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Skilled Worker and ICT visas (for businesses)

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UK Immigration Update

Recent months have seen tweaks being made to the rules and requirements of the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system and more changes are on the horizon.

During this webinar, on 26th May, our expert immigration solicitors identified key changes employers should be aware of and provided practical tips and guidance for HR and Management on:

  • Registration of EU staff for the EU Settlement Scheme;
  • Right to work checks for EU employees post-Brexit;
  • Carrying out compliant right to work checks following the withdrawal of the covid-19 concession;
  • Introduction of the Graduate Visa and using this to an employer’s advantage; and
  • Management of sponsor licences including updated record keeping, advertising and salary requirements for the Skilled Worker visa.

Watch below

Skilled Worker visa (previously Tier 2 General visa) – overview

What is the Skilled Worker visa (previously Tier 2 General Visa)?

The Skilled Worker visa has replaced the Tier 2 General visa. It is for those who wish to come to the UK for the purpose of working in a skilled job they have been offered and sponsored for by a UK based employer.

How is the Skilled Worker visa different from the Tier 2 General visa?

On 1 December 2020, the Tier 2 General visa was replaced by the Skilled Worker visa. The main changes are:

  • The minimum skill threshold has been lowered from RQF level 6 (degree equivalent) to RQF level 3 (A Level equivalent)
  • The minimum salary threshold has been reduced from £30,000 to £25,600
  • The Resident Labour Market Test has been abolished
  • There are ‘defined’ and ‘undefined’ Certificates of Sponsorship
  • The monthly cap on restricted CoS which applies to some Tier 2 applications has been suspended

Applicants under this route still need to prove that they have the ability to speak English at level B1 level (lower intermediate)

Who does the Skilled Worker visa apply to?

It applies equally to EU, EEA and non-EEA nationals who need a visa to work in the UK.

Can my company sponsor an employee for a Skilled Worker visa?

Yes, if your company holds a Skilled Worker sponsor licence it can assign a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to the individual which will allow them to apply for the visa. The job they are sponsored to do must meet the minimum skill level and minimum salary.

If your company previously held a Tier 2 General sponsor licence, this will have been automatically converted to a Skilled Worker sponsor licence.

If your company does not already hold a Skilled Worker sponsor licence, it will need to apply for one before you can sponsor an individual.

What type of Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is needed for sponsorship under a Skilled Worker visa?

For the Skilled Worker visa, ‘defined’ and ‘undefined’ Certificates of Sponsorship were introduced on 1 December 2020.

If the worker applies for their visa from outside the UK, the sponsor needs to assign them a defined CoS and if they are applying for their visa from within the UK, the sponsor needs to assign them an undefined CoS.

 

How do I get a CoS?

Undefined CoS’ are issued on an annual basis on 6 April.  This is called your ‘annual allocation’.  You can apply for an annual allocation in the three months prior to 6 April via the Sponsor Management System.

If throughout the year, you need an additional undefined CoS, you can apply for more via the SMS however it can take weeks for this application to be dealt with by UKVI.

A defined CoS has to be applied for each time you need one for a specific role to be sponsored.  This application is also made by the Level 1 User on the Sponsor Management System.  Unlike with the old style restricted CoS, you can apply as and when needed and applications are usually dealt with within 1 working day if they are straightforward.

My employee has asked that the company ‘certifies their maintenance’, what does this mean?

When making their Skilled Worker visa application, the employee is required to provide evidence that they have at least £1,270  in an account in their name for the 28 days before the application. If the employee cannot meet this requirement, or wishes to avoid the hassle of providing evidence of this with the application, the sponsor can tick a box on the CoS to confirm that it certifies the employee’s maintenance.

If you tick this box, your organisation is confirming that you will maintain and accommodate the employee, up to the level of at least £1,270 up to the end of the first month of sponsorship/employment, if required and we suggest that documentation is put in place confirming this and can assist you in preparing this.

How much does it cost to apply for a Skilled Worker visa?

The employer/sponsor will need to pay a fee to UKVI of £199 to assign the CoS and may also have to pay the Immigration Skills Charge.

The employee will have to pay the visa application fee, biometrics fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge. Some employers choose to cover all or part of these costs.

How much is the Immigration Skills Charge?
PeriodSmall or charitable sponsors Medium or large sponsors
First 12 months£364£1,000
Each additional 6 months£182£500

This charge is payable at the time of assigning the CoS.

How long should we sponsor a Skilled Worker for?

You should sponsor your employee for as long as you expect to require them to hold the role they are being sponsored to do. The maximum initial duration of sponsorship is 5 years but there is no restriction on the amount of times that this can be extended, provided they still meet the eligibility requirements.

The upfront fees payable increase if sponsorship is for more than 3 years so most employers sponsor their employee for 3 years and then they subsequently extend the visa for a further period of 3 years or less.

The length of the sponsorship period may also impact on the minimum salary that you have to pay the individual.  Please contact us to discuss this further.

After 5 years, the employee can apply for Indefinite Leave Remain.

Can we promote a sponsored worker?

Yes. You will have to comply with your reporting duties as a sponsor and if the new role falls within a different SOC Code, you will have to assign a new CoS and the employee will need to make a new visa application.

Can my sponsored worker move to a new employer?

Yes. They would end their employment and sponsorship with you and need to obtain a new qualifying job offer from another employer with a sponsor licence who will assign a CoS and they would then have to make a new visa application.

What happens when we dismiss a sponsored worker or their employment ends?

You are required to notify UKVI that the Skilled Worker visa holder’s employment has ended. This is done through the Sponsor Management System within 10 working days of the termination date. The employee’s visa will then be curtailed.

What is the cooling off period?

Previously, the Tier 2 cooling off period prevented an individual who held a Tier 2 visa from returning to the UK for a period of 12 months after their visa expired, on another Tier 2 visa. Under the new post-Brexit system, the cooling off period has been removed.

Can the visa holder claim a refund for the Immigration Health Surcharge?

The IHS refund scheme has been launched for those working in the NHS or social care sector.

Workers applying for the Health and Care visa are exempt from paying the IHS and those who have previously paid it upfront may be able to claim this back every 6 months.

To be eligible for a refund, the worker must:

  • hold a visa that gives you a generic right to work e.g. Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa, PBS Dependant visa, spousal visa, Student visa (with the right to work up to 20 hours per week during term time);
  • have paid the IHS at the time of applying for your visa;
  • have worked continuously for at least 6 months commencing on or after 31 March 2020;
  • have worked for an average of at least 16 hours per week over the full six month period;
  • have worked in an eligible job which means that you must be:
    • providing a service which is related to the delivery of health or social care; and
    • be employed or engaged by either:
      • a recognised health or care provider (e.g. NHS trusts, national NHS bodies); or
      • an employer which is registered with an appropriate health or social care services regulator to provide health or care services (e.g. care homes or independent sector healthcare providers registered with the CQC); or
      • an employer delivering services that directly support health and social care services (e.g. facilities management services within a hospital, as long as this work is undertaken within a health and care setting).

If the main applicant meets the eligibility criteria, they can also apply for a refund for their dependants.

Skilled Worker visa - eligibility

What is the minimum salary for Skilled Worker visa sponsorship?

Each role that you can sponsor an employee for has a minimum salary set by UKVI. The starting point is that the minimum salary must be £25,600pa or, if higher, the going rate for the role which is the salary for that role detailed in the Immigration Rules.

All salaries are based on working a minimum number of hours per week as set out in the Immigration Rules. The roles capable of sponsorship and the salary requirements are regularly amended, for assistance with identifying the minimum salary for a specific role, please contact us.

Are there any circumstances in which you can pay a lower salary than £25,600?

Yes, a lower salary can be paid if:

  • The worker has a PhD qualification which is relevant to the job – in this case the salary must be equal to or more than both £23,040 per year and 90% of the going rate for the occupation
  • The worker has a PhD qualification in a STEM subject which is relevant to the job – in this case the salary must be equal to or more than both £20,480 per year and 80% of the going rate for the occupation
  • The job is on the shortage occupation list – in this case the salary must be equal to or more than both £20,480 per year and 80% of the going rate for the occupation
  • The worker is a ‘new entrant’ to the labour market – in this case the salary must be equal to or more than both £20,480 per year and 70% of the going rate for the occupation
  • The job is in a listed health or education occupation – in this case the salary must be equal to or more than both £20,480 per year and 80% of the going rate for the occupation

 

What is the minimum skill level for a Skilled Worker sponsored job?

The role that you are sponsoring must be at RQF Level 3 or above, which is equivalent to A Level.

What is the Shortage Occupation List?

The Shortage Occupation List is a list of all roles in the UK which UKVI believes there are not enough settled workers to fill. The current shortage occupation list can be found here.

Can we sponsor a student for a Skilled Worker Visa?

Yes – so long as the student has:

  • obtained an eligible qualification, or
  • completed their course of study or are due to complete it within 3 months, or
  • completed 12 months of a PhD.

Sponsoring a student means that you don’t have to pay the Immigration Skills Surcharge and will be eligible to pay a slightly lower salary.

What is a ‘new entrant’?

A ‘new entrant’ is someone who is a new entrant to the labour market and so are near the start of their career.  They must meet certain criteria to be classed as a new entrant by UKVI.

An applicant who is making their first Skilled Worker visa application or entering the UK for the first time is not automatically a new entrant.

To be classed as a new entrant, one of the below criteria must be met:

  • The applicant is under the age of 26 on the date that they submit their online visa application;
  • The applicant is sponsored for a post-doctoral position in one of a limited number of occupations;
  • The applicant is working towards a recognised professional qualification in a UK-regulated profession;
  • The applicant is working towards full registration or chartered status with the relevant professional body for the job they are sponsored for;
  • The applicant is switching from a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visa; or
  • The applicant’s most recent UK visa was under Tier 4 (General) or the Student visa*.

Further criteria must be met if the applicant’s most recent UK visa was Tier 4 (General) or Student:

  • The visa must have expired less than 2 years before the date of application;
  • The student visa must have been granted for the purpose of studying either a UK bachelor’s or master’s degree, a UK PhD or other doctoral qualification, a Postgraduate Certificate in Education or a Professional Graduate Diploma of Education; and
  • The applicant must have completed (or be applying no more than 3 months before they are expected to complete) the course. An exception applies to PhDs and other doctoral qualifications, where the applicant must have completed at least 12 months’ study in the UK towards the qualification.

Health and Care Worker visa

What is the Health and Care Worker visa?

The Health and Care Worker visa was introduced in August 2020 and is a sub-category of the Skilled Worker visa which applies to global health professionals.

Applicants must meet the Skilled Worker visa (previously the Tier 2 General visa) requirements in that they must have a valid Certificate of Sponsorship, meet the appropriate skill and salary level for their role, be able to prove their English language ability, have the minimum personal savings, have a valid TB test (if required) and criminal record certificate.

You must also be sponsored by a qualifying employer in a qualifying role (see below).

What are the benefits of the visa?

The application fee for the Health and Care visa is cheaper than the Skilled Worker  visa at £232 for visas for up to 3 years and £464 for more than 3 years. The fee is discounted further if the role is on the Shortage Occupation List. In addition, applicants do not have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (currently £624 per year). An added benefit is that dependants are also be exempt from the Immigration Health Surcharge.

Further, the processing times for Health and Care Worker visa applications are faster than for the standard Skilled Worker visa at three weeks as opposed to eight weeks.

Who qualifies?

In order to qualify for the visa, applicants must be taking up a job in an eligible role. Although the name of this visa suggests that care assistants and other care home staff would be eligible, this is not the case and these professions have been explicitly excluded. Instead, the visa is for those health professional roles which the Government assesses as being skilled, such as doctors, nurses, dentists, physiotherapists and paramedics. A full list of the eligible roles are provided here.

In addition to holding an eligible job, applicants must be taking up a job with the NHS, an NHS provider or one of the listed organisations in the guidance. Listed organisations include a Local Authority or Clinical Commissioning Group as well as organisations registered with the Care Quality Commission where the migrant is employed to provide (or to support the provision of) regulated activities as prescribed in Schedule 1 to the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations 2014.

How to apply

Applicants will need to apply using the online Skilled Worker visa application form but will need to tick a box to confirm that they are applying for the Health and Care Worker visa.

Sponsors employing migrants under this route will need to explain in the Certificate of Sponsorship how the employee is eligible. For example, where a sponsor provides services commissioned by the NHS, proof of this arrangement should be provided to evidence that the Health and Care Worker visa is applicable.

What other steps do I need to take if I am a sponsor?

Employers who are assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship to a migrant under the Health and Care  Worker visa must ensure that they:

  • explain in the ‘Summary of job description’ field of the Certificate of Sponsorship how the migrant meets the Health and Care Worker visa criteria which includes which SOC code applies;
  • provide brief information about the contract or agreement that they have with NHS trusts or bodies to provide the services (if they are a private organisation); and
  • inform migrants that they are eligible for the visa so that their visa application can be correctly processed.

These steps are to ensure that those migrants who qualify for fast-track entry, reduced fees and automatic exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge are identified during the application process.

Intra Company Transfer visa - overview

What is the ICT visa?

The Intra-Company Transfer visa replaced the Tier 2 (Inter-company Transfer) visa on 1 January 2021 and can be used where an overseas employer has offered an individual a role in a UK branch of the organisation.

There are two different types of ICT visa:

  • Intra-Company Transfer visa – this is for employees of overseas companies coming to work at a branch office in the UK, and
  • Intra-Company Graduate Trainee visa– this is for transfers onto graduate training programmes in the UK for your employer.
How is the Intra-Company Transfer visa different from the Tier 2 ICT visa?

A CoS from a licenced sponsor is still required and the applicant still needs to have worked for the overseas company for a minimum of 12 months before applying for the visa unless they are a high earner with a salary of £73,900pa or more, in which case there is no minimum duration of employment required.  An Intra-Company Graduate Trainee only needs to have been employed for 3 months.

A key change made is to the cooling-off requirement.  Previously a Tier 2 visa holder was prevented from re-entering the UK on the Intra-Company Transfer route or the Tier 2 General route for 12 months after departing. Under the new rules applicants are permitted to hold an Intra-Company Transfer visa for up to five years in any six year rolling period or up to nine years in any ten year period for high earners (at or above £73,900pa).

The minimum salary remains unchanged which is £41,500 for Intra-Company Transfer visa holders and £23,000 for Intra-Company Graduate Trainees.

The expectation is that the ICT visa will be reviewed again in 2021 with further reform to the visa expected towards the end of 2021 or early 2022.

How long can a worker stay in the UK for on an ICT visa?

This depends on the type of ICT visa they have and the salary you pay your worker:

  • those sponsored for an Intra-Company Transfer visa who earn more than £73,900 per year, can stay in the UK with this visa for up to 9 years in any 10 year period
  • those sponsored for an Intra-Company Transfer visa who earn less than £73,900 year, can stay in the UK with this visa for up to 5 years in any 6 year period, and
  • those sponsored for an Intra-Company Graduate Trainee visa, can stay in the UK with this visa for up to 12 months.
How much does it cost to apply for an ICT visa?

The employer/sponsor will need to pay a fee to UKVI of £199 to assign the CoS and may also have to pay the Immigration Skills Charge (please see above).

The employee will have to pay the visa application fee, biometrics fee and the Immigration Health Surcharge. Some employers choose to cover all or part of these costs.

Which is better – Skilled Worker visa or ICT visa?

Employees will usually prefer to be sponsored for a Skilled Worker visa (previously Tier 2 General Visa). This is because it leads to settlement in the UK whereas the ICT visa is a temporary visa and they have to leave the UK at the end of it.

However, previously, Tier 2 ICT visa holders could not switch to a Tier 2 General visa (now the Skilled Worker visa). They had to instead leave the UK for a 12 month ‘cooling off period’ and apply once this period had expired.  Under the new post-Brexit system they are able to switch from an ICT to a Skilled Worker visa which also means that they will subsequently be able to apply for ILR after holding the Skilled Worker visa for 5 years.

For the employer, the ICT visa is usually a little quicker and easier to obtain. The applicant also doesn’t have to meet the English language eligibility criteria.  However the minimum salary for the ICT visa is often higher than for the Skilled Worker visa.

Intra Company Transfer visa - eligibility

Do we need a different sponsor licence for Intra-Company Transfers?

Employers need to hold a ICT sponsor licence to be able to sponsor workers for this visa type. This is so that the Home Office has evidence of the connection between your UK entity and overseas entity from which the worker will be transferred.

If you currently hold a Skilled Worker licence only, you can apply to add ICT sponsorship to this. This can be done online for an additional fee and we can assist with the same.

Is there a minimum salary payable for sponsorship under the ICT visa?

Yes. For the Graduate trainee visa the minimum salary is £23,000pa and for the Long-term staff visa, it is £41,500pa.

Are allowances and bonuses included in the minimum salary?

The Home Office will take account of the following when calculating the minimum salary:

  • basic pay (excluding overtime)
  • guaranteed allowances (such as accommodation allowance up to a set level, London weighting), and
  • guaranteed bonuses.
Does the job need to meet a minimum skill level for an ICT visa?

Yes.  The role that you the worker will be sponsored to do must be at RQF Level 3 or above (equivalent to A Level). There are some limited exceptions to this requirement.

How long does the worker have to have been employed overseas before they can be transferred to the UK?

For the Graduate Trainee visa, the worker needs to have worked for your overseas entity for at least 3 months.

For the Intra-Company Transfer visa, the worker need to have worked for your overseas entity for at least 12 months. This 12 month requirement can be avoided if the role that the worker will carry out in the UK pays a salary of £73,900 pa or more.

What type of Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) is needed for sponsorship under an ICT visa?

To sponsor a worker for an ICT visa you need to assign an undefined ICT CoS. This can be applied for via the Sponsor Management System if you do not have any.

Services, audits, training and pricing

Services and pricing options

We provide a range of services to Skilled Worker and ICT visa applicants including assistance with their initial application and switching to this visa category. This includes:

  • initial correspondence with you regarding eligibility
  • review of and advice to you on the draft completed application form
  • advice to you on the application process and queries
  • advice on which supporting documents to provide with the application
  • assist with questions about the process or correspondence from the Home Office.

Fee estimate*: £1,000 – £1,500

*:  Our fees are calculated based on the number of hours it will take us to carry out this work. The exact number of hours it will take depends on the circumstances in your case, such as:

  • the volume of supporting documents and evidence that we need to consider
  • the quality of the draft supporting documents provided by you, the amount of time required to amend these and the number of amended drafts required
  • whether face to face meetings or video calls with you are required and the volume of calls and queries from you
  • the urgency of your application
  • whether you have an adverse immigration or criminal history
  • the need to obtain documentation from or liaise with third parties such as accountants or translation companies
  • whether you are applying alone or with dependants
  • whether you require advice on your current immigration status.

Fees are excluding VAT at the rate of 20%. VAT may or may not be payable on the above fee estimate as this is dependent on the country in which you reside and you will be advised of this before work on your application commences. Disbursements are costs related to your matter that are payable to third parties, such as visa fees payable to the Home Office and document translation fees. These are not included in the above estimates.

Full details can be found in our comprehensive pricing document, which can be found here, or please contact one of our immigration specialists.

About the Sponsorship Management Service

As a registered sponsor of Skilled Worker and ICT migrants, you have a wealth of obligations and duties to UK Visas & Immigration and failure to comply can ultimately lead to your licence being revoked.

Have peace of mind from only £100 per month

Let our business immigration experts take away that risk and strain by being named as Legal Representative on your sponsor licence, as well as having day-to-day involvement as a Level 1 User of the Sponsor Management System.

Our service includes:

  • Submitting reports to UKVI via the SMS in relation to:
    • sponsored migrants, including absences, termination of employment, salary changes
    • key personnel, including changes to named personnel and contact details
    • the organisation, including changes to contact details, size and structure
  • Preparing and submitting applications for renewal of undefined Certificates of Sponsorship
  • Preparing and submitting applications for renewal of the sponsor licence
  • Access to guidance for sponsors on key personnel, record keeping and reporting duties
  • Preferential pricing on training packages and immigration audits
  • Updates on matters affecting your sponsor licence

Contact us or click here to find out more.

Skilled Worker and ICT Sponsor Management training course

We run an in-depth training course on Sponsor Management for Skilled Worker and ICT sponsor licence holders. This half day course is aimed at members of HR and Management and those who are Key Personnel named on the sponsor licence. This training, previously delivered at your premises but available to be delivered online, covers:

  • the current immigration landscape
  • the roles of the organisation’s Key Personnel
  • the Sponsor Management System
  • Skilled Worker visa (previously Tier 2 General visa) sponsorship requirements – skill and salary level and genuine vacancies
  • Certificates of Sponsorship – what these are and identifying the appropriate type
  • the Immigration Skills Charge
  • record keeping and reporting duties as a sponsor, and
  • the future for UK immigration sponsorship.

These half day training courses cost £995 plus VAT each and can be delivered in-house to your staff.  To discuss your immigration training requirements or the above courses, please contact us.

Right to Work training

Our immigration solicitors provide Right to Work training for HR and Recruitment teams and those who are responsible for carrying out right to work checks on employees. Using practical examples and case studies, the course is designed to up-skill your staff and ensure compliant right to work checks are completed. This training can be delivered at your premises and covers:

  • the history of illegal working legislation
  • the groups of individuals who are subject to right to work checks
  • the statutory excuse – what it is and how to obtain it
  • how to carry out a compliant right to work check
  • types of right to work documentation commonly encountered
  • right to work checks for EU nationals in light of Brexit, and
  • responding to Home Office enquiries and civil penalties.

Half day training courses cost £995 plus VAT each and can be delivered in-house to your staff. To discuss your immigration training requirements or the above courses, please contact us.

Immigration compliance audit

Correctly managing your organisation’s Skilled Worker and ICT sponsor licence and retaining copies of all of the relevant documents is an onerous but important task.

If you are concerned that the organisation is not on top of this, or you want peace of mind that your reporting and record keeping is up to date, or perhaps you have a pending visit from a Home Office Immigration Compliance Officer, a member of our expert immigration team can carry out a thorough compliance audit for you.

This typically includes:

  • attendance at your offices (where possible)
  • review of the organisation’s sponsor licence
  • interview with a member of the Key Personnel responsible for the sponsor licence
  • review of your HR systems and processes
  • review of all sponsored Skilled Worker and ICT visa holder’s personnel files
  • sample review of employee right to work checks and procedures in place, and
  • provision of report and action points.

Prices start from £1,000 plus VAT.  Contact us to find out more.

Disclaimer

Given the fast pace of change, we would stress that this information is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

As a hub, we have included references to articles and explainers from third parties. We have no control over and are not responsible for the content, use by you or availability of those third party websites, for any products or services you buy through those sites or for the treatment of any personal information you provide to the third party.

Our immigration team

Flora Mewies

Flora Mewies

Partner | Employment

Leeds and Manchester

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Roisin Patton

Roisin Patton

Partner | Employment

Newcastle

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Gillian Burns

Gillian Burns

Associate | Employment

Newcastle

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Natalie Payne

Natalie Payne

Solicitor | Employment

Leeds and Manchester

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Isabelle Cernis

Isabelle Cernis

Solicitor | Employment

Leeds

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