The way people come to the UK to work is seeing its biggest overhaul in over a decade, with a new Skilled Worker route coming into being on 01 December 2020. With the Brexit transition period ending on 31 December 2020, this new route will be the only way for overseas nationals to come to the UK to work.
The end of Tier 2
Tier 2 will close to all new applicants at 9:00 AM on 01 December 2020, when the new Skilled Worker route opens. This is, however, more of a rejiggling and reordering rather than fundamental change, though there are some changes that will potentially benefit both employers and employees.
What hasn't changed in the requirements - but has for EEA nationals
The Skilled Worker route remains a sponsored route - so someone can only come to the UK to work if they are sponsored by a business that is registered with the Home Office. This fundamentally changes things for EEA nationals, who will no longer be able to take any job they choose, but will now need to be sponsored in a particular job, and will be tied to that job.
Validity requirements - and why this matters
While much of the substance remains unchanged, many requirements - such as having a Certificate of Sponsorship that is no more than three months old, or having written consent if you have been sponsored by a government or international organisation, or being in the UK with a visa that allows you to switch status - are no longer listed as eligibility requirements for the Skilled Worker visa, but are now validity requirements - that is, for your application to be valid these things must be in place.
Why does that matter? Because if you get an eligibility requirement wrong, you application will be refused - but you will remain legally in the UK while it is being considered, even if that is after your current visa has expired (as long as the application was submitted before your visa expired). But if you get a validity requirement wrong, you don't have this same protection - your application won't be refused, it will be rejected as invalid - this means that you didn't put in a valid application, and therefore once your current visa expires you are in the UK without leave, and have overstayed your visa.
One very welcome change in the validity requirements is that it will now be possible to switch from almost all other visa categories, unless you are in the UK as a visitor, a short term student, a parent of a child student, a seasonal worker, a domestic worker in a private household, or outside the Immigration Rules - so people already in the UK will no longer need to fly home just to make this application
The new Skilled Worker route will be a lot more flexible than Tier 2 ever was, as it will open the way for many more people to be able to come to the UK to work. Unlike Tier 2, where an applicant has to score 70 mandatory points, the Skilled Worker visa requires 50 mandatory points and 20 "tradeable" points, opening it up to different skillsets and salary levels.
To score the 50 mandatory points you need:
- A job offer from a company that is on the Home Office's Register of Sponsors, and therefore able to sponsor overseas workers (20 points)
- The job must be at the appropriate skill level - from 01 December 2020 this is being lowered from degree level to school leaver level (20 points)
- English language at level B1 CEFR (10 points)
The remaining 20 points needed can be achieved in several ways, depending upon whether the job is in a shortage occupation, the salary offered and the individual's own highest academic qualification - hence the name "tradeable points".
This is another area that has seen a relaxation of the rules - though a Skilled Worker still needs to show that they have funds to maintain themselves (£1,270), this now needs to have been held for 28 days as at the date of application, rather than 90 days as in Tier 2. As in Tier 2, if an employer certifies on the Certificate of Sponsorship that they will provide this if needed, the applicant doesn't have to show that he or she has the funds in their bank account.
Another change is that once someone has been in the UK for more than a year they no longer have to show that they have these funds in their bank account.
Easier settlement and the end of the cooling off period
In another welcome change, the "cooling off period", which meant that someone could only spend a maximum of six years on Tier 2, and then have to leave the UK for 12 months before applying for another Tier 2 visa, has been removed - Skilled Worker visas will be issued for five years at a time, and there is no limit to the number of extensions.
Settlement, too, will become easier, for two reasons:
- There is no longer a cap on the length of time a person can spend outside the UK without breaking their continuous residence
- Though an applicant for settlement still needs to be required for the job for the foreseeable future, the minimum income threshold is being lowered from the current £35,800 to the going rate for the job, as long as this is at least £25,600 (for shortage occupations this is lowered to £20,480 and the going rate for the job).
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