The UK’s general work visa is under Tier 2 of the points-based immigration. It is the primary route for skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland looking to work in the UK within a skilled job role.
Tier 2 comprises four different subcategories of work visa:
- Tier 2 (General) – enabling a non-EEA skilled worker to fill jobs that cannot be filled by a suitably qualified or skilled settled worker, including shortage occupations, ie; where there are not enough skilled workers in the domestic labour market to meet demand.
- Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) – enabling both graduate trainees and long-term skilled workers to transfer to a UK branch of a multi-national company or organisation through their existing employer.
- Tier 2 (Sportsperson) – enabling internationally established elite athletes or qualified coaches to be based in the UK.
- Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) – enabling religious workers to undertake employment within a faith community in the UK.
Are you eligible for the general work visa?
The rules relating to who is eligible for a Tier 2 skilled worker visa will depend upon the sub-category under which you apply. Broadly speaking, to apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa you must be from outside of the EEA or Switzerland and have been offered a skilled job in the UK by a licensed sponsor that meets the requisite skill and salary level.
Your UK sponsor will check that you are qualified to do the job that they are hiring you for and if this role qualifies you for a visa, and will assign you a certificate of sponsorship to prove this. In some cases, your licensed sponsor may also need to show they have first satisfied the resident labour market test (RLMT). The RLMT requires the employer to advertise the role domestically to show that no suitable settled worker is available to fill the job role.
You will be eligible to apply for the other sub-categories of visa if you are from outside the EEA and Switzerland and:
- For the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer), your overseas employer has offered you a role in a UK branch of the company or organisation you work for and you meet the other eligibility requirements.
- For the Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visa, you are an elite sportsperson or qualified coach who is recognised by your sport’s governing body as being at the highest level of your profession internationally and your sport’s governing body is endorsing your application. You must also show that your employment will develop your sport in the UK at the highest level and you meet the other eligibility requirements.
- For the Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) visa, you have been offered a job within a faith community in the UK, for example, as a minister of religion, missionary or member of a religious order, and you meet the other eligibility requirements.
What are the requirements for the skilled worker visa?
To be eligible for a Tier 2 skilled worker visa you must score a minimum number of points under the points based system, although this can vary depending on the sub-category under which you are applying.
By way of example, under Tier 2 (General), applicants must accrue a minimum of 70 points. This is calculated as follows:
- 30 points for having been assigned a certificate of sponsorship
- 20 points for earning the appropriate salary for your job
- 10 points for meeting the English language requirement
- 10 points for meeting the maintenance requirement.
The salary requirement
To meet the salary requirement, the job specified on your certificate of sponsorship must pay the required salary prescribed by the codes of practice for skilled work under Appendix J of the Immigration Rules.
This can vary depending on the nature of your job offer, although typically, as an experienced worker applying under Tier 2 (General), you will need to be paid a minimum of £30,000 per year, or the appropriate rate for the job you are offered, whichever is higher. There are, however, a number of situations where either a lower or higher salary could apply.
The English language requirement
Under the English language requirement, where required, you can prove your knowledge of English when you apply by either:
- Passing an approved English language test with at least CEFR level B1 in reading, writing, speaking and listening, or
- 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. UK NARIC is the designated national agency for the recognition and comparison of international qualifications and skills.
You may be able to meet the English language requirement in other ways, or you may even need a higher level of English in some circumstances. However, you will not need to prove your knowledge of English if you are a national from a majority English-speaking country, such as Australia, New Zealand or America.
The maintenance requirement
Under the maintenance requirement you will need to prove that you have had £945 in your bank account for a period of 90 days before you apply for a Tier 2 skilled worker visa. This is to show that you are able to support yourself financially upon your arrival in the UK.
You will not need to prove your personal savings if you have a fully approved A-rated sponsor who can guarantee that they will cover your costs for the first month following your arrival in the UK, if you need it. However, your sponsor must confirm this on your certificate of sponsorship.
How to apply for a UK skilled worker visa?
To obtain a Tier 2 skilled worker visa, an application must be submitted online via the government web portal within 3 months from the date your certificate of sponsorship was assigned to you by your UK sponsor.
Your certificate is an electronic record with a unique reference number that is needed to complete your application.
As part of your application you will usually need to provide your biometric information, ie; your fingerprints and a digital photograph. You will also be required to provide various supporting documents, including the following:
- A current passport or other travel document to prove you can travel
- Expired passports or travel documents to show your travel history
- Proof of your knowledge of English, where applicable
- Proof of your personal savings, where applicable
- Your tuberculosis test results if you are from a listed country
- A criminal record certificate from any country you have lived in for 12 months or more in the last 10 years where you are planning to work with vulnerable people.
You may also need to provide additional documentation in support of your application depending on your circumstances. As such, it is always best to seek expert legal advice to ensure that your visa application is not unnecessarily delayed by failing to provide the correct documents.
How much are the fees for a UK work visa?
The cost of applying for a Tier 2 skilled worker visa will depend on the type of job you are applying for, the duration of the visa and where you are from. If an application is made to extend your visa or switch to a Tier 2 visa from within the UK the costs will be higher. Further, any visa fees are in addition to a fee of £19.20 to have your biometric information taken where applicable.
To apply for a 3-year skilled worker visa from outside the UK the application fee is £610 (or £555 for citizens of Turkey or Macedonia). For highly skilled workers filling shortage occupation roles, where there is a shortage of workers in the UK, the fee is reduced to £464 (or £409 for citizens of Turkey or Macedonia).
For skilled worker visa applications made outside the UK for more than 3 years the cost is £1,220 (or £1,165 for citizens of Turkey or Macedonia). For shortage occupation roles for a period of more than 3 years the cost is £928 (or £873 for citizens of Turkey or Macedonia).
To extend or switch your short-term visa from within the UK the application fee is £704 (or £649 for citizens of Turkey or Macedonia), and £1408 (£1353) for long-term visas. The cost of extending or switching your visa for shortage occupation roles remains the same as for applications made from outside the UK.
Additionally, you may also have to pay the immigration healthcare surcharge, currently set at £400 per year for Tier 2 skilled worker visa applicants. This must be paid in full when you submit your application, in addition to your visa application fee. Having paid the surcharge you will be entitled to receive free health services under the National Health Service in the UK.
How long does it take to get a UK work visa?
The earliest that you can apply for a skilled worker visa is 3 months before you are due to start work in the UK. The date you can start will be set out on your certificate of sponsorship.
When you apply from outside the UK you should get a decision from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) on your Tier 2 skilled worker visa within 3 weeks of attending your appointment at the visa application centre. If your application is not straightforward and more information is needed before a decision can be made, you will be informed within the standard timescales for your visa.
Where you are applying to extend or switch to a Tier 2 skilled worker visa from within the UK you may be able to apply under a priority service, where you will get a decision within 5 working days of your appointment, or by the next working day under the super priority service. There will, however, be an additional cost for this service.
Where your decision is likely to be delayed, and it is not possible to meet any priority service timescale, UKVI will still seek to prioritise your application at every stage of the decision-making process.
Changes after 1 January 2020
The UK will be implementing a new pints-based visa system for work visas from 1 January 2020. Under the new rules, all non-UK nationals, both EEA and non-EEA citizens, will have to apply for a visa to come to the UK to work.
The new system will also see changes to the existing Tier 2 (General) work visa category, including lowering the threshold for skilled workers and the minimum salary level. Read our full article here on the new system and how it will impact work visa applicants.
As UK immigration law specialists, we can assist if you have any queries relating to the UK skilled worker visa, as an employer or as a visa applicant with a UK job offer. Speak to our experts today for advice.
General Work Visa FAQs
What is Tier 2 General visa UK?
A Tier 2 General visa is one of the main immigration routes for working in the UK. It is designed for skilled migrant workers with the offer of a suitable job from a UK licensed sponsor to work in the UK, including to fill roles where there are not enough skilled workers in the domestic labour market to meet demand.
What is a highly skilled worker?
A highly skilled worker is any worker who has special skills, training, knowledge, and ability in their work. A skilled worker may have acquired certain academic or vocational qualifications, or have learned their skills on the job. This could range from PhD level occupations to those skilled to Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) Level 3.
What is a skilled job in the UK?
Under the Tier 2 skilled worker visa, a skilled job in the UK can include a wide range of jobs in various industry sectors, including IT, accountancy, teaching, engineering and healthcare. To be eligible, the job will need to fall within the codes of practice for skilled work under Appendix J of the Immigration Rules.
Last updated: 8 March 2020