Skilled worker visas are granted for a period of up to 5 years. At the end of this visa period, you apply to extend your visa or you can make an application for Indefinite Leave to Remain.
With ILR, you gain the right to live and work in the UK for as long as you like, without time restriction and free from immigration control. ILR is also a route to naturalise as a British citizen.
To apply to switch from a Skilled Worker Visa to ILR status, you will need to show you in your application that you meet the ILR requirements.
For both visa holders and UK sponsors, understanding these rules will be key to ensuring a smooth transition from Skilled Worker to ILR once an applicant has lived in the UK for 5 years. In this way, migrants and their employers can work together, in advance, to ensure any application to switch is successful and the worker can remain in the UK indefinitely.
Skilled Worker visa to ILR requirements
Appendix Skilled Worker sets out the specific requirements for Skilled Worker visa holders to apply for ILR in relation to:
- Eligibility requirements, ie meeting the relevant qualifying period; showing continuous residence (as set out under Appendix Continuous Residence), proving knowledge of English language and life in the UK (as set out under Appendix KOL) and meeting the ILR salary threshold (as set out under Appendix Skilled Worker).
- Suitability requirements, ie meeting general grounds to remain.
- Validity requirements, ie following the ILR application and process rules.
Once you have lived in the UK under a Skilled Worker visa for a continuous period of 5 years, you will be able to apply to stay on a permanent basis. This 5-year period does not necessarily need to be made up solely of time spent on a Skilled Worker visa, although the applicant’s most recent permission must be under the Skilled Worker or Tier 2 (General) route. The 5 year period must also comprise of time with permission on any of, or any combination of, the following immigration routes:
- Tier 2 (General) or Skilled Worker
- T2 Minister of Religion
- T2 Sportsperson
- Global talent
- Representative of an Overseas Business, or
- Tier 1, other than as a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
ILR continuous residence
To be eligible to switch from Skilled Worker to ILR status, the applicant will need to show a continuous period of 5 years in the UK under any relevant route. Appendix Continuous Residence sets out the supplementary rules relating to how continuous residence can be broken, how any absences from the UK are calculated and what absences won’t be counted.
When applying for ILR as a Skilled Worker, the period of time an applicant can be absent from the UK without breaking their continuous residence is typically no more than 180 days in any 12-month period. The way that this calculated will depend on whether the applicant’s visa was granted before or after the 11 January 2018 when the calculation rules changed.
If an applicant has been outside the UK for longer than 180 days this will usually break their period of continuous residence, unless they can show that any absences fall within one of the specified exceptions. These exceptions include where there have been travel disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or where there are compelling and compassionate personal circumstances, such as the life-threatening illness or death of a close family member.
The continuous residence period can also be broken in other ways, for example, during any period of imprisonment or where the applicant did not have permission to be in the UK.
English language requirement
If the applicant is aged 64 or under when they apply to switch from Skilled Worker to ILR status, they must satisfy the Knowledge of Life in the UK (KOL) requirement.
Appendix KOL UK should not be confused with Appendix KOLL under the Immigration Rules. Appendix KOLL sets out how applicants for ILR must demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the English language and about life in the UK. However, applications for settlement under the Skilled Worker route are subject to separate simplified rules under Appendix KOL UK. A skilled worker will have satisfied the English language requirement in their initial application.
Under Appendix KOL, an applicant must pass what’s known as the Life in the UK Test. This means that they must provide a valid digital reference number from an approved test provider showing they have passed. An applicant must book their Life in the UK Test online at least 3 days in advance. There are over 30 UK test centres to choose from.
The requirement to pass this test is applicable to all migrants switching from Skilled Worker to ILR status, unless at the date of application they:
- Are aged 65 or over, or
- Have a physical or mental disability which prevents them from meeting the requirement.
Skilled worker to ILR salary threshold
To switch from Skilled Worker to ILR status, the applicant’s employer, as set out in their most recent permission, must still be approved to sponsor skilled workers on the date of decision and not just the date of application. The employer must also provide confirmation that the applicant is still required to work for them, at least for the foreseeable future, and that the applicant is paid a salary that meets the minimum threshold for settlement and will continue to be paid this salary, again for the foreseeable future.
This means that the applicant’s salary must be at least the general salary requirement, currently £26,200 per annum or the relevant ‘going rate’ for their job, whichever is higher. For example, if the applicant’s salary is £29,000 but the ‘going rate’ for their job is £30,000, they will not satisfy the salary requirement for ILR.
There are, however, different salary rules where the applicant was sponsored in their most recent permission for a job that falls within a shortage occupation, or for certain healthcare or education jobs as set out under Table 2 of Appendix Skilled Occupations.
The lower salary threshold also applies to applications where the 5-year qualifying period for ILR includes time as a Tier 2 (General) worker in a number of specified occupation codes including scientists; natural and social science professionals not elsewhere classified; research and development managers; and higher education teaching professionals.
Any other salary reductions that are permitted through tradable points when applying for limited leave to remain under the Skilled Worker route do not apply to ILR applications.
ILR validity requirements
To successfully switch from Skilled Worker to ILR status, the application must meet all of the following validity requirements:
- Any fee must have been paid
- The applicant must have provided any biometrics
- The applicant must have provided a valid passport or other travel document to establish their identity and nationality, and
- The applicant must also be in the UK on the date of application
An application which does not meet these requirements for settlement as a Skilled Worker will be treated as invalid. This means the application may be rejected and not considered.
In addition, even where all the validity and eligibility requirements have been met, an application could still be refused if the applicant is not considered suitable for ILR. This could be because:
- The applicant has given false or incomplete information in their application
- The applicant has a criminal record either in the UK or another country
- The applicant is in breach of the UK’s Immigration Rules, eg, they have overstayed
These are known as general grounds for refusal. However, these rules are lengthy and complex, so it is always best to seek expert legal advice before submitting an application. Advice should also be sought on any other potential pitfalls prior to applying, including where applicants have exceeded or almost exceeded the limit on the number of allowable absences and what documentation should be provided in support.
How to make a Skilled Worker to ILR application
An application to switch from Skilled Worker to ILR status must be made online no sooner than 28 days before reaching the end of the qualifying residence period. The application must be submitted on the GOV.UK website using the specified form: “Settle in the UK in various immigration categories: Form SET(O)”.
An applicant should always check their eligibility before they apply. If they are eligible, they will find online guidance on how to complete their application and the evidence they need to provide. As a starting point this will include the applicant’s passport or other valid travel document which satisfactorily establishes their identity and nationality, and proof from their UK sponsor of their job and salary. It should also include evidence of any absences outside the UK exceeding 180 days.
An application for ILR includes an application for a biometric residence permit. Once an application has been submitted, the applicant will be required to provide their biometric information, including a scan of their fingerprints and a digital photo of their face.
The applicant should receive a decision on whether or not they have been granted ILR within 6 months. This may be longer where the application is complex. This could be where their supporting documentation needs to be verified, they need to attend an interview, or because of their personal circumstances, for example, they have been convicted of a criminal offence.
How much does it cost to go from the Skilled Worker Visa to ILR?
The cost of applying for ILR is £2,885 per applicant. The applicant will be able to add their partner or any children if they are applying as dependants and meet the eligibility criteria.
To get a faster decision, it may be possible to pay an extra £500 for the priority service. Under this service the applicant will get a decision within 5 working days. Under the super priority service, the applicant can pay an extra £800 to get a decision by the end of the next working day after providing their biometric information. If that appointment falls on a weekend, the decision will take 2 working days. Fast track services are not however available for all types of ILR applications; take professional advice before making your application.
The applicant will also need to pay for the Life in the UK test at a cost of £50.
Extending the Skilled Worker visa
There is no maximum time limit under the Skilled Worker route, so applicants who are ineligible for ILR should still be able to extend their visa to remain in the UK where they continue to be sponsored by an approved employer in an eligible job role.
If you are not eligible for the ILR but wish to remain in the UK in your sponsored role, you may be eligible to extend your visa.
There is no limit to the number of times you can extend your Skilled Worker visa, provided you continue to be eligible under the requirements of the route, such as working in a qualifying role for a licensed sponsor.
Skilled Worker Visa to ILR FAQs
When can I apply for ILR with a skilled worker visa?
The earliest you can apply for ILR with a skilled worker visa is up to 28 days before you complete your 5-year qualifying residence period. If an application is submitted any sooner than 28 days before completion of this period it may be refused.
What supporting documents do I need for ILR?
You will need various documents in support of your application for ILR, including a passport or other travel document. You will also need evidence from your UK sponsor that they still require you to work for them in your job role for the foreseeable future, and that you are paid, and will be paid a salary, that meets the minimum threshold for settlement.
Can I apply for ILR before 28 days?
You cannot apply for ILR any earlier than 28 days before completing your 5-year qualifying residence period. If an application is submitted any sooner than 28 days before completion of this period the application may be rejected.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.