Tier 2 immigration category is a route for highly skilled workers sponsored by their employer. In the past, this type of visa was called Work Permit. It is still sometimes referred to under this name.
There are four sub-categories of Tier 2 visa:
- Tier 2 (General) for highly skilled migrants with a job offer in the UK;
- Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) – for senior employees of multi-national companies who are being transferred to a UK-based affiliate or branch of the employer;
- Tier 2 Sportsperson;
- Tier 2 Minister of Religion.
It is very important that the application is prepared correctly because the certificate of sponsorship can only be used once. Any irregularity or mistake in the application process may result in a refusal of the application.
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Tier 2 General Visa
Who it is for
Tier 2 General is the route for skilled workers who have a job offer from a UK-based employer. The employer is called “the sponsor” and the job is called a “sponsored job”.
You can find a list of skilled jobs suitable for sponsorship in Table 2 of Appendix J to the Immigration Rules. In addition to this, there is a list of PhD level jobs also suitable for Tier 2 sponsorship. Jobs listed in the shortage occupation list in Appendix K can be sponsored independently of the skills level.
The sponsor, in other words, the employer, has to assign to the worker a “certificate of sponsorship”. To be able to do this, the employer has to have a sponsor licence. There is a list of registered licence holders, but if your prospective employer is not on this list they may consider applying for a licence. This is something we can help with.
The certificate of sponsorship confirms the personal details of the employee, the proposed job title, the relevant skills level, whether the resident labour market test was met and the salary. Relying on this certificate of sponsorship the employee makes an application for entry clearance (in other words, for a visa) or for leave to remain (the same application made within the UK).
Only your employer can issue a certificate of sponsorship, so if you are looking for one the first thing to do is to find a job.
Requirements for a Tier 2 General visa
In addition to the certificate of sponsorship from the prospective employer, you will need to show knowledge of English. This requirement is met for nationals of majority English speaking countries or graduates with a degree from a UK based University. Otherwise, there is a prescribed language test to B1 level. You may also be able to rely on a degree from an overseas university recognized by NARIC where tuition was in English.
In addition, there is a requirement to show sufficient maintenance funds which is £945 held in a bank account for a continuous period of 90 days. However, the employer can certify maintenance when assigning the certificate of sponsorship to the employee. Most employers would willingly accommodate this, and we recommend doing so to avoid any unnecessary complications.
Minimum salary requirement for the Tier 2 General visa
Generally, the minimum pay requirement for a sponsored job is £30,000 per year. However, each occupation has its own prescribed minimum salary. These occupation-specific thresholds are assigned to SOC codes and can be found in Appendix J of the Immigration Rules. Where the occupation-specific minimum salary is higher than £30,000, the higher figure applies.
An exception applies to the so-called “new entrants”. This option is available on completion of studies in the UK (although not in every possible scenario) or if the employee is under the age of 26 at the time of making the visa application.
The minimum pay for a new entrant is £20,800 or as prescribed in Appendix J for the specific occupation, whatever is the higher. A new entrant can only be sponsored for up to three years. After that, the experienced worker rate will apply.
Dependants of Tier 2 migrants
Tier 2 migrants are entitled to bring their spouse or unmarried partner and children to the UK. No other dependants are allowed. Dependants of Tier 2 migrants can work in the UK without any restrictions. However, they cannot switch in-country to any other category and have no independent right to remain in the UK if the main visa-holder leaves the country.
Indefinite leave to remain
With the exception of Tier 2 ICT migrants, Tier 2 visa holders are entitled to indefinite leave to remain in the UK after five years of continuous residence.
There is a limit on permitted absences during the five-year period. Absences of more than 180 days in any 12 months are not allowed even if they were related to the sponsored employment.
The five years can include time spent in the UK as a representative of an overseas business, as a Tier 1 migrant, except for Post-Study Work, as an innovator or a global talent migrant.
An alternative option is indefinite leave to remain on the basis of long residence which is available if you have been living in the UK lawfully for a period of 10 years in any combination of immigration categories. Long residence rule also has a restriction on absences but it is calculated differently – you shouldn’t have been absent for more than 180 days continuously or for more than 540 days in the overall period of ten years.
It is important to be aware of the good character requirement for ILR applications – even minor driving offences or offences leading to warnings or court fines are taken into account and may delay the entitlement.
Minimum pay requirement for indefinite leave to remain in Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (Sportsperson) categories
For applications made after 6 April 2019, the minimum pay requirement for ILR is £35,800. This figure was supposed to go up on 6 April every year, but it was frozen at this level and did not go up in 2020.
You may be confused by the Home Office guidance published in July 2020 which still erroneously refers to the £36,200 threshold for applications made after 6 April 2020. This is a mistake and the correct information can be found in the immigration rules, paragraph 245HF(d)(vi)(3) and (4).
Tier 2 General FAQs
Before they can issue a certificate of sponsorship, the employer has to have a sponsor licence. If they don’t have one, they need to make an application to the Home Office. The licence is issued for four years and is renewable at the end of the period.
If the employer has no adverse history of dealings with the Home Office, has a genuine business and a genuine need for the services in a suitable position (i.e. a suitable vacancy for a skilled job), we are happy to help them with the application and would expect the licence to be issued within 4 – 8 weeks from the date of the application.
When the offer of employment is accepted, the employer assigns to the migrant a certificate of sponsorship.There are two types of certificates of sponsorship: restricted and unrestricted.
In the long run, it makes little difference for the sponsored worker, but for the employer the associated procedures are different.
It is important to know that the unrestricted certificates of sponsorship can only be assigned to workers who are already in the UK and intend to apply for an extension of their Tier 2 General visa, or for overseas students switching from Tier 4 General to Tier 2 visa inside the UK.
Restricted certificates of sponsorship are for all other sponsored workers. They can only be used in applications for entry clearance from abroad. This means that if you are already living and working in the UK but want to switch from your current status to Tier 2 General, you will have to leave the country and apply from your country of nationality or habitual residence.
Holders of Tier 1 visas in various categories and graduates with a valid Tier 4 visa can switch into Tier 2 visa in-country.Recent graduates with a valid Tier 4 visa have the advantage of being exempt from the resident labour market test.
Holders of a Tier 2 visa who are changing employer need a new visa.
Also, if your job with the sponsor changes significantly, you may need to apply for a new visa to reflect this.
Tier 2 General visa can be issued for any period of time up to five years. It can be extended for an extra year.
Tier 2 visa cannot be extended beyond six years except for high earners with a salary of at least £159,600.
If the Tier 2 migrant leaves the UK – either on completion of employment or due to the end of their visa period – they are not allowed to reapply for a Tier 2 visa for 12 months. This is called a cooling-off period.
The cooling-off period applies if the migrant was sponsored for any period longer than three months. Short periods of sponsorship of three months or less do not trigger a cooling-off period.
The cooling off period does not apply for high earners with a salary above £159,600. However, their total length of stay as a Tier 2 migrant cannot exceed 9 years.
Tier 2 Intra Company Transfer
What is a Tier 2 ICT visa?
Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer visa is for employees of an overseas company seconded to a UK location.
The overseas employer should have a branch or an affiliated company in the UK and a Tier 2 sponsorship licence in ICT category. The employee, sponsored under the Tier 2 ICT category will continue employment for the same employer.
Change of employer for Intra-Company Transfer staff is not permitted.
There are two sub-categories for Tier 2 ICT visa: Tier 2 ICT Long Term Staff and Tier 2 Graduate trainee category.
Long Term Staff category is for senior employees who have worked for the company for at least 12 months before their transfer or will be paid at least £73,900 per year once in the UK.
The Graduate Trainee category is for recent graduates with at least three months’ work experience working for the overseas branch who are being transferred to the UK to train for a specialist role.
Tier 2 ICT FAQs
Tier 2 ICT Long-term staff must be paid a gross annual salary of at least £41,500, although some senior roles, such as Chief Executive Officer, are subject to a higher minimum threshold.Graduate trainees must be paid at least £23,000 per annum.
This requirement only applies once the employee has been transferred to the UK. Their salary in the overseas branch does not count.
For Long-term staff, the maximum permitted stay is five years though employees with a gross annual salary of £120,000 can have their visa extended to up to 9 years.
There is no limit on the length of stay if the initial application under the Tier 2 ICT category was made before 6 April 2011.
Graduate trainees can stay up to 12 months.
Unlike Tier 2 General visa, Tier 2 ICT visa is intended to be temporary and does not lead to settlement after five years. Tier 2 ICT visa holders are expected to leave the UK once the visa expires.
Switching into the Tier 2 (General) category is not permitted. The application would have to leave the UK and wait 12 months before applying to return in the Tier 2 General category.
An exception to this rule is for those who were sponsored under the ICT category for less than 3 months and for high earners.
This rule will change in January 2021.
An employee can continue to be paid overseas. If they are to be paid in foreign currency, it is very important to check the official exchange rate when assigning the Certificate of Sponsorship to ensure the salary is correct.
Similarly to the Tier 2 (General) category, a 12-month cooling-off period normally applies once a Tier 2 ICT visa holder leaves the UK. The exceptions to this rule are where the previous sponsorship was less than three months or where the employee is a “high earner” and will be paid at least £120,000 per annum on their return to the UK as a Tier 2 ICT migrant or £159,600 if returning in the Tier 2 General category.
It is the length of sponsorship, not the length of actual stay in the UK that counts. If the Certificate of Sponsorship was assigned for more than 3 months, the cooling-off period applies, even if the employee left the UK early.
How we can help with with a sponsored work visa
If you already have a certificate of sponsorship, we will be delighted to represent you in the application for entry clearance or extension of stay.
If you have a job offer but your employer needs help with sponsoring you, we can assist with every step from sponsorship licence application to assigning certificate of sponsorship and making the visa application on your behalf.
Whether or not your employer has a sponsorship licence, please ask them to get in touch and we will recommend the best course of action.
If you don’t have a job offer but need help finding the best employment opportunities, send us your CV and let us know what kind of job you are after.
Last updated on September 1, 2020
Last updated on September 1, 2020