The Skilled Worker visa UK scheme is now the primary immigration route for migrants from around the world who wish to come to the UK to work. The Skilled Worker immigration route, enables immigrants with the necessary skills to be sponsored by a licenced UK employer. It also provides a pathway to permanent residency after a qualifying period, and ultimately British citizenship. The route replaced the Tier 2 (General) visa scheme which was phased out at the end of 2020. The following information explains how the UK Skilled Worker immigration route works from the perspective of the employee and employer.
UK Skilled Worker
If you plan to come to the UK to work in a skilled role for a sponsoring business, you will need a Skilled Worker visa. With a Skilled Worker visa, you will be granted entry at the UK border for the purpose of working for your sponsor. The scheme is open to those with skills at RQF Level 3 or above in an eligible occupation.
Skilled Worker visa holders can further extend their visa before it expires, and after a qualifying period of five years, apply for indefinite leave to remain and British citizenship one year later. If you are considering applying for a UK Skilled Worker visa, you will need to secure a job offer and ensure that you meet the eligibility criteria, as outlined below.
What Are The Eligibility Requirements I Need To Meet For A Skilled Worker Visa?
To secure a Skilled Worker visa, you will need to meet the following eligibility criteria:
- Have a job offer from a UK employer
- Your employer must be on the list of licenced sponsors approved by the Home Office
- Your employer must have issued you with a valid ‘Certificate of Sponsorship’
- The job for which you are being employed must be on the list of eligible occupations
- Meet the skill level requirement
- Meet the minimum salary requirements
- Meet the English language requirements
- Have £1,270 in your bank account to show you can support yourself in the UK
Further details on each of these eligibility criteria are explained below.
How Long Can I Stay In The UK?
The Skilled Worker visa is a long-term visa and will be initially granted for a period of up to five years (this will depend on the duration of your Certificate of Sponsorship). It is important to note that your visa is only valid as long as you remain in the same role with your sponsoring employer.
Before your visa expires and if you intend to stay longer in the UK, it is essential that you take action, either by extending your current visa, applying for a new visa (e.g. a spouse visa if you have married or entered into a civil partnership during your time in the UK), or applying for indefinite leave to remain.
The key point is that you can extend your visa as many times as you wish, as long as you still meet the eligibility criteria and you are still sponsored by the same employer.
Can I Switch To Another Visa Category From Within The UK?
Yes, in most cases, you will be able to ‘switch’ to a Skilled Worker visa if you are already in the UK on a different visa type. ‘Switching’ means that you can apply for a Skilled Worker visa from within the UK (i.e. you do not need to leave the UK to submit your application). To switch to a Skilled Worker visa, you will need to meet the eligibility criteria listed above. The only circumstances under which it is not possible to switch to a Skilled Worker visa within the UK are if you currently hold one of the following types of leave:
- UK visitor visa
- Short-term study visa
- Parent of a Child Student visa
- Seasonal worker visa
- Domestic worker in a private household visa
- Immigration bail
- Given permission to stay outside the immigration rules (e.g. on compassionate grounds)
How Much Does It Cost For A UK Skilled Worker Visa?
There are several costs that prospective migrant workers should be aware of before applying for a Skilled Worker visa, as follows:
The Skilled Worker visa application fee
The Skilled Worker visa application fee depends on where you are applying from, how long your visa will last, and whether you are in a role on the shortage occupation list. The fees are as follows:
- If you are applying from outside the UK
- For a visa of up to three years: £610 per person
- For a visa of more than three years: £1,220 per person
- If you are applying from inside the UK (this applies if you are switching from a different visa type or you are applying to update your visa – perhaps to a different employer).
- For a visa of up to three years: £704 per person
- For a visa of more than three years: £1,408 per person
- If you are applying from inside or outside the UK for a role on the shortage occupation list
- For a visa of up to three years: £464 per person
- For a visa of more than three years: £928 per person
If you are from any of the following countries, your Skilled Worker application fee will be reduced by £55 (this only applies to the main applicant):
Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden or Turkey.
You will need to pay £19.20 per person to have your biometric information scanned and enrolled (i.e. your photo and fingerprints). This information is required for your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP).
The healthcare surcharge is paid by immigrants to the UK to cover the cost of using the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). For adults, the cost is £624 per person per year; for children under 18, the cost is £470. For example, the cost of the healthcare surcharge for the main applicant and their spouse for three years would be £3,744. This must be paid when you complete the online application process. If applying by post, you will be required to pay the healthcare surcharge before applying.
Can My Family Members Join Me In The UK?
Yes, Skilled Worker holders can bring their eligible family members to live with them in the UK (these are referred to as ‘dependants’). A dependant family member may include your:
- Spouse or partner: you must be married or in a civil partnership that is legally recognised in the UK or have been living together for at least two years
- Child under the age of 18: in addition to being financially supported by you, they must live with you or be in full-time education in a UK boarding school, and they must not be married or in a civil partnership
A separate application will need to be made for each eligible family member. The Global Web Form (GWF) or a Unique Application Number (UAN) for the main visa holder should be added to each application to ensure they are linked together.
Apply From Outside The UK
The process of applying for a Skilled Worker visa from outside of the UK is completed online on the Home Office website. You will be in a position to complete and submit your application once you have your job offer, Certificate of Sponsorship, and the supporting information listed below. If necessary, you can complete part of the application and save your progress, allowing you to complete the process at a later date.
Before you start the application form, we recommend ensuring you have to hand:
- your Certificate of Sponsorship reference number
- proof of your knowledge of English
- a valid passport or other document that shows your identity and nationality
- your job title and annual salary
- your job’s occupation code
- the name of your employer and their sponsor licence number (as shown on your Certificate of Sponsorship)
Once you have completed the application form and paid the required fees, you will be advised of the next steps and which documents you will need to send to support your case. Some of the documents you may need to provide include:
- Your passport (with a blank page)
- Evidence of sufficient personal savings to support yourself
- Proof of your relationship to your spouse/partner and children (e.g. marriage and birth certificates)
- A criminal record certificate (this is only necessary for certain occupation types involving vulnerable individuals such as healthcare and education)
- Proof of your English language proficiency
- TB test results (if you are from a country for which this is required)
- UK PhD certificate or Ecctis reference if your PhD is not from the UK
You will also be advised how you can prove your identity and supply your biometrics (i.e. fingerprints and photo) for your Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). This can be done either by having your fingerprints and photo taken at a visa application centre in the country in which you are located or by using the Home Office’s mobile phone ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app. The app allows you to scan your identity documents and upload these to the Home Office.
As outlined above, your dependant family members (your spouse/partner and children) will need to apply separately and link their application to yours.
Requirements for A Valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)
A Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is a digital document that contains information about the role for which you are being sponsored, including your role title and type, your work start and end dates, gross salary, your sponsor licence number, and the date of expiry.
As outlined above, to apply for a Skilled Worker visa, you will need a valid CoS from your UK employer. In order to issue you with a CoS, your employer/sponsor must be ‘A-rated’ on the list of UK sponsors. It is advisable to check this is the case before applying to avoid the potential for a delay or refusal.
Meeting The Genuine Vacancy Requirement
As part of the application vetting process, the Home Office will verify that the role you have been offered is for a genuine vacancy. This is to prevent the sponsorship system from being abused, e.g. for roles that do not exist or for the sole purpose of helping someone to migrate to the UK. They will check that:
- The role you have been offered is on the list of eligible occupations (outlined above)
- The role has not been ‘inflated’ from an occupation that is not eligible to one that is
- You have the skills, experience, and/or qualifications necessary to carry out the role you have been offered
- You will not be working for a third-party who is not your sponsor
If there is any doubt that the role is genuine or that you are suitable for the role, it is likely that your application for a Skilled Worker visa will be refused.
Immigration Skills Charge Requirement
Sponsor licence holders are required to pay fees to the Home Office each time they recruit an overseas worker. The immigration skills charge is payable if:
- The applicant is outside the UK when applying and will be working in the UK for at least six months
- The applicant is in the UK when applying (regardless of how long the visa will be required)
The charge is also not payable for workers in certain occupation codes, including the following:
- chemical scientists (2111)
- biological scientists and biochemists (2112)
- physical scientists (2113)
- social and humanities scientists (2114)
- natural and social science professionals not elsewhere classified (2119)
- research and development managers (2150)
- higher education teaching professionals (2311)
- clergy (2444)
- sports players (3441)
- sports coaches, instructors or officials (3442)
The immigration skills charge is paid when issuing a new Certificate of Sponsorship on the Home Office’s Sponsorship Management System (SMS) portal.
The current immigration skills charge is:
- For the first 12 months: £364 for Small or charitable sponsors, £1,000 for Medium or large sponsors
- For each additional six months: £182 for Small or charitable sponsors, £500 for Medium or large sponsors
English Language Requirement
You can meet the English language requirement in one of three ways:
- Pass an approved test in reading, writing, speaking, and understanding English. This must be at least at level B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).
- Having completed a course of study taught in English (e.g. a degree)
- Being a national of a qualifying country: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Malta, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, or the USA.
Meeting The Appropriate Skill Level Requirement
UK Visas and Immigration will only grant a Skilled Worker visa for roles that are on the list of eligible occupations. You must also have the necessary skills and/or experience to fulfil the role for which you are being hired in the UK. To double-check if your occupation is eligible, you may need to request the standard occupation code (SOC) from your employer.
Applicants for a Skilled Worker role and visa must have skills that are at least equivalent to RQF level 3 (this is the same as an A-level qualification in the UK). This does not mean that you need to hold a certain level of qualification, rather that the vacancy must require a person with skills of this level.
Salary Threshold Requirement
The minimum salary is typically £25,600 per year or £10.10 per hour (whichever is higher). This is not always the case, however. The Home Office publishes a list of ‘going rates’ for certain occupations. If you are in an occupation with a higher ‘going rate’, then your salary will need to match this larger amount.
If you are in an eligible healthcare or education occupation, your ‘going rate’ will be based on the UK’s national pay scales.
There are also exceptions to the minimum salary requirement for UK work visa, which mean you may be eligible if you have a lower salary, as long as it is not lower than £20,480 per year or £10.10 per hour. You can be paid less than £25,600 if:
- your role is in a shortage occupation, or;
- you are under 26, studying or a recent graduate, or in professional training, or;
- you have a science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) PhD level qualification, which is specific to your occupation, or;
- you have a postdoctoral position in science or higher education
Processing Time For A Skilled Worker Visa
The processing time for a Skilled Worker visa depends on where you apply. Decisions are typically made within three weeks for those applying outside of the UK and up to eight weeks if applying in the UK. You can apply for your visa for up to three months before you plan to start work. It is important to note that these processing times apply from when you have submitted your application, paid your fees, provided any supporting documents requested by the Home Office, and had your identity checked. Delays can occur if further checks or additional supporting documents are needed.
If time is of the essence, you may also be able to pay to have your decision made faster. The Priority Service (at a cost of £500) provides a decision within five working days, and the Super Priority Service (at a cost of £800) provides a decision within one working day. If you are outside of the UK, you will need to check whether your local visa application centre provides this faster service.
Skilled Worker Visa Conditions of Stay
Once granted, your Skilled Worker visa will come with a set of conditions that you must abide by. Any breach of these conditions may result in your Skilled Worker visa being cancelled and may jeopardise your chance of making a successful visa application in the future.
With a Skilled Worker, you will be able to:
- work in the role for which you have been sponsored
- bring your eligible dependant family members to join you in the UK
- work up to 20 hours per week in the same occupation code with a different employer (or in a shortage occupation)
- undertake unpaid voluntary work
- travel freely overseas and come back to the UK (bearing in mind if you plan to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the future, you will need to ensure you do not exceed 180 days outside of the UK in any consecutive year)
- apply for indefinite leave to remain after five continuous years in the UK
Under the conditions of your visa, you will not be able to change to another employer or work in a different role with your current employer without applying for a new Skilled Worker visa. You will also not be able to access public funds (such as state benefits).
Qualifying For Permanent Residency In The UK
One of the main benefits of the Skilled Worker visa is that if you do plan to stay in the UK permanently, rather than just extending your visa, you can acquire permanent residency by applying for indefinite leave to remain after five years. To do so, you must meet the continuous residence requirement, meaning that you must not have been outside of the UK for more than 180 days in any of the five years. Once you have indefinite leave to remain, you will not need to make any more visa applications or pay the immigration healthcare surcharge, and you will be able to apply for UK citizenship after 12 months.
It is important to note that the five years required to qualify for ILR can be made up of time on a range of visas, including the Representative of an Overseas Business visa, Innovator visa, Global Talent visa, Tier 2 visa (Minister of Religion or Sportsperson), or a Tier 1 visa. Time spent on the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur scheme cannot be included, however.
In addition, to qualify for ILR, you will need to provide evidence that:
- you have passed the Life in the UK test (for those between 18 and 65)
- you are still employed by the same sponsor licence holder
- you still meet the minimum salary requirements outlined above
- you have sufficient English language skills
Salary Threshold Required For ILR
The salary requirements for ILR are broadly the same as for the Skilled Worker visa itself. To qualify for ILR, you will need to be paid a salary of at least £25,600 or the going rate for your occupation (if this is higher). The lower threshold of £20,480 also applies if you are in a healthcare or education role, you are in a shortage occupation, or if you are in one of the following occupations:
- 2111 Chemical scientists
- 2112 Biological scientists and biochemists
- 2113 Physical scientists
- 2114 Social and humanities scientists
- 2119 Natural and social science professionals not elsewhere classified
- 2150 Research and development managers
- 2311 Higher education teaching professionals
Unlike the Skilled Worker visa salary requirements, however, you cannot trade a PhD level qualification for a lower salary.
Extending Your Skilled Worker Visa
You will be able to extend your visa before it expires as long as you are still with the same sponsor/employer, you are still in the same occupation (this must be in the same occupation code as your current visa). If you plan to change your job or employer, you will need to apply for a new visa rather than extend your current visa.
It is possible to extend your visa as many times as you wish. When applying, you will need to pay the application fee, the biometric fee, and the immigration healthcare surcharge. If you plan to remain in the UK permanently and you have already spent five continuous years in the UK, you may be eligible for permanent residency (see the section on indefinite leave to remain).
Once you have submitted your visa extension application, it will not matter if your visa then expires as you will have the right to remain and work while your case is being decided. Decisions are typically made within eight weeks once you have submitted your application form, any supporting documents, and your identity information has been processed.
Updating Your Visa If You Change Job Or Employer
You will need to apply for a new visa if you wish to:
- Change employer
- Change occupation
- Change occupation code
- Change from an occupation on the shortage occupation list for one not on the list
Assuming your current work visa is still valid, you will be able to apply from within the UK and continue living and working here until a decision is made by the Home Office.
It will also be necessary to apply for a new visa if you take on a second role with a different employer in a different occupation.
Your application to change job or employer can be made up to three months before the start date of your new role. It is important to apply as early as possible as it may take up to eight weeks to receive a decision on your application. You should not start working for your new employer until you have received a positive decision on your application.
Applying for Permanent Residency As A Skilled Worker
When applying for settlement as a Skilled Worker (indefinite leave to remain), it is important to understand how your application will be assessed. In addition to meeting the eligibility criteria outlined above, including the continuous residence period, your ongoing sponsorship and salary, and whether you have passed the Life in the UK test, the Home Office will also weigh up whether you meet the criteria for validity and suitability.
The validity requirements state that you must be in the UK, have paid any fees and charges, provided your biometrics, and have supplied your passport. When assessing the suitability rules, the Home Office will check that you do not fall into any of the grounds for refusal or have been in breach of the immigration rules. The grounds for refusal include acts of criminality, making false representations to the Home Office, involvement in a sham partnership/marriage, or you have been excluded following an asylum or humanitarian application.
If you are planning to make an application for ILR in the near future, it is important that you take the time to understand the requirements in full, complete the application form accurately and honestly, and gather all of the supporting documents requested by the Home Office. An immigration Solicitor can review your application prior to submission, or if you prefer, handle the whole process on your behalf. Immigration Solicitors understand all of the eligibility criteria and the process which Home Office case officers follow to assess your application. Where any issues are found, your Solicitor can provide solutions, and if needed, draft a comprehensive covering letter to accompany your application to explain any potential anomalies which may be questioned by your case officer.