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How to switch to a Skilled Worker visa in the UK under new rules


Under new rules, workers in the UK who hold a student, youth mobility scheme or intra-company transfer visa are now allowed to switch to a Skilled Worker visa without having to leave the UK, says Darren Faife, managing director, business immigration at Sable International.

Faife takes a closer look at the conditions needed to make this switch.

Switching visas

The Youth Mobility Scheme visa, previously known as the T5 Youth Mobility Scheme visa, is often referred to as the UK working holiday visa and is a great way to gain international work experience as well as travel throughout the EU. This visa allows young people (aged 18-30) from certain countries to live, work and travel in the UK for up to two years.

If you’re in the UK on a working holiday visa and secure sponsorship for a job, under the new Skilled Worker route, which came into effect on 1 December 2020, you are now able to switch into the Skilled Worker route from within the UK.

You will need to meet the following requirements:

  • You are aged 18 or over
  • You have a valid certificate of sponsorship for the job you’re planning to do
  • The job offer is for a genuine vacancy
  • The sponsor has paid any required immigration skills charge
  • The job is at the appropriate skill level
  • You will be paid a salary that equals or exceeds both a general salary threshold and the “going rate” for the occupation.

How a Student visa can lead to a Skilled Worker visa

Like the Youth Mobility Scheme visa, if you’re in the UK on a Student visa (previously the Tier 4 (General) student visa), you can now switch to a Skilled Worker visa from within the country.

Students with this visa can switch more easily to a Skilled Worker visa because they will enter the job market under the new entrant regulations. The advantage of being considered a new entrant to the job market is that there is a much lower salary requirement.

Usually, someone with a Skilled Worker visa is required to earn a salary which equals or exceeds both a general salary threshold (£25,600) and 100% of the “going rate” for the occupation.

A new entrant, however, only needs to be paid a salary which equals or exceeds both £20,480 per year and 70% of the going rate for the occupation. This is a significantly lower figure and will permit new entrants to be paid a lower salary.

New entrant requirements:

Anyone under the age of 26 years old, would be considered a new entrant to the job market.

Other considerations include:

  • Your most recent visa was a Student visa.
  • That visa expired less than two years before the date of application.
  • In that Student visa, or any previous Student visa, you were sponsored to study one of the following courses (not any other qualifications of an equivalent level):
  • a UK bachelor’s degree
  • a UK master’s degree
  • a UK PhD or other doctoral qualification
  • a Postgraduate Certificate in Education
  • a Professional Graduate Diploma of Education
  • You completed (or are applying no more than three months before you are expected to complete) the above mentioned course, or you are studying a PhD and have completed at least 12 months of study in the UK towards the PhD.

The Graduate visa ‘stepping stone’

After successfully completing your course, you can switch from a Student visa to a Graduate visa, which allows you to stay in the UK and work, or look for work, for two years. If you have a PhD or other doctoral qualification, you will be able to stay for three years.

You can apply for a Graduate visa if:

  • You’re in the UK
  • Your current visa is a Student visa
  • You studied a UK bachelor’s degree, postgraduate degree or other eligible course for a minimum period of time with your Student visa
  • Your education provider has told you you’ve successfully completed your course

With a Graduate visa you can:

  • Work in most jobs (except as a professional sportsperson)
  • Look for work
  • Be self-employed
  • Continue living in the UK with your partner and children, if they’re eligible
  • Do voluntary work
  • Travel abroad and return to the UK

The Graduate visa cannot be extended, but you can switch to a Skilled Worker visa which is a route to indefinite leave to remain.

Intra-company transfers and the Skilled Worker visa

Under these new post-Brexit rules, workers who are currently in the UK on a Intra-company transfer (ICT) visa can now switch to a Skilled Worker visa from within the UK. This was previously not possible, and you were subject to a 12-month cooling-off period where you would have to return home before being able to apply for a Skilled Worker visa.

This cooling-off period also applied to Tier 2 (General) visa holders when your visa expired. If you got a new job and required a new Tier 2 visa, you would have to wait until 12 months had passed before applying for a new visa, if you had already left the UK.

In December 2020, the Tier 2 (General) visa was replaced by the points-based Skilled Worker visa. Under the new rules, you can apply for a new Skilled Worker visa from within the UK before your current visa expires.

Unlike an ICT visa, a Skilled Worker visa gives you the opportunity to apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) after five years.

Workers on an ICT visa will have to prove the following in order to qualify for a Skilled Worker visa:

  • Your job must meet the eligibility criteria.
  • You can speak, read, write and understand English

These new rules afford visa holders, who previously had no means to remain in the UK if they wished, the chance to do so. The Skilled Worker visa is a much-coveted visa that presents a route to indefinite leave to remain and possibly citizenship, and the wealth of opportunity that comes with it.

  • By Darren Faife, managing director, business immigration at Sable International

Read: New options open for South Africans wanting to move to the UK



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