While there is a focus in the U.K. on both training young people to enter the workforce and encouraging people to re-skill to increase their opportunities, there is still a significant skills gap in certain sectors of the labour market.
Fields such as biomedical research, mechanical engineering and information technology all currently struggle to find a suitable amount of candidates in local areas and as a result, have to expand their recruitment search.
Video conferencing software such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams are considerably more widespread in working environments, due to the increase in remote working since the covid 19 pandemic. As a result, it’s easier than ever for employers to recruit workers from all over the world. There are some roles however which can’t be conducted remotely, which is where the skilled worker visa comes into play.
Employers who obtain a sponsor licence are able to use it to ‘sponsor’ workers from overseas to live and work in the U.K. Once they have obtained the licence and are prepared to make an offer of employment to an overseas worker, they can issue them with a certificate of sponsorship, which is one of the eligibility criteria for them to gain a skilled worker visa. The certificate must be issued to the new employee no later than 3 months before they apply for their skilled worker visa.
The other eligibility criteria for this visa require evidence detailing both personal information and information about the role the employee intends to take.
A worker may be required to show that they have means to financially support themselves when they enter the country, this could include bank statements or other financial documentation that show available funds. They will also need to prove that their new job role meets a minimum income requirement.
At present, workers will need to be earning at least £25,600 per year in their new role. This however is dependent on the current ‘market rate’ for the job role within the U.K. and if this is a higher figure on average, the requirement will be altered. There are also some factors which will allow a worker to enter the U.K. on a skilled worker visa while earning less. This could be in order to fill certain needed healthcare or education roles, taking on a STEM position in which they have a PhD, or if their role is on the shortage occupation list.
Not all occupations are eligible under this visa, as the U.K. government has determined a list of 1,100 professions which are considered to be skilled work. This includes but is not limited to civil engineering roles, chief executive and senior official positions, nurses, teachers and other professional-level positions.
The worker will need to prove a B1 level of ability in the English language. This can be done through a speaking and listening test that uses the Secure English Language Testing framework and can be attained from providers such as Trinity College London or IELTS. There are some exemptions where this requirement is concerned. If they hold a higher education qualification which was taught in English, or the majority spoken language in their country of origin is English, they may not be required to take the test.
As with all U.K. visas, there are various fees which must be paid to the Home Office in order for the application to be processed. In the case of the skilled worker visa, some must be paid by the employer and some by the employee.
How much an employer has to pay is dependent upon the size of their organisation. Small businesses and charities must pay £364 for the first 12 months of employment and a further £182 for each following 6-month period to cover the immigration skills surcharge. Larger businesses must pay £1000 and £500 respectively.
The fees for the worker are dependent partially on where they are residing when making their application, and the role they are intending to take on. If applying from outside the U.K. for a job which is not on the shortage occupations list, the fee is £625 for up to 3 years, or £1235 for more than 3 years. If applying from within the U.K., these fees are £719 for 3 years, and 1423 for more than 3 years. If the role is listed on the shortage occupations list, then these fees change to £479 and £943 regardless of the applicants’ location. Additionally, you may be required to pay the immigration health surcharge of £624 each year you’re in the U.K.
This visa carries a maximum possible eligibility period of 5 years, and while it can be extended if you wish to stay longer in the U.K. under its terms, at the end of that 5-year period, a worker would be entitled to apply for indefinite leave to remain.
Although there is no requirement to have any legal representation when applying for a visa in the U.K., the process for both the sponsor licence and the skilled worker visa can be complex. Both visas involve multiple eligibility criteria which must be met through a variety of evidence types and as such, it may be beneficial for either or both the employer and employee to seek the advice of an experienced legal professional with experience in the immigration field before applying. This will help them to navigate the process, increasing the chances of a smooth acceptance.