For most skilled economic migrants, the Tier 2 Visa is the primary route into the UK.
The Tier 2 Visa gives an employee from outside the EEA and Switzerland the right to reside and work in the UK for up to 5 years. Employees working on a Tier 2 Visa also have a number of other benefits such as the ability to bring family with them.
Successful applications for a Tier 2 Visa relies on the skill set of the applicant, having a job offer and sponsorship from a qualifying employer from the UK’s list of approved sponsors, being offered an above-threshold salary and meeting a range of other additional criteria.
The Tier 2 Visa application has strict time constraints and can be complicated to manage.
Even for successful applicants, failure to fully understand your rights and responsibilities under the Visa can lead to future legal complications and an unwanted curtailment of UK residency and employment rights.
It is recommended that skilled individuals seeking a Tier 2 Visa for work in the UK seek legal advice from the outset of their Visa process.
Tier 2 Visa Eligibility
The Tier 2 Visa applies to applicants from outside of the EEA and Switzerland.
Eligibility for a Tier 2 visa is reliant on having a job offer from a company in the UK. The new employer effectively sponsors the visa applicant.
Employers are only lawfully able to sponsor an applicant for a Tier 2 visa if they have a valid sponsor license from the Home Office. Within the registered sponsor companies some are also A rated. Companies who are A rated will normally guarantee maintenance for the applicant while in the UK.
Should the sponsor not be A rated, or the application be for an intra-company transfer, the applicant will need to be able to demonstrate that they have at least £945 in their bank account and that their bank balance has remained above this figure for the past 3 months.
Tier 2 visas are only available for skilled workers applying for skilled jobs. Often this means there must be a shortage of applicants within the UK and EEA. Jobs which would apply to the tier 2 visa requirements can be found on the Tier 2 Shortage Occupations List. If the role is not on this list it must have been advertised to workers from within the EEA before it can be offered to other applicants on a Tier 2 visa basis.
The job offered to Tier 2 visa applicants also needs to meet base salary requirements. For most jobs, an appropriate salary would need to be a minimum of £30000 per annum. Certain areas of employment are subject to different minimum wage criteria, as are Tier 2 Visa holders who received their visa prior to April 2011. The following exceptions will have different wage criteria:
- Employees of non-UK based airlines in ground staff positions
- Unregistered nursing staff, medical radiologists or paramedics
- Secondary school teachers of certain subjects
- Employees of non-UK based media companies e.g. international newspaper, radio or television companies
- Religious ministers, missionaries, and other religious workers
- Jewish agency employees
- Holders of work permits
In addition, applicants are only eligible for Tier 2 Visas if they have sufficient knowledge of English, the right to travel, are in good health and have clearance to work in their field (e.g. police clearance to work with vulnerable people).
In the case of individuals looking to switch from a Tier 4 visa to a Tier 2 visa they will need to have attained an eligible qualification.
The Tier 2 visa also covers some intra-company transfers both for long term employees and graduate trainees. In these cases the employer should be able to help facilitate the process.
Rights and responsibilities on a Tier 2 Visa
Employees who are residing and working in the UK on a Tier 2 Visa benefit from a number of legal rights and benefits. Some of the advantages of attaining a Tier 2 Visa include:
- The legal right to work for the employer who sponsored the Visa, doing the job described in the sponsorship offer
- The right to undertake additional voluntary work, e.g. volunteering for charity organisations
- The right to study, both foundational and further study, while working and living in the UK as long as said study does not negatively impact on the work outlined in the Visa sponsorship
- The right to bring family members to live with the Visa holder in the UK for the duration of the Visa
- The right to leave and return to the UK, for holiday or to complete work on behalf of the sponsoring job, prior to the end of the Visa
- The right, in some circumstances, to take on a second job as long as it does not affect the job specified in the Visa sponsorship
There are also specified restrictions as to what a Tier 2 Visa holder can legally do while in the UK. Some examples of limitations to Tier 2 Visa holders rights are:
- The inability to purchase of own over 10% of the shares of the sponsoring company and employer except in cases where the Visa holder is earning above £159600 per annum.
- The inability to apply for a second job or second income prior to the start of their position at the sponsoring business
- The inability to access public funds
Despite the restrictions, the huge array of benefits and rights make the Tier 2 visa one of the best options for skilled individuals from outside the EEA and Sweden looking to work in the UK.
The Tier 2 Visa Process and Costs
Attaining a Tier 2 visa is reliant on the applicant having an offer for a skilled role with a UK sponsor. The company hiring the applicant will need to confirm the role qualifies for the Tier 2 visa by salary and skill level and then issue the applicant with a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS).
The applicant then uses the CoS to apply for their individual Tier 2 visa at UKVI. The Tier 2 application will also require the applicant to provide:
- Evidence they are being paid an appropriate salary
- In cases where the sponsor is not A-Rated, bank or building society statements demonstrating sufficient personal savings (usually a minimum of £945)
- Proof of sufficient knowledge of English
- Evidence of ability to travel, such as a passport, along with evidence of travel history dating back 5 years such as old passports and travel documents
- A double blank page in the applicants’ passport
Depending on individual circumstances, additional documents are sometimes required.
In the case of applicants coming from a Tuberculosis listed country, they will also need to submit a recent tuberculosis test result.
Applicants who will be working with vulnerable people, such as the disable, elderly, or children, will need provide a criminal record certificate from all countries in which they have resided for over 12 months in the past 10 years.
Applicants will also need to pay an NHS surcharge prior alongside their application.
Both the original copy and a photocopy of each document the applicant needs to submit must be provided. Documents which are not in either English or Welsh must be sent with a certified translation.
As well as completing the online application, applicants will need to attend a visa application centre to have their biometric data taken.
Successful Tier 2 visa applicants will be required to collect their biometric residence permit within 10 days of their scheduled arrival in the UK.
Applications for Tier 2 Visas can be submitted up to 3 months prior to the start date of the role in the UK.
Applicants should receive a decision on their visa within 3 weeks.
In some cases, either the visa or related services such as translation may be completed faster. To check whether this applies, applicants should ask their visa application centre.
‘Switching’ into Tier 2
Some individuals may be able to switch to a Tier 2 visa from another type of visa. Applicable visas include Tier 1 visas, another type of Tier 2 visa such as sportsman or religious minister, and Tier 4 visas if the applicant has acquired an eligible qualification or undertaken at least 12 months of a PHD.
Dependents of a Tier 2 visa and business representatives may also be able to switch to a Tier 2 visa. To switch to a Tier 2 visa, applicants will need to apply for it prior to the end of their existing visa and pay a new NHS surcharge.
Extending your Tier 2 Visa
Employees working under a Tier 2 visa looking to change job from their original sponsor will need to apply for a new Tier 2 visa with a new sponsoring employer.
Should a Tier 2 visa holder wish to extend their stay in the UK beyond the time awarded in their Visa they will either need to switch to an alternative visa or extend their Tier 2 Visa.
It is possible for the Tier 2 visa holders and their dependants to extend their visa for up to an additional 5 years. To do so is dependent on the visa holder still meeting the job and salary criteria, re-applying either online (https://visas-immigration.service.gov.uk/product/tier2-general) or in person at a premium service centre (https://www.gov.uk/ukvi-premium-service-centres), and paying both the fee and a new NHS surcharge. Any dependants will also have to re-apply.
Why legal advice?
Applying for a Tier 2 visa requires specific evidence and criteria, which can delay the process for application.
The cost and risk of rejection, alongside the need to meet deadlines for the start of your sponsoring job role, make it critical that an application is submitted correctly and accepted.
There are also instances where the Tier 2 Visa may not be the best option for your situation or not an option at all, potentially wasting the time and money of both yourself and your sponsor.
Given the importance of acquiring the correct visa in a timely fashion, it is strongly recommended you seek legal advice prior to starting the application and throughout the process.
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.