The Skilled Worker Route opened to new applications on 1 December 2020, replacing the Tier 2 (General) route which closed on the same day.
Whilst there are certain similarities between the new Skilled Worker route and its predecessor, most notably that the route is for employers to recruit people to work in the UK in a specific job and the skilled worker must have a job offer in an eligible skilled occupation from a Home Office-approved sponsor, there are also several notable differences.
In this post, we provide an overview of the most important differences between the Skilled Worker route and the Tier 2 (General) route that it replaces.
Lower minimum skill threshold
Under the Tier 2 (General) route, applicants need a job offer for a job skilled to RQF level 6 or above. This is equivalent to degree level.
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.
Lower salary threshold
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.
However, the general salary threshold will be lowered from £30,000 under the Tier 2 (General) route to £25,600 a year under the Skilled Worker route. The assessment of salary will be based only on guaranteed basic gross pay.
Some sponsored skilled workers applying under the Skilled Worker route may actually be paid less than the above amount, where they are awarded additional so-called 'tradable points' for other attributes:
• An applicant with a PhD qualification which is relevant to the job may be paid a salary which equals or exceeds both £23,040 per year and 90% of the going rate for the occupation;
• An applicant with a PhD qualification in a STEM subject which is relevant to the job may be paid a salary which equals or exceeds both £20,480 per year and 80% of the going rate for the occupation;
• An applicant with a job offer for a job in a shortage occupation may be paid a salary which equals or exceeds both £20,480 per year and 80% of the going rate for the occupation;
• An applicant who is a new entrant to the labour market may be paid a salary which equals or exceeds both £20,480 per year and 70% of the going rate for the occupation;
• An application for a job in a listed health or education occupation may be paid a salary which equals or exceeds both £20,480 per year and 80% of the going rate for the occupation.
Criteria for 'new entrant to the labour market' widened
The criteria used to identify "new entrants to the labour market", who can benefit from different rules and salary requirements, are being amended under the Skilled Worker route.
In addition to those under the age of 26 at the date of application (or 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.
ILR salary threshold reduced
The £35,800 salary threshold for Tier 2 (General) settlement applications is being reduced under the new Skilled Worker Visa route. Instead, in order for a skilled worker to achieve settlement, sponsoring employers must pay their skilled workers a salary which equals or exceeds £25,600 per year and the going rate for the occupation.
Suspension of the cap
The cap which applies under the Tier 2 (General) route is being 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.
Resident Labour Market Test 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.
'Cooling off period' and maximum time in route removed
Under the Tier 2 (General) route, those applying for entry clearance or to switch into the route have to have not been in the UK as a Tier 2 (General) migrant during the past 12 months. They also have to satisfy a requirement to spend a maximum of six years in the route.
Under the 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.
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. Existing methods of proving English language ability, such as a Secure English Language Test or degree taught in English will also continue to apply.