12 November 2020
Relaxation of immigration requirements for sponsored workers
The Tier 2 (General) category will be replaced with the Skilled Worker route from 1 December 2020. From 1 December 2020, therefore, non-EEA nationals can apply under the Skilled Worker route, and from 1 January 2020 EEA and Swiss nationals will also need to apply under this route, with non- EEA, EEA and Swiss nationals treated alike. EEA applicants applying from outside the UK will however benefit from the flexibility of applying via an app rather than having to submit an entry clearance application.
To be eligible under the Skilled Worker route, the employer must hold a sponsor licence the role must meet certain skill and salary requirements. There are also significant government fees payable. The Skilled Worker route however incorporates a number of important changes to the previous Tier 2 (General) route, which we detail below:
The headline changes:
- The Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) has been abolished: employers will no longer be required to advertise the role first, thereby accelerating the application process. Employers will however need to be filling a genuine vacancy.
- The restriction on company ownership for a limited company is abolished. Skilled Workers can hold more than 10% of the share in the sponsor that is a limited company, even if they are not a ‘high earner’.
- An expansion of the immigration categories that can switch into the Skilled Worker route. All categories are now permitted except for those who have leave as a visitor, short-term student, parent of a child student, seasonal worker, domestic worker in a private household or outside the Immigration Rules.
- The minimum skill level required has been lowered from Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) level 6 (degree level) to RQF level 3 (school leaver level).
- Applicants can be granted permission up to a maximum of five years at a time, with unlimited extensions: there is no limit on the amount of time a Skilled Worker can spend in the UK and the cooling off period has been removed.
- The minimum income threshold has been reduced to £25,600, and the going rate for the job at the time of the application, which can be reduced where the applicant is under 26 or reached high academic attainment, or the role is on the shortage occupation list. The minimum salary requirement for Indefinite Leave to Remain applications has also been removed.
- Applicants may benefit from the greater flexibility in satisfying the English language requirement, with applicants being able to rely upon a degree obtained in Ireland to satisfy the English language requirement and Maltese citizens able to rely on their nationality as proof of English language. A GCSE / A level or Scottish Highers in English obtained through schooling in the United Kingdom would also satisfy the English language requirement.
- To satisfy the maintenance requirement, applicants must have held funds equalling £1,270 for 28 days at the date of application. Alternatively, the employer can certify maintenance on the certificate of sponsorship.
What does this mean for EEA nationals?
From 1 January 2021, EEA nationals will no longer benefit from the freedom to work for whomever they choose: they must have a confirmed job offer, which satisfies the skill and salary requirements under the Skilled Worker route.
Employers employing EEA nationals are therefore advised to apply for a sponsor licence now to prepare for their recruitment plans for next year, particularly given the anticipated increase in companies requiring sponsor licences from next year. The Home Office is accepting applications for sponsor licences for companies who foresee the need to recruit EEA nationals next year now.
That said, companies who already hold a Tier 2 (General) sponsor licence can sponsor foreign nationals under the Skilled Worker route: they do not need to re-apply for a sponsor licence under the Skilled Worker route.
What does this mean for existing Tier 2 (General) migrants?
Tier 2 (General) migrants can extend in the Skilled Worker route upon the expiry of their Tier 2 (General) leave.
Time spent in the UK as a Tier 2 (General) migrant and Skilled Worker can be combined to comprise the five continuous years’ residence in the UK required to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.
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