Complete guide to the skilled workers visa - updated august 2023

Complete Guide

Skilled Worker Visa

The Skilled Worker visa, which replaced the Tier 2 (General) visa, is the main UK work visa for skilled overseas nationals.  

Whether you are an employer looking to hire a skilled worker from overseas or are an individual applying for a sponsored work visa, it will be important to understand the Skilled Worker visa eligibility and application requirements to avoid issues or delays with the Home Office application. A refused application will result in the loss of the application fee and the time spent making the application.

For skilled workers and their sponsors, with so much at stake, it is important to seek legal advice to understand the immigration options available and that the Skilled Worker visa is the most appropriate route.

The UK immigration system has been subject to significant reforms post-Brexit, with many varied work visa options now available to different types of workers in different roles and industries. This makes it ciritcal to ensure the Skilled Worker is the best route in the circumstances.

As specialist UK immigration lawyers, we bring substantial experience and recognised expertise in advising employers and workers on UK employment sponsorship and the Skilled Worker visa application. For specialist immigration advice, contact us.

What is the Skilled Worker Visa?

The Skilled Worker visa allows employers to sponsor non-UK nationals to work in the UK in eligible, skilled roles.

The visa is open to individuals who attain 70 points by meeting specific eligibility requirements such as skill and salary level, English language ability and having a qualifying job offer from a UK employer with a valid sponsorship licence.

The Skilled Worker visa makes provision for spouses, ‘durable’ partners and dependent children to apply to join the main visa applicant in the UK as Skilled Worker dependants.

The Skilled Worker visa is granted for up to five years, after which, the worker can become eligible to apply for UK Indefinite Leave to Remain.


What are the Skilled Worker visa requirements?

The rules and requirements for the Skilled Worker visa route are set out in a new Appendix Skilled Worker.

Applicants will need to accrue a total of 70 points to be eligible for a Skilled Worker visa.

The applicable 70 points threshold for a Skilled Worker visa is made up of 50 points for mandatory or ‘non-tradeable’ criteria (ie; the job offer, speaking English and the requisite skill level for the job on offer), and 20 points for what are classed as ‘tradeable’ criteria.


Skilled worker requirement Points Mandatory or tradeable?
A genuine job offer from a licensed sponsor20 pointsMandatory
Speak English to the required standard10 pointsMandatory
Job offer is at a skill level of RQF3 or above20 pointsMandatory
Salary of at least £20,960 or at least 80% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher)0 pointsTradeable
Salary of at least £23,580 or at least 90% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher)10 pointsTradeable
Salary of £26,200 or above or at least the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher)20 pointsTradeable
Job in a shortage occupation as designated by the Migration Advisory Committee20 pointsTradeable
Education qualification: PhD in a subject relevant to the job10 pointsTradeable
Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job20 pointsTradeable


Increase in skilled worker minimum salary from Spring 2024

Following a government announcement in December 2023, the minimum salary threshold for a skilled worker application will rise by nearly 50% from £26,200 to £38,700 – which is more than double the UK minimum wage rate.

Health and care workers, and roles such as teachers with national pay scales, will be exempt from the increased threshold.

In addition, the changes announced also include the removal of the 20% salary discount for shortage occupation roles.

We will update with more information once available about when the new threshold will take effect.



Sponsorship requirement

20 mandatory points must be attained in relation to employment sponsorship. Requirements are placed on both the worker and their employer (ie the sponsor).

The sponsor must hold a valid sponsorship licence with an A rating. The sponsor must also have paid the Immigration Skills Charge

The Home Office will also look to determine if the vacancy and employment are genuine, ie that the sponsoring organisation has a genuine need for the job.

The worker must have been assigned a valid Certificate of Sponsorship by the employer specific to the role they are being recruited for.


Certificate of sponsorship requirement

Before the worker can submit their visa application, their UK sponsor must first issue them a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to confirm that the individual and role meet the sponsorship eligibility requirements.

The CoS is a reference number that the Skilled Worker visa applicant will need to provide with their Home Office application. Only licenced sponsors can issue a CoS.

There are now two types of Certificate of Sponsorship: the defined Certificate of Sponsorship and the undefined Certificate of Sponsorship. These replace the old restricted and unrestricted CoS, which were applicable prior to 1 December 2020.

  • Undefined CoS are for either:
    • workers already in the UK with valid leave who are applying to switch into the skilled worker category from another immigration route, or
    • those applying under one of the other visa routes from within the UK or overseas.
  • Defined CoS are for out of country skilled worker visa applications.

Sponsors will need to apply for a defined CoS. This is a specific application to the Home Office, and details of the specific job and salary will need to be provided.

Sponsors will need to apply for a defined CoS. This is a specific application to the Home Office, and details of the specific job and salary will need to be provided.

UKVI allocate undefined CoS to sponsors on an annual basis. The number of CoS will depend on factors such as the size of the sponsor’s workforce and nature of the business. Any unused CoS will be removed from the SMS at the end of each 12 month period. It is also possible to apply for additional undefined CoS during the year.


Skilled Worker visa skill requirement

Skilled worker visa holders can only work in certain eligible roles. To be eligible, the role must be deemed to be at RQF level 3 or above. This is the equivalent of a UK A-level. Any roles considered to be lower than this will not qualify under the skilled worker visa requirements.

When assessing roles for skilled worker visa eligibility, the Home Office uses ‘Standard Occupation Codes’ (SOC). SOC codes are four-digital numbers assigned to a broad range of job roles.

To determine if the job is eligible for the Skilled Worker route, the sponsor should identify the relevant SOC code for the role. This can be done using the ONS occupation coding tool. The job description on the list should match the position being filled.

Once the code has been identified, this will need to be cross-referenced with the list of eligible jobs to check that it is included and is eligible under the Skilled Worker route.

Employers must not use an unsuitable job code, or exaggerate the requirements of a role to fit into a SOC code, for example, to make the role seem more highly skilled and therefore eligible.

The Home Office may request further information about the role to address any concerns that an incorrect SOC code has been used. This would involve submitting additional evidence that the applicant has the required skills and experience for a role in the relevant SOC code.

If there has been a genuine error in selecting the wrong code, this can usually be corrected. If the Home Office considers

The Home Office can refuse a Skilled Worker visa application if the caseworker determines the job being recruited for or the applicant’s skills and experience, do not match the relevant SOC code and skill level requirement.


Skilled Worker minimum salary requirement

From Spring 2024, the skilled worker visa minimum salary threshold will increase from £26,200 to £38,700. No date has yet been confirmed when this will take effect.

Health and care visa workers will be exempt from the higher salary threshold.

Under the existing rules, the Skilled Worker visa general minimum salary threshold is the highest of either £26,200 per year, or £10.75 per hour, or the ‘going rate’ for the particular role being recruited for.

Every occupational code is assigned a going rate.

The salary level must be calculated by the hour and not just annually. Minimum pay can be no less than £10.75 per hour, even if the annual salary is above the required level.

In some cases, where the job on offer will pay less than the general salary threshold or specific salary requirement for that role – but no less than £20,960 per year – the applicant may still be eligible to apply for a Skilled Worker visa by trading specific characteristics against a lower salary to attain the required number of points.

Provided their salary is at least £20,960 per year, the applicant can rely on a salary of 70% – 90% of the relevant going rate for the job, provided one of the following applies: where an applicant has a job offer in a specific shortage occupation; or they have a postdoctoral position in science or higher education; or they have a science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) PhD level qualification relevant to the job (if they have a relevant PhD level qualification in any other subject the salary must be at least £23,580); or they are a ‘new entrant’ to the UK labour market.

A new entrant is someone who is under 26 on the date they make their application and is applying for a maximum period of 3 years’ leave as a skilled worker, those sponsored in postdoctoral research positions, those in professional training or studying for professional qualifications, registration or chartered status or a recent graduate, or in professional training.

The salary requirement for new entrants is 30% lower than the rate for experienced workers in any occupation. There are also different minimum salary rules for workers in certain health or education occupations.



English language requirement

The required level of English is a minimum level B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages scale for reading, writing, speaking and understanding English.

Most Skilled Worker visa applicants will need to prove they meet the English language requirement, unless they have already done so as part of a previous UK immigration application or if they are a national of one of a number of exempt countries.

Unless exempt, language ability must be evidenced by either having a GCSE, A level, Scottish National Qualification level 4 or 5, Scottish Higher or Advanced Higher in English; having a degree-level academic qualification that was taught in English; or passing an approved Secure English Language Test (SELT).

Applicants are exempt from the English language requirement if they are from:

  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Australia
  • the Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • Canada
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Jamaica
  • Malta
  • New Zealand
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • USA

Financial maintenance requirement

The applicant must show they meet the financial requirement, and have sufficient funds to support themselves as they will not have access to public funds such as benefits.

The rules state applicants must have at least £1,270 in their bank account when applying. This amount must have been available for at least 28 consecutive days, with day 28 being within 31 days of making the visa application. The applicant will need to provide evidence of their savings, unless they have been in the UK for 12 months with lawful status, or if their sponsor agrees to meet their costs of up to £1,270 during their first month in the UK.

The sponsor should confirm on the Certificate of Sponsorship that they will meet the financial requirement by under  ‘sponsor certifies maintenance’ section on your certificate. This is under ‘Additional data’.

Additional funds will be needed if dependants are applying. The partner of the principal applicant will need to show funds of £285, and a further £315 will need to be shown for the first dependent child applicant. For any additional child, the financial requirement must be met by showing funds of £200 per additional child. For example, a Skilled Worker visa with a spouse and three children would need to show maintenance funds of at least £2,270 (=£1,270 + £285 + £315 + £200 + £200).

Background check requirement

Some applicants may also need to show a criminal records certificate, if their occupation requires this.

Healthcare professionals

Healthcare professionals looking to work in roles in the UK health or adult social care sector should instead look at the Health and Care Worker visa. This route is specifically designed for health sector occupations such as qualified nurses, doctors, adult social care professionals and many other healthcare professionals.

It offers a number of benefits to visa holders over the Skilled Worker visa, such as a lower application fee and exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge.

Specific eligibility criteria apply for the Health & care worker visa, with only certain roles eligible under this route, as specified on the Home Office Shortage Occupation List. The Shortage Occupation List is, however, subject to change, and sponsors and workers are advised to double check that a role continues to be eligible when making an application.

Currently, the minimum salary level is the higher of either £26,200 per year, or £10.75 per hour, or the assigned going rate for the job role. This minimum threshold is set to increase to £38,700 in Spring 2024.



How to apply for a Skilled Worker visa

To apply for a Skilled Worker visa, the applicant will need to submit an online application, together with their supporting documentation, and pay the relevant fee

Applications can be made up to 3 months before the day the worker’s intended employment start date in the UK, as stated on the Certificate of Sponsorship.

The applicant will need to submit an online application within three months of being assigned their Certificate of Sponsorship. Each certificate has a unique reference number that they will need to apply.

They will also be required to attend an appointment at a visa application centre to enrol their biometric information and to submit various documents in support.

Skilled Worker visa supporting documents

Along with the application form, the applicant will also have to compile and submit documents to evidence their identity and eligibility.

Depending on where the application is being made – in the UK or overseas – the applicant will either have to use the UK Government’s ‘UK Immigration: ID Check’ app to submit the ID document, or submit biometric information (fingerprints and a photograph) at a UKVCAS centre.

The applicant will also need to provide the following supporting documents:

  • Their Certificate of Sponsorship reference number, as assigned by their sponsor
  • The sponsor’s name and sponsorship licence number
  • Confirmation of job title
  • Confirmation of annual salary for the job
  • Job occupation code
  • A current passport or other travel document to prove they can travel
  • Expired passports or travel documents to show their travel history

In addition, it may also be necessary to provide additional documents depending on your specific circumstances, such as:

  • Proof of personal savings, where applicable
  • Proof of knowledge of English, where applicable
  • Tuberculosis test results if from a listed country
  • Evidence of relationship to any dependants also applying
  • Valid ATAS certificate, where applicable
  • UK PhD certificate, or Ecctis reference number, where applicable
  • Criminal record certificate from any country they have lived in for 12 months or more in the last 10 years, where they will be working in either the education, health or social care sector in the UK

Applicants from outside the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, and those from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein but do not have a chipped biometric passport, must also have a blank page on their passport.

The Home Office will assess their application on the basis of how many points they have accumulated under the points-based system.

It is important to note that the offer of a genuine job with a valid certificate of sponsorship does not guarantee the successful grant of a Skilled Worker visa. The prospective employee must still meet all the other relevant criteria. The Home Office will also consider any general grounds for refusal, including any relevant criminal history or previous immigration violations.


How much does a Skilled Worker visa cost?

The applicant will have to pay the visa application fee, with the amount payable depending on factors such as whether the job is on the shortage occupation list, and the Immigration Health Surcharge.

The same costs apply to any dependants applying with the main visa applicant.

Application type Application fee per applicant
Applying from outside the UK
  • up to 3 years – £719 per person
  • more than 3 years – £1,420 per person
Applying from inside the UK (switching, updating or extending)
  • up to 3 years – £827 per person
  • more than 3 years – £1,500 per person
Shortage occupation roles, both in-country and out of country applications 
  • up to 3 years – £551 per person
  • more than 3 years – £1,084 per person

Read our detailed breakdown of the expected costs of the skilled worker route.

Skilled Worker visa processing times

Skilled worker visa applications generally take up to 8 weeks if applying from within the UK, or up to 3 weeks if the application is made from outside the UK.

It may be possible to pay for fast-tracked processing, depending on where the application is being processed.


How long does a Skilled Worker visa last?

The skilled worker visa is usually granted for up to 5 years. At this point, the visa holder would need to apply to extend the visa or on completing the 5 year residency requirement, they may become eligible to apply for UK indefinite leave the remain.

There is no limit on the number of times the Skilled Worker visa can be extended, provided the worker continues to meet the visa requirements.


Changing jobs or employer as a Skilled Worker

If the visa holder changes sponsor or jobs, they will need to apply for a new period of leave.


Skilled Worker visa requirements for employers

If you are planning to hire a non-UK resident under the UK’s points-based system, you may need to apply to the Home Office for a sponsorship licence. This is the permission needed for UK employers to sponsor overseas nationals for a visa to work in the UK in a specific role in an eligible skilled occupation.

Employers do not need to have a licence to hire someone with an existing right to work in the UK that allows them to do the job in question, such as those with valid settled status under the EU settlement scheme, those holding indefinite leave to remain or anyone with British citizenship.

To be eligible for a Skilled Worker sponsor licence the organisation must provide evidence that it is a genuine organisation operating lawfully in the UK, and that it is suitable to sponsor skilled migrant workers. In assessing suitability, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will consider if:

  • The organisation can offer genuine employment in the UK that meets the required skills threshold of RQF3 or above, and pay a salary of at least £26,200 or the going rate for the job, whichever is the higher.
  • The organisation is capable of meeting the sponsorship duties, where they have in place adequate HR systems and practices, and suitable key personnel, to do so. The key personnel are the people who will operate the sponsor management system (SMS), and be responsible for discharging the duties as a licensed sponsor.
  • The organisation, its key personnel and management are honest, dependable and reliable, where any history of immigration violations or relevant unspent criminal convictions relating to those involved in the day-to-day running of the business, or the key personnel named on the sponsor licence application, could affect its ability to sponsor overseas workers.

Switching to the Skilled Worker visa

It is possible in many circumstances to apply to apply from within the UK ‘switch into’ the Skilled Worker route, provided certain conditions are met. The rules will largely depend on the type of visa the individual is looking to switch from.

Student visa holders, for example, must generally have completed their studies before they can switch to a Skilled Worker visa, unless the job starts after the course has been completed or they have been studying on a PhD course for at least 24 months.

Switchers must still meet all of the Skilled Worker eligibility requirements.

It is not possible to switch into the Skilled Worker category if an individual is currently in the UK with status under any of the following:

  • visit visa
  • short-term student visa
  • parent of a Child Student visa
  • seasonal worker visa
  • domestic worker in a private household visa
  • permission to stay outside the immigration rules
  • immigration bail

Taking on additional work with a Skilled worker visa

There are specific rules governing whether someone with a Skilled Worker visa can take on a second job or earn supplementary income to their sponsored role.

Skilled worker visa holders are permitted to take on additional work (including voluntary work) provided they are still employed and undertaking their main sponsored role. The additional role can be for up to 20 hours a week and must be either in the same occupation code and job level as their main sponsored job, or be a role that is on the Shortage Occupation List.

If neither of these two conditions are met, the worker will have to notify the Home Office to request their visa is updated to include sponsorship both of the jobs. To do this, the worker will need a Certificate of Sponsorship from their second employer and an accompanying letter requesting to vary the terms of the current visa.


Need assistance with a Skilled Worker visa application? We can help

DavidsonMorris are UK immigration specialists. For expert guidance with any aspect of the Skilled Worker visa, from how to sponsor a skilled worker and apply for a sponsor licence, to how to apply to the Home Office for a Skilled Worker visa if you have secured qualifying UK employment, contact us

Skilled Worker visa FAQs

Is Tier 2 the same as the skilled worker visa?

The Skilled Worker visa has replaced the Tier 2 (General) visa, which is broadly similar to the old visa, although there are some changes aimed at making the process more straightforward for both sponsors and applicants.

Who is classed as a skilled worker?

A skilled worker is someone who will be working in a job role in the UK that is deemed to have a skill level of RQF3 or above, (equivalent to A level), as set out under Appendix Skilled Occupations to the Immigration Rules.

Do EU nationals need a visa to work in the UK?

Except for Irish citizens, all EU nationals coming to work in the UK after 1 January 2021 need permission to work, which could be either valid status under the EU Settlement Scheme or a valid visa.

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