The UK’s Tier 2 visa for skilled workers has been replaced by the Skilled Worker visa.
With effect from 1 December 2020, visa applications from skilled workers are to be made under the new route which forms part of the UK’s new points-based immigration system.
The new route goes live in advance of the end of EU freedom of movement on 31 December 2020. From 1 January 2021, all non-UK residents including EU and non-EEA nationals coming to the UK, will be subject to immigration control and will need to apply for permission to work in the UK.
Similarities between the Tier 2 visa and Skilled Worker visa
Skilled Worker applicants will need to accumulate 70 points to be eligible. The Skilled Worker visa still requires sponsorship from a licensed employer with a valid sponsorship licence.
The English language requirement is also still in place, although applicants who have studied in the UK should in most cases be able to rely on their UK qualification to meet the standard, and the requirement only needs to be evidenced to the Home Office once.
While there are many similarities between the old and new route, the changes are more than just a ‘rebrand’.
Differences between the Tier 2 visa and Skilled Worker visa
There are significant differences between the old Tier 2 (General) and new Skilled Worker visa, which employers and sponsored workers will need to be aware of. Many of the changes are welcomed as they open the Skilled Worker route up to a larger pool of potential applicants than its predecessor.
Lower minimum salary threshold
The general minimum salary requirement has been lowered for the Skilled Worker visa, although determining the relevant threshold remains complicated and levels will vary depending on the job,
The general minimum salary for the Skilled Worker visa is either £25,600 per annum or the going rate for the role, whichever is higher.
The threshold can be lowered if certain conditions apply, although no skilled worker applicant can be paid an annual salary lower than £20,480. If the role is a current shortage occupation or if the applicant has a PhD in a related field or STEM subject, the threshold can be reduced.
New entrants can be eligible with a job offer with a salary at the higher amount of either £20,480 or 70% of the going rate for their job. New entrants are those under 26, those switching into the skilled worker route from the student route, a graduate or a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur).
Lower skill level
For the Skilled Worker visa, the required skill level has been reduced from Level 6 to at least Level 3 of the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF). This is A-level standard.
This is intended to open the route to a larger number of occupations.
Suspension of visa cap
The Tier 2 visa cap which limited how many visas could be issued each year has been suspended for the Skilled Worker route. This change will be kept under review and the cap may, however, be reintroduced at a later date.
Greater flexibility for switching into the Skilled Worker route
The Tier 2 visa involved strict rules on visa switching and applying in-country from a different visa category. The Skilled Worker route is more flexible, for example, allowing ICT visa holders to switch in-country without having to leave the UK or wait for a cooling off period.
Restrictions still apply however to individuals with a visitor, short-term student, parent of a child at school, seasonal worker or domestic worker visa or those have been granted leave outside of the immigration rules.
Changes to Certificates of Sponsorship
Restricted and unrestricted Certificates of Sponsorship have been replaced with a new system. Undefined CoS are for individuals switching to the skilled worker category from within the UK, or applying under one of the other visa routes from within the UK or overseas.
For out of country skilled worker visa applications, (not ICT applications), sponsors will need to apply for a Defined CoS. This is a specific application to the Home Office, and details of the specific job and salary will need to be provided.
Removal of Resident Labour Market Test
The RLMT has been abolished and employers will no longer be required to show they meet the strict requirements of the RLMT. However, sponsors will still be required to prove that the role is a genuine vacancy, and retain documents and records in relation to the recruitment process for the job.
Skilled Worker visa to ILR
Unlike the Tier 2 visa, there is no maximum amount of time that can be spent in the UK on a Skilled Worker visa, provided the leave remains valid and extensions are applied for as required to maintain lawful status.
In the same way as the Tier 2 visa, Skilled Worker visa holders can become eligible for ILR after 5 years continuous lawful residence. The minimum salary threshold for ILR has been removed, although Skilled Worker to ILR applicants will need to meet the minimum salary requirements for their occupation.
Skilled Worker dependants
Skilled worker dependants such as a spouse, ‘durable’ partner and children under 18, can apply to join the skilled worker, provided eligibility requirements are met, such as sufficient maintenance funds being evidenced.
PBS dependants are then able to work or study while in the UK.
Impact for employers
UK employers should not underestimate the impact of the immigration changes on their recruitment and onboarding processes.
Any non-UK resident worker coming to the UK for a skilled role from 1 January 2021 must be sponsored. Some employers who previously have employed EU workers without sponsorship will now have to meet the sponsorship requirements to employ any migrant skilled worker. The sponsorship process entails an extensive application process, with fees to pay and the leadtime for recruitment will be longer.
However, employers who currently hold a valid sponsorship licence to hire Tier 2 workers will not need to reapply for a new licence to hire skilled workers.
Existing EU workers who are already in the UK by 31 December 2020 will not be subject to the new UK immigration rules, provided they register under the EU settlement scheme by 30 June 2021. Employers are urged to ensure any EU workers are aware of this requirement and that they make the application (which is free) in advance of the deadline to retain their lawful status.
Existing Tier 2 visa holders
For existing Tier 2 visa holders, the terms of their leave and visa will be unchanged.
To extend their period of leave on expiry of their Tier 2 visa, they will need to apply under the Skilled Worker visa, and in doing so evidence that they meet all of the visa requirements.
DavidsonMorris are specialist UK immigration lawyers. We work with UK employers to support their talent mobility, recruitment and onboarding programmes. If you have a question about the new immigration rules and sponsoring talent under the Skilled Worker visa route, contact us.
Last updated: 1 December 2020