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Launch of new Graduate route and changes to Skilled Worker route announced

18 March 2021

The Home Office is launching a new Graduate route from 1 July 2021 and is making amendments to Skilled Worker route from 6 April 2021

These include changes to the shortage occupation list, eligible occupations, salary calculation rules and compliance requirements where a salary is reduced.

These changes are set out in Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules HC 1248, which was published on 4 March 2021. We share our views on the implications of the main changes below, as well as flagging other changes most likely to be of interest to employers.

Graduate route

From 1 July 2021 international students who have successfully completed an eligible qualification as a Student (including Tier 4 student) after a period of physically studying in the UK will be able to apply in-country for further permission to stay under a new Graduate route. Successful applicants will be granted immigration permission for three years if they completed a PhD or other doctorate, or two years for any other eligible qualification.

Interestingly, the list of eligible qualifications for the Graduate route is broader than those recognised for eligibility under the new entrant requirements for Skilled Worker, and includes the following:

  • UK bachelor or UK post-graduate degree
  • Law conversion course valid in England and Wales
  • Legal Practice Course (LPC) or equivalent
  • Bar Practice Course or equivalent
  • Foundation programme in medicine or dentistry
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) or Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PGDE)
  • Professional course requiring study at UK bachelor level or above in a profession with reserved activities regulated by UK law or a UK public authority

The implication of this discrepancy is that unless a Student is eligible to apply under the Skilled Worker route as a new entrant on a basis other than their completed UK studies, they may need to switch into the Graduate route and then into Skilled Worker in order to start the clock running towards settlement based on the lower salary threshold for new entrants.

Graduate route migrants will be allowed to undertake any work at any skill level, and to study in the UK provided this is not on a course that would normally require sponsorship as a Student. They will also be able to apply under the Skilled Worker route using the new entrant tradeable points criteria if they apply within two years of holding immigration permission under the Graduate route, noting that time spent in the Graduate route will count towards the four year maximum time that a person can hold immigration permission as a new entrant.

Time spent in the Graduate route will not be counted towards settlement other than based on ten years continuous lawful residence in the UK.

Graduate route migrants will be allowed to be accompanied by dependants, but only if the dependants were in the UK as the graduate’s Student dependant or born in the UK while the graduate had immigration permission as a student. There is no direct provision for child dependants born while the graduate has immigration permission under the Graduate route, which appears to be a drafting error. Unless such a provision is made in the future, they will need to apply under a general provision for children born in the UK to parents with limited immigration permission.

Skilled Worker route

Amendments are made to salary requirements, the Shortage Occupation List and occupations eligible for sponsorship for applications made from 6 April 2021.

Amendments to salary requirements – new £10.10 minimum hourly rate

A minimum hourly rate of £10.10 is being introduced for the route. This equates to the hourly rate a person being paid an annual salary of £20,480 (the minimum general salary floor for the Skilled Worker route) would receive for a 39-hour week.

Employers who have assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship before 6 April 2021 that does not meet the new requirement will need to consider whether the related immigration application can be submitted on or before 5 April 2021. If it cannot, they will need to consider whether the salary and/or hours worked per week can be revised, and if appropriate, make the change using a sponsor note. The applicant will also need to be advised of any changes.

Individuals who have already  immigration permission based on a salary that does not comply with the new minimum hourly rate will be able to extend their immigration permission as a Skilled Worker at their existing hourly rate due to a transitional arrangement. However, the hourly rate will be applied at the point at which people who benefit from the transitional arrangement apply for settlement.

As a reminder, no discounts apply to the going rates that the applicant must be paid when applying for settlement as a Skilled Worker. This may mean that in order to qualify for settlement, some Skilled Workers, eg those who scored tradeable points based on a discounted going rate, will need to have their salary increased so that it meets all of the following:

  • The general salary threshold applicable to them (£20,480/£23,040/£25,600);
  • £10.10 per hour; and
  • The full going rate for their role.

Amendments to salary requirements – Certain science and Higher education teaching roles

When the Skilled Worker route was introduced, the going rates for skilled occupations were reviewed, resulting in substantial increases in the going rate for the following Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) codes:

  • 2113 Physical scientists
  • 2119 Natural and social science professionals not elsewhere classified
  • 2311 Higher education teaching professionals

A transitional arrangement is being made so that individuals who were last granted immigration permission under Tier 2 General in these SOC codes can extend their stay and settle in the UK on the basis of a table setting out lower going rates than apply to other Skilled Workers in the same occupations, provided they apply by 30 November 2026.

Amendments to Shortage Occupation List

The UK-wide Shortage Occupation list is being expanded for applications made on or after 6 April 2021, to include roles under the following health and care sector SOC codes:

  • 1181 Health services and public health managers and directors
  • 1242 Residential, day and domiciliary care managers and proprietors
  • 3111 Laboratory technicians
  • 6146 Senior care workers
  • 2213 Pharmacists
  • 2219 Health professionals not elsewhere classified
  • 2221 Physiotherapists
  • 6141 Nursing auxiliaries and assistants
 Secondary teaching professionals (SOC 2314) in modern foreign languages are also recognised as a shortage occupation and SOC 5434 Chefs are removed on the basis that they now qualify under the main Skilled Worker route and at a lower salary level than required on the Shortage Occupation List.

These changes partly adopt the recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) in September last year, which the Home Office deferred acting on immediately due to uncertainty around the labour market effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employers should note that to be eligible for 20 tradeable points due to the role being a recognised shortage occupation, the salary paid for individuals filling shortage occupations must still meet the £20,480 minimum salary threshold or 80% of the going rate for the role, whichever is higher. This is different from the previous position under Tier 2 General, where inclusion on the shortage occupation list automatically entitled the applicant to points. A potential trap is that the going rate for Band 3 healthcare occupations is £19,737 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, so employers for these roles must ensure sponsored individuals are paid at least a basic salary of £20,480.

New occupations eligible for sponsorship

Deckhands on large (nine metre plus) fishing vessels and vent chick sexers have been made eligible for sponsorship, also following the MAC’s recommendations. In each case eligible workers must have at least three years’ relevant experience.

Salary reductions

A new compliance requirement is being added to require a Skilled Worker to make a fresh application if their salary is reduced but they claim that they still qualify for the route on the basis of scoring a different set of tradeable points than they were previously approved under. This will enable the Home Office to assess the individual’s eligibility for the different set of tradeable points.

Other changes of interest to employers

These include:

  • Allowing veterinarians to rely on the English language assessment they passed for professional regulation to meet the English language requirement for sponsorship under the Skilled Worker route
  • Re-implementing a transitional arrangement to allow intra-company transferees previously granted permission under the Immigration Rules in force before 6 April 2011, or as a work permit holder, to extend their stay under the Intra-Company Transfer route with no maximum cumulative period of immigration permission in this capacity
  • Allowing holders of certain prestigious prizes such as Academy Awards, BAFTAs, Brit Awards, British Fashion Council Fashion Awards, Golden Globes, Grammy Awards, Nobel Prizes, OIivier Awards and Tony Awards to qualify for the route without needing an endorsement from an endorsing body, and for them toproceed to settlement after three years
  • Confirming that at settlement stage, dependants in certain work routes are not required to meet an absence requirement of no more than 180 days per year for any periods of immigration permission they were granted before 11 January 2018 – this is more restrictive than the Rule which was inadvertently previously deleted, which covered periods of leave granted following an application made under the Rules in place before 11 January 2018
  • Only counting time spent in the UK towards the maximum 14 days allowed between engagements for T5 Creative and Sporting workers

For further information on these changes and how they may affect you, please contact a member of our Immigration Team.


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