How to choose an occupation code when making a Skilled Worker application

From the What Visa? blog


Skilled Worker visas


23 Feb, 2021

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What Visa?

So you've decided you want to apply for a Skilled Worker visa. What should you do next? The first step in assessing the viability of any application is always to choose the most appropriate occupation code for the job in question. It’s important to get this right from the outset, because the occupation code you choose determines not only the ‘skill level’ of the job in the Home Office’s view, but also the minimum salary that a migrant worker will need to be paid to be sponsored in the role. Trying to correct a mistake at a later stage can prove extremely problematic.

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the most appropriate occupation code is selected. Where more than one code is relevant to the job in question, the employer should choose the one that is closest to the job.

Ok, so what is an occupation code?

An occupation code is a 4-digit code that aligns with the Office for National Statistics’ Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) system. Put simply, there is a different code for each category of jobs. Here are a few examples:

  • 1132 - Marketing and sales directors
  • 3113 - Engineering technicians
  • 5431 – Butchers

In the past, Home Office guidance used to refer to these codes as ‘SOC codes’, matching the ONS nomenclature. Current guidance instead uses the term ‘occupation codes’, but rest assured they are exactly the same thing.

As well as the 4-digit code and the name of the code, the Home Office publishes the following extra snippets of information for each occupation code:

  • Around 5-10 alternative job titles that also fit within the code
  • The Going Rate for the occupation code – that is, the minimum salary that a migrant worker must be paid to be sponsored for a Skilled Worker visa to perform that job
  • Whether jobs fitting within the code are eligible for a Skilled Worker application
  • Whether migrant workers can receive additional points for holding a PhD when making an application for a job within the code.

There are currently 369 occupation codes, and up until December 2020, only a quarter of occupation codes were eligible for sponsorship. In December the Home Office opened the Skilled Worker route up to a much wider range of occupations - two thirds of occupation codes are now eligible for sponsorship.

How do employers pick the right code?

The obvious (if somewhat time-consuming) approach is simply to look through the 369 occupation codes listed on the Home Office’s website, perhaps searching within the 1,500 or so example job titles given there. Frequently this turns up several similar occupation codes and it becomes necessary to compare the codes to see which is the most appropriate.

Faced with what often ends up being a laborious process for employers, we created a comprehensive occupation code search engine. In addition to allowing users to search from all the data contained on the Home Office website and displaying similar codes alongside one another, we also search from the much larger ONS dataset. This contains over 24,000 example job titles along with example job activities and an overarching description of the occupation code – information that is simply not available from the Home Office website. This makes it significantly quicker and easier to find the right occupation code.

What happens if the wrong code is chosen?

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that the most appropriate occupation code is selected. Where more than one code is relevant to the job in question, the employer should choose the one that is closest to the job. If asked, the Home Office will not offer advice on which code an employer should use, so it is important to consider all relevant occupation codes before picking one, regardless of the skill level and Going Rate attached to the code.

In particular, the Home Office is on the look out for employers who deliberately use an inappropriate occupation code to enable sponsorship where it would otherwise have been impossible, e.g.

a) Where the chosen code has a lower Going Rate than the more appropriate ‘correct’ code
b) Where the chosen code is eligible for sponsorship and the more appropriate ‘correct’ code is not, usually because it is considered to be ‘lower-skilled’

Where this goes wrong, there are a few possible outcomes, but they are all difficult, impossible or expensive to fix.

If you choose an occupation code that is eligible for the Skilled Worker route and the Home Office later decides, perhaps via a site-visit, that a different occupation code is more appropriate for the job in question, this can result in your Sponsor Licence being downgraded or revoked. In the latter case, all employees holding Tier 2 or Skilled Worker status would also have their visas revoked.

Where the employee would like to change jobs at a later date, even within the same employer, if the new job fits within a different occupation code, a whole new Skilled Worker application is required – the employer must assign a new Certificate of Sponsorship and the employee must make an application for Further Leave to Remain in the UK. Careful review of the relevant occupation codes at the start of the process can in some scenarios offer more flexibility going forward – allowing job changes without necessitating a whole new application.

For a simpler, quicker and more comprehensive approach to selecting an occupation code for your Skilled Worker application, start your assessment with What Visa? here, completely free of charge.