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Skilled Worker visa provides new options for foreign workers

22 January 2021

Under the new immigration system launched on 1 December 2020, the Skilled Worker route has replaced Tier 2 (General). Benefits for employers include fewer restrictions on switching into the Skilled Worker visa from within the UK; lowering the skills threshold to RQF Level 3; reduced salary thresholds and removal of the Resident Labour Market Test. We discuss the impact of these changes below, as well as some of the considerations for settlement.

Switching

Individuals in most immigration categories are allowed to switch into the Skilled Worker route without needing leave the UK and apply for entry clearance from abroad. Employers will be pleased to note that the following immigration categories can now switch into Skilled Worker route in-country:

  • Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme (now T5 Youth Mobility Scheme)
  • Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange (now T5 Government Authorised Exchange)
  • Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer (now Intra-Company routes)
  • Tier 4 General Student (now Student)

In addition, those who currently hold immigration permission under Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer route are no longer required to spend a year outside the UK before applying under the Skilled Worker route.

These changes significantly reduce the business disruption, administration and costs associated with employees having to return to their home country to apply for a new visa.

There are also a range of immigration concessions currently place due to the COVID-19 pandemic that may assist some individuals who ordinarily would not be allowed to switch to the Skilled Worker route in-country. The concessions are continually revised, so advice should be sought on a case-by-case basis.

No Resident Labour Market Test

A well-received benefit of the Skilled Worker route is the removal of the Resident Labour Market Test. The removal of the requirement to advertise a role for 28 days on two different platforms has been removed by the Home Office. This means that employers do not have to advertise the role in a prescribed method and can offer roles to the candidate who is the most suitable for the role.

Lower skills threshold

The skills threshold for roles eligible for sponsorship under Skilled Worker route has been reduced from RQF level 6 (undergraduate degree-level) to RQF level 3 (A-levels). This means that employers can retain valuable staff who hold posts at lower skill levels. Our initial observations show that employers are keen to use this to sponsor employees across their businesses who didn’t previously meet the skills threshold under Tier 2 General.

Reduced salary threshold

The general salary threshold for occupations eligible to be sponsored for a Skilled Worker visa has been lowered to £25,600 per year provided that the salary also clears the ‘going rate’ for the occupation. The going rate will vary depending on the occupation: for more senior or specialist occupations this can be well above the general £25,600 threshold but for more junior occupations this can in some cases be lower than £25,600. Where the going rate is below the general threshold, the applicant must be paid at least the general threshold amount to be eligible for a Skilled Worker visa.

If an applicant holds a relevant PhD, is a new entrant to the labour market, or if the occupation is on the Shortage Occupation List or is a listed health or education sector occupation, the applicant may be eligible for additional ‘tradeable points’ and a discount on the going rate for their role. Where tradeable points are available, the applicable general salary threshold can also be as low as £20,480. We are happy to talk you through the tradeable points options for Skilled Workers.

One point to note is that normally only guaranteed basic gross pay can be counted towards meeting the salary threshold under the Skilled Worker route. This can be a particular issue for individuals switching from the Intra-Company routes, where allowances often form a significant element of the overall salary package. Their salary packages may need to be restructured before they will qualify.   

No cap on number of Skilled Workers

The Home Office’s previous cap on the number of sponsored workers under Tier 2 (General) has been suspended and does not apply to the Skilled Worker route.

Settlement

Employers of existing Tier 2 (General) migrants should be aware that they will now need to meet the requirements of the Skilled Worker route to be granted settlement (indefinite leave to remain) in the UK.

Amongst other things, applicants must be paid above the applicable Skilled Worker general salary threshold or the going rate for the occupation, whichever is higher. The going rates for all eligible occupations were revised when the Skilled Worker route launched, and for some occupations are higher than the rates that applied under Tier 2 (General).

We would suggest that sponsors consider carrying out a salary audit for all existing Tier 2 (General) migrants to check whether this is above the rate currently required for settlement.      

For more information on the Skilled Worker visa or a discussion about the considerations that apply to your business, please get in touch with a member of the Immigration Team who will be happy to help. If you need more in-depth training for your HR team, our Online Immigration Law Academy will cover implications of the new system for employers and offers practical guidance on being in the best position to work with it. Register here for our academy on 8 & 9 March 2021.

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