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A guide to skilled worker visas

Learn all you need to know about the skilled worker visa, in this detailed guide from one of our immigration law experts.

The skilled worker visa allows skilled individuals to work in an eligible role in the UK.

In this guide, we explain what a skilled worker visa is, who is eligible and how to apply.

What is a skilled worker visa?

The skilled worker visa allows UK employers to fill skill gaps within their workforce by hiring skilled foreign workers.

The skilled worker visa was introduced in January 2021 as a replacement for the Tier 2 (General) visa route. It is now the most common route for international workers seeking to work in the UK.

If a worker meets the eligibility criteria, they can work in the UK for an initial period of up to five years — their certificate of sponsorship will dictate how long the visa is valid. After this period, the worker may extend their visa or they may be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain if they wish to stay in the UK.

Who is eligible for a skilled worker visa?

To be eligible for a skilled worker visa, a worker must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • Be at least 18 years of age;
  • Have a job offer from a UK employer that’s been approved by the Home Office for a role at an appropriate skill level;
  • Have a valid certificate of sponsorship (CoS) from a lawfully operating UK business;
  • Speak English to at least level B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages;
  • Have at least £1,270 in their bank account (the future employer can agree to cover this by certifying maintenance on the CoS);
  • Earn the minimum qualifying salary of £38,700 per year or the going rate for the job, whichever is higher. A lower salary may be paid where:
    • the applicant is applying for a Health and Care Worker Visa in certain occupations
    • a worker was sponsored before 4 April 2024 and/or has continuously held a skilled worker visa since then
    • a role is listed on the immigration salary list.
    • the applicant is under 26 years of age, studying, a recent graduate or in professional training
    • the applicant has a PhD in a field that is relevant to their job or postdoctoral position in science or higher education.

Self-sponsorship of a skilled worker visa

If a worker plans to set up their own businesses in the UK, they can sponsor themselves for a skilled worker visa.

Their business will need to obtain a sponsor licence before they can sponsor themselves for a skilled worker visa. This may mean that the new company needs to be formed overseas — our company law solicitors can provide detailed guidance on how to do this.

How much does a skilled worker visa cost?

The worker will need to pay an application fee for their skilled worker visa. The fee varies depending on their circumstances and will be between £551 and £1,636.

The table below outlines how much the application fee will be:

Job type Application fee (up to 3 years) Application fee (3 - 5 years)
Standard fees £719 (applying outside UK)

£827 (applying inside UK)
£1,420 (applying outside UK)

£1,636 (applying inside UK)
Immigration salary list £551 £1,084

In addition to this, the worker will need to pay the immigration health surcharge, which costs up to £1,035 per year. In some circumstances, there will also be a biometric enrolment fee.

The visa application fee and immigration health surcharge are paid up front when the application is submitted.

Supporting documents

To support the application, the worker will need to provide a number of supporting documents. The documents they will need to provide will vary depending on their circumstances. Examples include:

  • Proof of identity, such as a passport
  • The certificate of sponsorship reference number that will have been provided by the sponsoring employer
  • The name of the future employer and their sponsor licence number
  • Proof that the worker speaks English to the required level, such as a degree certificate or an accredited test certificate.
  • The worker’s job title
  • The worker’s salary
  • The occupation code of the job
  • Evidence of the required financial support

This is not an exhaustive list, and it is crucial to get it right or the application will be rejected. Our expert immigration solicitors can guide you through the process.

Applying for a skilled worker visa

Once the worker has obtained a certificate of sponsorship and collated their supporting documentation, they can apply for a skilled worker visa. They will need to complete an online application within three months of receiving their certificate of sponsorship.

The applicant will need to make the payment once they have completed their application — failure to do so will result in the application being rejected.

As part of the application process, the applicant may need to arrange an appointment at a visa application centre to provide their biometric information.

The applicant should receive a response to their application within three weeks for applications submitted overseas, or within eight weeks for applications made inside the UK.

Skilled worker visas on change of employment

If a worker loses their job or applies for another job with a different employer, they will need to apply for a new skilled worker visa.

There are also circumstances when a worker may need to apply for a new skilled worker visa when moving jobs with the same employer, such as if their job occupation code changes or if their existing visa is for a role on the immigration salary list and they are moving to a new role which is not.

Can we help?

We have an experienced team of immigration experts who advise a wide variety of clients — from FTSE 100 companies and multinational organisations to individuals — on a full range of immigration issues. Contact us today for expert advice on skilled worker visas.

If you need assistance with navigating the rules around skilled worker visas, contact our immigration solicitors who will be happy to assist you.

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