Skilled workers in the UK in 2021

by | Nov 20, 2020 | Further Leave to Remain, Skilled Worker, UK Immigration

The new Skilled worker route is a way for employers to recruit people from all over the world to work in the UK in a particular job category. The skilled worker must have a pre-existing job offer in an eligible skilled occupation from a Home Office-approved sponsor. Going forward the Skilled Worker route will be replacing the Tier 2 (General) route. We have highlighted the most important changes in this article.

Following the statement of changes in Immigration Rules on 22 October 2020, there were a number of surprising but welcome changes to the UK Skilled Worker visa route that will come into force from 01 December 2020 onwards.

Under the new skilled worker system, anyone coming to the UK to work will need to demonstrate that:

  • they have a job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor
  • the job offer is at the required skill level – RQF 3 or above (A Level and equivalent)
  • they speak English to the required standard

In addition to this, the job offer must meet the applicable minimum salary threshold. This is the higher of either:

  • the general salary threshold set by Her Majesty’s Government on advice of the independent Migration Advisory Committee at £25,600, or
  • the specific salary requirement for their occupation, known as the “going rate”

All applicants will be able to trade characteristics, such as their qualifications, against a lower salary to get the required number of points. If the job offer is less than the minimum salary requirement but no less than £20,480, an applicant may still be eligible if they have:

  • a job offer in a specific shortage occupation
  • a PhD relevant to the job
  • a PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job

There are different salary rules for workers in certain health or education jobs, and for “new entrants” at the start of their careers.

Further information on the “going rate” for specific occupations and further exemptions can be found in Annex E of the UK points-based immigration system: further details statement.

Evidently, with the change in rules, the UK government is making it easier for skilled workers to come to the UK, work and permanently settle. The most important and notable differences between the new Skilled Worker route and its predecessor are listed as follows:.

The benchmark for ‘new entrant to the labour market’ has been widened

Those under the age of 26 at the date of application or those switching from a Student Visa and applying for a maximum of three years leave, new entrants will also include those sponsored in postdoctoral research positions and those working towards professional qualifications, registration or chartered status. 

The criteria for new entrants switching from the Student route is also being widened to include those who were in the route at any time in the two years before they apply. 

The Skilled Worker salary threshold has been lowered

The general salary threshold will be lowered from £30,000 under the Tier 2 (General) route to £25,600 (based on guaranteed basic gross pay) a year under the Skilled Worker route.  

As under the Tier 2 (General) route, employers seeking to recruit under the Skilled Worker route will (subject to being able to trade points as set out below) need to pay their skilled workers a salary which equals or exceeds both a general salary threshold and the ‘going rate’ for the occupation (as set out in the relevant SOC code), whichever is higher.

The Skilled Worker skill threshold has been lowered

Under the Skilled Worker Visa route, the minimum skill threshold will be lowered from graduate level occupations to occupations skilled to RQF level 3, which is roughly equivalent to A-levels.

In common with the Tier 2 (General) route, individuals applying for a Skilled Worker Visa will not need to hold a formal qualification. It is the skill level of the job that they will be doing which will determine whether the threshold is met. 

The Skilled Worker Indefinite Leave to Remain salary threshold has been reduced

Previously, under the Tier 2 (General) settlement route, the salary threshold was £35,800. Under the new Skilled Worker route, sponsoring employers must pay their skilled workers a salary that equals or exceeds £25,600 per year and the going rate for the occupation in order to be eligible for permanent settlement in the UK.

The annual cap on Skilled Workers has been suspended 

There will be no cap on the number of people who can enter the UK on the Skilled Worker route.  This will reduce the timeline for sponsoring skilled workers by up to four weeks. 

Change to the English language requirement

Prospective employees applying for entry clearance or leave to remain as a Skilled Worker will satisfy the English language requirement if they obtained a GCSE/A Level or Scottish Highers in English while at school in the UK.  The existing methods of proving English language ability, such as a Secure English Language Test or degree taught in English will also continue to apply.

The Resident Labour Market Test requirement has been abolished

Under the Skilled Worker route, there will no longer be a requirement for sponsors to undertake a Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). This will remove at least a further four weeks from the end-to-end process for sponsoring skilled workers. 

The ‘Cooling off period’ and maximum time in route 

Under the new Skilled Worker route, the 12-month ‘cooling off period’ and six-year maximum length of stay in the route are being removed. There will be no restriction on when applications can be made or the length of stay. 

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