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All you need to know about the Skilled Worker visa route
What is a Skilled Worker visa?
The Skilled Worker visa route replaced the Tier 2 (General) route in December 2020 and is part of the Home Office’s new ‘Points Based System’ under which both EU and non-EU nationals can apply for permission to work in the UK. The Skilled Worker route allows UK-based employers who are approved by the Home Office to ‘sponsor’ a migrant worker to work in a particular role, enabling them to apply for a visa to work in the UK in that role. The migrant worker can also bring their family members.
Successfully applying for a Skilled Worker visa requires cooperation between the employer (the ‘sponsor’) and the applicant, and detailed steps must be completed by each party in a specific order. The Skilled Worker system is complex, and it is easy to make a mistake which can have significant repercussions for both the employer and the applicant later on.
Why would I use the Skilled Worker route? Isn’t there a better option?
Whilst the UK’s immigration system has numerous routes and schemes, most of these require the applicant to have a specific ‘characteristic’ or connection to the UK, e.g.
If you are from a commonwealth country and you have a grandparent born in the UK...
...You probably qualify for an Ancestry visa
If you are married to a British citizen or someone with Indefinite Leave to Remain...
...You probably qualify for a spouse visa
If you have £2m to invest in the UK...
...You probably qualify for an Investor visa
If you’re a leader or potential leader in your industry...
...You might qualify for a Global Talent visa
If you meet the requirements of these routes, applying for one of these visas is nearly always preferable over a Skilled Worker visa, either because the application is easier and/or cheaper, or because the visa is far more flexible with what you can do in the UK. Even if you’re an employer, it’s normally worth supporting an employee with one of these visa applications if they qualify – it’s true that they won’t be tied to you as an employer, but they also won’t be restricted from changing roles within your organisation, and the application process could be a lot easier.
To summarise, it’s often necessary to make use of the Skilled Worker visa route simply because the applicant doesn’t qualify for a better visa.
What do I do if I don’t have an employer willing to sponsor me?
Finding an employer to sponsor you is an essential part of the process of applying for a Skilled Worker visa, and you cannot submit an application without one. Applying for a job in the UK when you require sponsorship can be a daunting task and many applicants ask themselves ‘why would an employer sponsor me when they could just hire a local worker?’ The majority of UK employers are keen to demonstrate a commitment to equality and diversity, but ultimately it too often boils down to the question ‘can I get the skills, qualifications and experience I need from a resident worker or someone on their own visa without having to overpay?’ If the answer is yes, then spending thousands on sponsoring someone for a Skilled Worker visa is rarely an attractive solution.
It often comes down to possessing skills, qualifications and experience that are in high demand and low supply in the UK.
Two recent changes have altered this dynamic in the favour of applicants:
a) Employers no longer need to conduct a Resident Labour Market Test. This test required that the job be advertised for 28 days, with employers not allowed to reject resident workers that met the stated requirements. This limited employers’ ability to determine who was the best applicant. With this requirement gone, employers now have more flexibility to simply hire the best person for the role, even if they require sponsorship.
b) With Brexit, the UK’s resident workforce has effectively shrunk – EU citizens can no longer move to the UK and work freely without a visa. EU citizens who are not already living in the UK are now in the same boat as non-EU citizens and must find an employer to sponsor them where they don’t qualify for another type of visa.
Sponsorship can also be a daunting task for employers – particularly those who don’t have a Sponsor Licence or only use it infrequently. This unfamiliarity with the rules – all too often not knowing where to start - can add to employers’ reluctance to sponsor an application.
What Visa? helps individuals and employers by first determining that an application is viable and then setting out, in plain English, what’s involved with the application and how to proceed. We find that this helps remove the mystery of sponsorship for many employers, and that they are more willing to sponsor as a result.
Is it really that difficult to sponsor a Skilled Worker visa?
Not if you know what you’re doing!
The challenges for first-time or infrequent users of the UK’s immigration system are that the law is complex, expansive, changes frequently and the consequences of getting it wrong are significant, particularly with employer led sponsorship. This means it’s not particularly easy or advisable to ‘muddle’ through an application to sponsor a migrant worker.
To give an example, if as a small employer you ‘muddle’ through submitting your tax return and get it wrong, the probable worst-case outcome is a demand for more tax and maybe a small fine. If you do the same with a Skilled Worker visa and get it wrong, the best-case outcome is that the application is refused, losing potentially £thousands in visa application fees, and you make the application again, successfully. The worst-case outcome is that the application is actually successful, but then the Home Office conduct an audit at some point over the next few years, discover your error, revoke your Sponsor Licence and any of your staff who hold a Skilled Worker or Tier 2 visa lose their visa and need to leave the UK.
Traditionally, employers have had to choose between two ways of navigating these complexities
a) Invest hours and hours of time reading (and re-reading) all of the relevant guidance and Immigration rules to obtain a reasonable degree of understanding of how the sponsorship system works. This amounts to many hundreds of pages, and typically sees changes every couple of months
b) Use an external lawyer to support the process. This typically costs in the region of £750 (for a company that already has a Sponsor Licence) to several £thousands (for a company without a Sponsor Licence)
At What Visa?, we believe there’s another option. We use a smart assessment engine that asks simple questions to determine whether a Skilled Worker application is viable, and then show you the information and guidance you need to know, condensed from the official rules and guidance documents. This enables a far wider range of employers to sponsor migrant workers without paying £thousands for lawyers and be confident that they’re not making mistakes. You might still decide to use an external lawyer, but by using What Visa? you’ll have a much better understanding of what you’re paying for.
Is my employer approved by the Home Office?
Thankfully, this is very easy to check – you can find a full list of employers that hold a Sponsor Licence on the official website here. You’ll need to verify that your employer or prospective employer has a Sponsor Licence with ‘Worker (A rating)’ in the Type & Rating column, and ‘Skilled Worker’ in the Route column. If they do – you’re good to go – your employer can log in to their Sponsor Management System and assign a Certificate of Sponsorship to you, once they’ve verified that sponsoring you is within the rules of the Skilled Worker immigration route.
If your employer is listed but doesn’t have an A rated Sponsor Licence covering the Skilled Worker route, they will likely need to apply to add this route to their Sponsor Licence.
If your employer isn’t listed at all, they’ll need to apply for a Sponsor Licence.
Is this job eligible for sponsorship?
In December 2020, the Home Office widened the list of eligible jobs significantly, and it now covers everything from roofers and plumbers to doctors, accountants and CEOs. The full list of eligible jobs can be found in the Immigration Rules... Or you can just search for your job on What Visa? and we’ll tell you whether it’s eligible for sponsorship.
The job isn’t in a Shortage Occupation….. Is an application even possible?
This is one of the most commonly misunderstood aspects of the Skilled Worker immigration route. There is absolutely no requirement that the job be on the Shortage Occupation List for a Skilled Worker application to be viable. Certain jobs are on the Shortage Occupation List - think scientists, engineers and teachers - and applications for these jobs benefit from a lower minimum salary threshold and a slightly cheaper application fee, but that’s it. The What Visa? assessment engine will tell you whether a job is on the list and the impact this has on the minimum salary threshold.
Also, since December 2020, there’s no longer a requirement to advertise the role and show there are no suitable British or settled workers who can do the job. Of course the role still has to be genuine, but if a migrant worker has a particular skill set or just great experience within the company itself, there’s no reason they can’t be sponsored for a Skilled Worker visa. Sure, it’s expensive, but the key change is that whether or not to sponsor the migrant worker is now primarily a commercial decision by the employer, rather than simply being prohibited.
What’s the minimum salary for this job? Do I need to be paid £25,600?
This is one of the more complicated aspects of the new Skilled Worker system. If you read the news, you’ve probably heard that migrant workers need to be paid at least £25,600, but this is really a gross oversimplification. There are plenty of scenarios in which the applicant can be paid less than this, e.g. if they have a relevant PhD or under 26. But you also have to take into account the ‘Going Rate’ for the job and how many hours the applicant will work, and in many cases the salary will need to be more than £25,600. There are a lot of factors to consider – of course these are all detailed in the Immigration Rules. Alternatively, in less than 5 minutes, the What Visa? assessment engine will guide you through the process, asking you relevant questions and calculating the exact minimum salary threshold for the job and applicant.
What’s a Certificate of Sponsorship and how do I get one?
A Certificate of Sponsorship, often abbreviated to ‘CoS’, is a crucial part of a Skilled Worker application. It is essentially a ‘virtual’ document issued by the employer that contains information relating to the applicant, such as their passport details and the role the applicant will be performing, such as the job title, hours and salary. By issuing or ‘assigning’ - to use the same term as the Home Office - a CoS, an employer is committing to sponsor the named individual in that specific role. Any changes to the information contained on the CoS must normally be reported to the Home Office and in some cases, such as some changes to job title, the Home Office must approve the change before it can occur.
An employer must have a Sponsor Licence before they can assign a Certificate of Sponsorship. Every employer that has a Sponsor Licence will have credentials to login to the Sponsor Management System – essentially a Home Office online portal the employer can use to assign and manage Certificates of Sponsorship.
Certificates of Sponsorship for a Skilled Worker application come in one of two varieties:
Defined CoS (‘DCoS’) – These are for Skilled Worker visa applications to be submitted from outside of the UK. This includes situations where the applicant is currently outside the UK or is in the UK but has a visa that does not enable switching inside the UK, such as a visitor visa. Employers must request each DCoS from the Home Office before they can assign it to the applicant, including details of the job and salary with each request. These requests are typically considered within 24 hours, and once granted, the employer can assign the DCoS straight away. If they have all the relevant information relating to the job and applicant to hand, this can be done in 10 minutes.
Undefined CoS (normally just referred to as CoS) – These are for Skilled Worker visa applications to be submitted from inside the UK, e.g. where the applicant is inside the UK with a visa that allows them to switch or extend from within the UK, e.g. a Tier 2 or Tier 4 visa.