Skilled worker visas are granted for up to 5 years. At the end of this period, to remain in the UK, you would either need to apply to extend your visa, or switch into a different visa category, or you may be eligible to apply to settle in the UK permanently. This is because the Skilled Worker visa offers holders a route to UK settlement, officially known as indefinite leave to remain (ILR).
The following guide looks at how to go from Skilled Worker visa to ILR, including the eligibility and application requirements.
What is indefinite leave to remain (ILR) for Skilled Workers?
Indefinite leave to remain (ILR) for Skilled Workers is permission to live in the UK on a permanent basis, free from immigration restrictions. This is in contrast to further leave to remain (FLR) on this route, which will also allow you to stay in the UK as a Skilled Worker, but for a limited period of time and subject to complying with your conditions of stay.
When it comes to leave to remain as a Skilled Worker, following your initial grant of leave, you must usually apply for FLR, before being eligible to apply for ILR. As a Skilled Worker visa-holder, you can apply to extend your visa as many times as you want under the rules, provided you continue to meet the relevant requirements on this route. However, once you become eligible for ILR, this will give you the right to live and work in the UK for as long as you like, without the need to apply for any further extensions of stay.
Having lived in the UK with ILR for an additional 12-month period, you will also be able to apply for British citizenship, giving you the right to hold a British passport.
What are the requirements to switch from a Skilled Worker visa to ILR?
A Skilled Worker visa will allow an overseas national to work in the UK in an eligible job role with a licensed sponsor for up to 5 years before they need to apply to extend this. It will also provide a path to settlement. This means that anyone who has held permission in the UK under the Skilled Worker route for a qualifying period of 5 years, either following their initial grant of leave or after any extension(s) of stay, can apply for ILR.
However, there are various requirements that must be met under Appendix Skilled Worker of the UK’s Immigration Rules, including a continuous residence requirement, a sponsorship and salary requirement, as well as a knowledge of life in the UK requirement.
Continuous residence requirement
To be eligible to switch from a Skilled Worker visa to ILR, you must have spent a continuous period of 5 years lawfully in the UK, although this 5-year period does not need to be made up solely of time spent on a Skilled Worker visa. Provided you have, or have last been granted, permission as a Skilled Worker when applying for ILR, your qualifying residence period can consist of time with permission on any of or any combination of:
- the Skilled Worker route
- the Scale-up route
- the Global Talent route
- the Innovator Founder route
- the T2 Minister of Religion route
- the International Sportsperson route
- the Representative of an Overseas Business route
- as a Tier 1 Migrant, other than as a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) Migrant.
Due to major disruption to Home Office services during the coronavirus pandemic, Skilled Worker applicants in the UK were permitted to start work for their sponsors while waiting for decisions on their applications. As such, any time while you were waiting on another immigration route in the UK between 24 January 2020 and 30 June 2021, but still able to work as a Skilled Worker, may also count towards your continuous 5-year period.
When it comes to any time spent outside the UK, absences from the UK must be considered in line with Appendix Continuous Residence. This provides that the period of time that an applicant can be absent from the UK without breaking their continuous residence is no more than 180 days in any 12-month period. However, there are certain scenarios in which any period spent outside the UK will not count towards this limit. This could be where your absence arose because of travel disruption due to natural disaster, military conflict or the pandemic. This could also be where there are compelling and compassionate personal circumstances, such as any life-threatening illness, or the illness or death of a close relative.
Sponsorship and salary requirement
To meet the sponsorship and salary requirement, the sponsor in your most recent permission must still be approved by the Home Office to sponsor Skilled Workers on the date of the decision on your application, not just the date of application itself.
Your sponsor will not be required to assign you a new Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), but they must confirm that they still require you to work for them for the foreseeable future. They must also confirm that you will paid a salary that meets the minimum threshold for settlement on this route, and that you will continue to be paid this salary, again for the foreseeable future. In most cases, this means that your salary must equal or exceed the general salary requirement of £26,200, the going rate for your job and £10.75 per hour.
If you were sponsored in your most recent permission for a job that falls within a shortage occupation, or for certain healthcare or education roles as set out under Appendix Skilled Occupations, there are different salary thresholds. In respect of any of these jobs, the salary must be at least £20,960, the going rate or £10.75 per hour, which is the higher.
These lower salary thresholds also apply to applications where the 5-year qualifying period for ILR includes time as a Tier 2 (General) Worker in a number of specified occupation codes. This includes scientists, natural and social science professionals, research and development managers, as well as higher education teaching professionals.
Knowledge of life in the UK requirement
To meet the knowledge of Life (KOL) in the UK requirement, you must satisfy the requirements as set out in Appendix KOL UK. This provides that unless you are aged 65 or over, or have a disability, including a physical or mental condition which prevents you from meeting the requirement, you must pass a ‘Life in the UK’ test before applying for ILR.
There are over 30 UK test centres to choose from, where you must book your ‘Life in the UK’ test at least 3 days in advance. You will be tested on the information contained in the official handbook that can be found online at GOV.UK. This is available as either a book, an eBook, an e-Learning subscription or in audio formats. You should study the handbook in detail to prepare for the test. The test itself will comprise 24 questions about British traditions and customs, where you will have 45 minutes to complete these questions.
If you pass the test, where you must score 75% or more to pass, you will be given a unique reference number. You will need this number to complete your application to switch from a Skilled Worker visa to ILR, where the Home Office will use it to check that you have passed.
Appendix KOL UK under the UK’s Immigration Rules should not be confused with Appendix KOLL. Appendix KOLL sets out how applicants for ILR must show sufficient knowledge of the English language and about life in the UK. When applying for settlement under the Skilled Worker route, as you will have already satisfied the English language requirement in your initial application, you will only need to demonstrate your knowledge of life in the UK.
When can you apply to switch from a Skilled Worker visa to ILR?
An application to switch from a Skilled Worker visa to ILR cannot be made sooner than 28 days before reaching the end of the qualifying 5-year residence period. If an application is submitted any sooner than 28 days prior to completion of this period, it will be refused.
How do you apply to switch from a Skilled Worker visa to ILR?
An application to switch from a Skilled Worker visa to ILR must be made online at GOV.UK. You must be in the UK when you apply, and apply prior to expiry of your existing visa. You may be asked to schedule an appointment to re-enrol your biometric information, although there is provision under the rules to re-use data from previous applications in many cases.
You will need various documents in support of your application for ILR, including a valid passport or other travel document. You will also need evidence from your UK sponsor that they still require you to work for them in your job role for the foreseeable future, and that you are paid, and will be paid a salary, that meets the minimum threshold for settlement. Your sponsor should not assign a new CoS for this purpose, where either an email or letter will be sufficient, provided this can be verified with the sponsor if necessary.
When considering whether you meet the sponsorship and salary requirement for settlement on the Skilled Worker route, the Home Office may want to check your PAYE records. Until automated PAYE checks are available, you should provide a payslip covering your most recent month’s pay, and either a bank or building society statement. These documents should be dated no earlier than 31 days before the date of your ILR application.
If you are on reduced or nil pay due to being absent from work, this will not necessarily pose a problem, provided this is for a permissible reason and your sponsor has explained in writing the reason for your pay reduction. This could include, for example, maternity leave, paternity leave, adoption leave or parental leave. In cases where you are absent from work or have returned from such an absence within the month before the date of your application, the Home Office should take into account the salary on your return to work.
How long does it take to switch from a Skilled Worker visa to ILR?
Having completed your application to switch from a Skilled Worker visa to ILR and submitted your documents in support, you should receive a decision on your application within 6 months, although you may be able to pay for a faster decision.
How much does it cost to switch from a Skilled Worker visa to ILR?
The cost to apply to switch from a Skilled Worker visa to ILR is £2,404. However, you will no longer be liable to pay the annual healthcare surcharge, where you will be able to access the UK’s National Health Service as a permanent resident if your application is approved.
To pay for a faster decision, where eligible, the 5-day priority service costs £573, while the next working day super priority service costs £956. These fees are in addition to the standard application fee. The cost to apply for your ‘Life in the UK’ test is currently £50, with an additional fee to obtain a copy of the official study handbook.
What happens if your visa expires during your ILR application?
If you apply to switch from a Skilled Worker visa to ILR, but your current visa expires while your application for settlement is being processed, you should still be able to stay in the UK and continue working in your existing job role. However, this will only usually be possible if you submit a valid ILR application prior to expiry of your existing leave to remain.
It is therefore essential that you make your application in time and that your application is valid. This means paying the correct fee and submitting the right documentation in support, and providing any additional documentation requested within the timeframe provided.
Can dependants on the Skilled Worker route apply for ILR?
If you are in the UK with dependants on the Skilled Worker route, they can also apply for ILR, provided they meet the relevant requirements. This can include your spouse or unmarried partner, and any dependent children under the age of 18.
To be eligible for ILR, dependants must meet the relevant relationship requirement, as well as a continuous residence requirement. For applicants aged over 18, they may also need to meet an English language and knowledge of life in the UK requirement.
DavidsonMorris are UK immigration and nationality specialists. We provide expert guidance and support to Skilled Worker visa holders, and their sponsors, through the ILR application process. Contact us to discuss your ILR application and options to remain in the UK.
Skilled Worker Visa to ILR FAQs
Does Skilled Worker visa lead to ILR?
A Skilled Worker visa can lead to indefinite leave to remain (ILR), also known as settlement, having lived continuously in the UK for 5 years. However, in addition to the continuous residence requirement, you must also meet other eligibility requirements.
Can I apply for ILR after 3 years of Skilled Worker visa?
The earliest that a Skilled Worker can apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) is 28 days before they have been continuously living in the UK for 5 years, where ILR on this route is not possible after 3 years.
Can I apply for ILR after 5 years Skilled Worker visa?
It is possible to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) after living in the UK for 5 years as a Skilled Worker visa-holder, although you must also meet the other eligibility requirements, such as a sponsorship and salary requirement.
Who can apply for ILR after 2 years?
It is no longer possible to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) in the UK after just 2 years on one of the work routes, although Global Talent and Innovator Founder visa-holders can apply for ILR after 3 years.
Last updated: 31 August 2023