children, allowing them to join the main applicant in the UK. Successful applicants can enjoy the visa for up to five years, with an opportunity to apply for UK Indefinite Leave to Remain afterward should certain residency criteria be met. Holders of a skilled worker visa may not have access to public funds, however.

What are the Skilled Worker visa requirements?
The Skilled Worker visa route requirements have been outlined in the Appendix Skilled Worker. To be eligible for a Skilled Worker visa, applicants must accumulate a total of 70 points. This threshold comprises 50 points for mandatory criteria such as the job offer, English proficiency, and the required skill level, and 20 points for ‘tradeable’ criteria. 

Skilled worker visa minimum salary
For applications made after 4 April 2024, the Skilled Worker visa minimum annual salary threshold for most applicants is £38,700, where no salary discount is available. This is referred to as Option A in the Home Office guidance. To meet the criteria, the worker’s pay must also exceed the relevant hourly rate of £15.88 for Option A and the full going rate for the occupation. The Home Office has detailed these thresholds in Appendix Skilled Worker, which outlines specific requirements for new applicants and existing visa holders seeking extensions or change of employer. Appendix Skilled Worker provides a comprehensive overview of the threshold levels, including provisions for lower salary thresholds.  

Salary threshold for new Skilled Worker visa applicants

From 4 April 2024, the salary threshold for most new applicants is £38,700. This is an increase on the previous £26,200.

A lower, discounted threshold of £30,960 applies for roles listed on the new Immigration Salary List, or if the applicant is a new entrant to the labour market.

Eligible applicants relying on a relevant PhD will now have to earn £34,830, and those relying on a relevant STEM PhD, the new minimum threshold is £30,960.

Salary threshold for existing Skilled Worker visa applicants

The salary threshold of £29,000 applies from 4 April 2024 for existing Skilled Worker visa holders who are making new applications, such as extensions or changing their employer. In other words, if the applicant is already in the UK on a Skilled Worker Visa, the fee increase does not affect these applications.

Salary threshold for Health and Care Workers

The salary thresholds for Health and Care Worker visa holders increased as of 4 April 2024. The new threshold is £23,200, up from £20,960, or the national pay scale for the role, whichever is higher. For roles not on a national pay scale, applicants must meet a general annual salary threshold of £29,000. Lower thresholds may be available based on specific requirements. These adjustments apply to both initial applications and visa extensions.  

Sponsorship requirement
Attaining 20 mandatory points is essential for employment sponsorship, with requirements set for both the worker and the employer, also known as the sponsor. The sponsor is required to possess a valid sponsorship license with an A rating and must have paid the Immigration Skills Charge. The Home Office assesses whether the job vacancy and employment are genuine, ensuring the sponsoring organisation truly requires the role to be filled. Additionally, the worker must be assigned a valid Certificate of Sponsorship by the employer for the specific role they are being recruited for.

Certificate of sponsorship requirement
Before submitting a visa application, a worker must obtain a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from their UK sponsor, confirming that both the individual and the role satisfy the sponsorship eligibility criteria. The CoS is a reference number required for the Skilled Worker visa application, issued only by licensed sponsors. Presently, there are two types of CoS: defined and undefined, which have replaced the previous restricted and unrestricted CoS as of 1 December 2020. Undefined CoS are designated for workers in the UK on valid leave seeking to switch to the skilled worker category or for those applying from within the UK or abroad under different visa routes. Defined CoS are intended for skilled worker visa applications from outside the country. Sponsors must specifically apply for a defined CoS, providing job and salary details to the Home Office. The UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) authority allocates undefined CoS to sponsors annually, with the quantity based on factors like the sponsor’s workforce size and business nature. Unused CoS are withdrawn from the Sponsorship Management System (SMS) after each 12-month cycle, and sponsors may request additional undefined CoS throughout the year. 

Skilled Worker visa skill requirement
Holders of the Skilled Worker visa are restricted to certain eligible roles, which must be at or above RQF level 3, equivalent to a UK A-level, to qualify. The Home Office uses ‘Standard Occupation Codes’ (SOC) to assess eligibility. Sponsors must identify the correct SOC code using the ONS occupation coding tool, ensuring the job description matches the role offered. The identified code must then be cross-referenced with the list of eligible jobs for the Skilled Worker route. Employers are prohibited from using an unsuitable job code or overstating a role’s requirements to meet a SOC code. The Home Office may seek additional information if there are concerns about the use of an incorrect SOC code, requiring evidence of the applicant’s skills and experience for the role. Genuine mistakes in code selection can typically be rectified. However, the Home Office has the authority to reject a Skilled Worker visa application if the job or the applicant’s qualifications do not align with the relevant SOC code and skill level.

English language requirement
The minimum English proficiency required is level B1 according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, covering reading, writing, speaking, and comprehension. Most applicants for the Skilled Worker visa must demonstrate this level of English, unless they have previously met the requirement during another UK immigration application or are nationals of certain exempt countries. Proof of language proficiency can be provided by possessing a GCSE, A level, Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5, Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher in English; holding a degree taught in English; or passing an approved Secure English Language Test (SELT). 

There are exemptions to the English language requirement for applicants from specific countries. The list can be found here.

Financial maintenance requirement
Applicants must demonstrate they satisfy the financial requirement by having enough funds to support themselves without access to public funds like benefits. The rules require applicants to have a minimum of £1,270 in their bank account at the time of application. This sum should have been present for at least 28 consecutive days, with the 28th day falling within 31 days prior to the visa application. Evidence of savings must be provided unless the applicant has had lawful status in the UK for 12 months or their sponsor commits to covering their costs up to £1,270 for the first month in the UK. The sponsor must indicate on the Certificate of Sponsorship, under the ‘sponsor certifies maintenance’ section found in ‘Additional data’, that they will fulfil the financial requirement. If dependants are included in the application, additional funds are necessary. The principal applicant’s partner must show £285, and £315 is required for the first dependent child. Each additional child necessitates an extra £200. For instance, a Skilled Worker visa application for a spouse and three children would need to demonstrate maintenance funds of at least £2,270, which is the sum of £1,270 for the applicant, £285 for the partner, and £315 plus £200 for each of the three children.

Background check requirement
Certain applicants might be required to present a criminal records certificate if their profession necessitates it.

Healthcare professionals
Healthcare professionals aiming to work in the UK’s health or adult social care sector should consider the Health and Care Worker visa. Tailored for occupations like qualified nurses, doctors, and adult social care professionals, this visa offers benefits over the Skilled Worker visa, including lower application fees and exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge. Eligibility for the Health and Care Worker visa is specific, with only certain roles qualifying as outlined in the Home Office Immigration Salary List. However, this list can change, so it is recommended that sponsors and workers verify the continued eligibility of a role before applying.

How to apply for a Skilled Worker visa
To apply for a Skilled Worker visa, applicants must submit an online application, provide the necessary supporting documents, and pay the applicable fee. Applications can be submitted up to three months prior to the worker’s intended start date of employment in the UK, as indicated on the Certificate of Sponsorship. Applicants must file their online application within three months of receiving their Certificate of Sponsorship, using its unique reference number. Additionally, they are required to schedule an appointment at a visa application centre to provide their biometric information and present their supporting documents.

Skilled Worker visa supporting documents
In addition to the application form, applicants must gather and submit documents proving their identity and eligibility. Depending on whether the application is submitted within the UK or from abroad, applicants are required to either use the ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app to provide their ID document or provide biometric data (fingerprints and a photograph) at a UKVCAS service point.

The applicant will also need to provide the following supporting documents:

  • Their Certificate of Sponsorship reference number, as assigned by their sponsor
  • The sponsor’s name and sponsorship licence number
  • Confirmation of job title
  • Confirmation of annual salary for the job
  • Job occupation code
  • A current passport or other travel document to prove they can travel
  • Expired passports or travel documents to show their travel history

In addition, it may also be necessary to provide additional documents depending on your specific circumstances, such as:

  • Proof of personal savings, where applicable
  • Proof of knowledge of English, where applicable
  • Tuberculosis test results if from a listed country
  • Evidence of relationship to any dependants also applying
  • Valid ATAS certificate, where applicable
  • UK PhD certificate, or Ecctis reference number, where applicable
  • Criminal record certificate from any country they have lived in for 12 months or more in the last 10 years, where they will be working in either the education, health or social care sector in the UK

Applicants from outside the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, or Liechtenstein, as well as those from these countries without a chipped biometric passport, must have a blank page in their passport. The Home Office evaluates applications based on the points accumulated under the points-based system. It’s crucial to understand that a genuine job offer and a valid certificate of sponsorship do not ensure the grant of a Skilled Worker visa. The applicant must fulfil all other necessary criteria, and the Home Office will also take into account any general grounds for refusal, such as relevant criminal history or past immigration infractions.

How much does a Skilled Worker visa cost?
Applicants are required to pay a visa application fee, which varies depending on whether the job is listed on the Immigration Salary List. This fee also applies to any dependants accompanying the main applicant. The fees are as follows:

For applications from outside the UK:

– Up to 3 years: £719

– More than 3 years: £1,420

For applications from inside the UK (for switching, updating, or extending):

– Up to 3 years: £827

– More than 3 years: £1,636

For roles on the Immigration Salary List for applications after 4 April 2024, and Shortage Occupation roles for applications made until 3 July 2024 (both in-country and out-of-country applications):

– Up to 3 years: £551

– More than 3 years: £1,084

In addition to the processing fees, applicants must also pay the Immigration Health Surcharge for each year of their stay. 

Skilled Worker visa processing times
Skilled worker visa applications typically take up to eight weeks to process within the UK, and up to three weeks when applied for from outside the UK. Fast-tracked processing may be available for an additional fee, depending on the location of the application processing.

How long does a Skilled Worker visa last?
The Skilled Worker visa is typically issued for a period of up to five years. Upon reaching this milestone, the visa holder must either apply for an extension or, after fulfilling the five-year residency requirement, may be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK. There is no cap on the number of extensions a Skilled Worker visa holder can obtain, as long as they continue to fulfil the necessary visa criteria.

Changing jobs or employer as a Skilled Worker
Should a visa holder change their sponsor or job, they must apply for a new period of leave by submitting an application for a new Skilled Worker visa, using their new Certificate of Sponsorship.

Skilled Worker visa requirements for employers
If you plan to hire a non-UK resident under the UK’s points-based system, you may need to apply for a sponsorship licence from the Home Office. This licence is required for UK employers to sponsor overseas nationals for a visa to work in the UK in a specific role within an eligible skilled occupation. Employers do not need a licence to hire individuals who already have the right to work in the UK, such as those with settled status under the EU settlement scheme, indefinite leave to remain, or British citizenship.

To qualify for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, an organisation must prove it is a genuine entity operating lawfully in the UK and that it is appropriate for sponsoring skilled migrant workers. UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will assess suitability based on whether:

– The organisation can provide genuine employment in the UK that meets the skill level of RQF3 or above and pays the appropriate minimum salary threshold.

– The organisation has the capacity to fulfil sponsorship duties, with adequate HR systems and practices, and suitable key personnel in place. These key personnel are responsible for managing the sponsor management system (SMS) and fulfilling the duties of a licensed sponsor.

– The organisation, its key personnel, and management are honest, dependable, and reliable. A history of immigration violations or relevant unspent criminal convictions involving those who run the business or the key personnel listed on the sponsor licence application could impact the ability to sponsor overseas workers.

Switching to the Skilled Worker visa
In many cases, it is feasible to apply from within the UK to ‘switch into’ the Skilled Worker route, provided certain conditions are met. The rules largely depend on the type of visa one is switching from. For instance, Student visa holders must typically complete their studies before switching to a Skilled Worker visa, unless the job begins after course completion, or they have been enrolled in a PhD program for at least 24 months. Applicants must meet all Skilled Worker eligibility criteria. Switching to the Skilled Worker category is not possible for individuals in the UK under any of the following statuses:

  • visit visa
  • short-term student visa
  • parent of a Child Student visa
  • seasonal worker visa
  • domestic worker in a private household visa
  • permission to stay outside the immigration rules
  • immigration bail

Taking on additional work with a Skilled Worker visa

Specific regulations determine if individuals with a Skilled Worker visa can engage in a second job or earn additional income beyond their sponsored role. Holders of a Skilled Worker visa may undertake extra work, including voluntary work, as long as they remain employed in their primary sponsored role. The secondary employment can be up to 20 hours per week and must either fall within the same occupation code and level as the primary job or be listed on the Immigration Salary List. If these conditions are not met, the individual must inform the Home Office and apply for an updated visa that includes sponsorship for both jobs. This process requires a Certificate of Sponsorship from the secondary employer and a letter requesting a variation of the current visa’s terms.

For more information or to receive advise on your personal circumstances, contact us today.

This article was published on the 1st July 2024. Please note that immigration law changes frequently and the content of this article may no longer be up-to-date at the time you read this. To receive advise on the current law, contact us today.