Under the new immigration system launched on 1 December 2020, the skilled worker route has replaced Tier 2 (General). Benefits for employers include the fact that:
- there are fewer restrictions on switching to the Skilled Worker visa from within the United Kingdom;
- the skills threshold has been lowered to Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) Level 3;
- the salary thresholds have been reduced; and
- the resident labour market test has been removed.
This article discusses the impact of these changes and some of the considerations for settlement.
Individuals in most immigration categories can switch to the skilled worker route without needing to leave the United Kingdom and apply for entry clearance from abroad. Employers will be pleased to note that the following immigration categories can now switch to the skilled worker route in-country:
- Tier 5 youth mobility scheme (now the T5 youth mobility scheme);
- Tier 5 government-authorised exchange (now the T5 government-authorised exchange);
- Tier 2 intra-company transfer (now the intra-company routes); and
- Tier 4 general student (now student).
In addition, those who currently hold immigration permission under the Tier 2 intra-company transfer route no longer need to spend a year outside the United Kingdom 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 in place at present 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.
A well-received benefit of the skilled worker route is the removal of the resident labour market test. The Home Office has removed the requirement to advertise a role for 28 days on two different platforms. This means that employers need not advertise the role in a prescribed method and can offer roles to the candidate who is the most suitable for the role.
The skills threshold for roles eligible for sponsorship under the skilled worker route has been reduced from RQF Level 6 (undergraduate degree-level equivalent) to RQF Level 3 (A-level equivalent). This means that employers can retain valuable staff who hold posts at lower skill levels. Employers are keen to use this to sponsor employees across their businesses who did not previously meet the skills threshold under Tier 2 (General).
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 be lower than £25,600. Where the going rate is below the general threshold, applicants must be paid at least the general threshold amount to be eligible for a Skilled Worker visa.
Applicants may be eligible for additional 'tradeable points' and a discount on the going rate for their role if:
- the applicant has a relevant PhD;
- the applicant is a new entrant to the labour market; or
- the occupation is on the Shortage Occupation List or is a listed health or education sector occupation.
Where tradeable points are available, the applicable general salary threshold can also be as low as £20,480.
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.
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.
Employers of existing Tier 2 (General) migrants should be aware that they must now meet the requirements of the skilled worker route to be granted settlement (indefinite leave to remain) in the United Kingdom.
Among 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 was launched and for some occupations are higher than the rates that applied under Tier 2 (General).
Sponsors should carry out a salary audit for all existing Tier 2 (General) migrants to check whether this is above the rate required for settlement at present.