UK Immigration Tier System
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Updated April 2013
IntroductionThe United Kingdom's points-based 5 tier visa system is the main immigration route for migrants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) to come to the UK to work, study, invest or train.
The system separates applicants into five 'tiers'. In order to be eligible for a visa in any of the five tiers you must pass a points-based assessment. In work visa applications, points are generally awarded according to the applicant's ability, experience and age.
You must reach a points score above a minimum threshold if your application is to be successful. The minimum number of points required varies for each tier.
The Five TiersThe five tier visa system consists of the following:
- Tier 1: This visa category is for 'high-value migrants' from outside the EEA and covers entry of entrepreneurs, investors, and those very few people who come under the 'exceptional talent' visa.
- Tier 2: This category is for 'skilled workers' from outside the EEA with a job offer in the UK. It includes skilled workers who are transferred to the UK by an international company, skilled workers where there is a proven shortage in the UK, ministers of religion and sportspeople.
- Tier 3: This category was designed for low-skilled workers filling specific temporary labour shortages. The Government has so far never allocated any visas under this scheme. Unfortunately, this means that you cannot apply for the Tier 3 visa scheme.
- Tier 4: This category is for students aged over 16 from outside the EEA who wish to study in the UK. Applicants must have a place at a registered UK educational establishment before they can apply.
- Tier 5: This category contains six sub-tiers of temporary worker including creative and sporting, charity, religious workers, and the youth mobility scheme which enables about 55,000 young people every year to work in the UK on working holidays. The visas are awarded to young people from countries that have reciprocal arrangements with the UK.
Switching tiers and applying for Indefinite leave to remainThose issued with visas under Tiers 1, 2, and 4 will be eligible to apply for a visa under another tier once they are in the UK, if they can meet the requirements of that tier.
Those who travel to the UK under Tier 1 and Tier 2 visas (excluding Intra-Company transfers under Tier 2) may later be eligible to apply for UK permanent residence providing they meet the permanent residence requirements at the time of their application. In 2012, the UK government introduced a minimum salary requirement. From 2016 onwards, only people who earn £35,000 or more annually will be able to apply for permanent resident status.
Points structureIn each tier, an applicant must score a sufficient number of points to gain entry clearance or to extend his or her leave to remain in the United Kingdom.
Applicants in Tier 1 & Tier 2 are awarded points for their ability, experience and age. Points may also be awarded to an applicant when there is a skills shortage which the applicant can meet.
Applicants under Tier 4 (students) are awarded points for:
- Having a valid confirmation of acceptance for studies at a UK educational establishment
- Having an acceptable level of ability in English
- Having sufficient money to cover fees and living expenses
Tier 5 contains six different subcategories:
- Temporary worker – creative and sporting
- Temporary worker - charity worker
- Temporary worker – religious workers
- Temporary worker – government authorised exchange
- Temporary worker – international agreement
- Temporary worker – youth mobility scheme
Those applying under the first five categories are awarded points for having a sponsor and a valid certificate of sponsorship. Sportspeople must also have a certificate from their sport's governing body certifying that they are internationally established at the highest level.
Those applying under the youth mobility scheme are awarded points if they come from certain specified countries.
- New Zealand
- Republic of Korea
They must also be between 18 and 30 years old and have at least £1,800 in cleared, available cash funds.
SponsorshipMost migrants will require a Certificate of Sponsorship in order to be successful in their applications under the 5 Tier system. All those applying for a visa under Tiers 2, 4, and 5 (apart from youth mobility scheme applicants in Tier 5) are required to have sponsorship from a licensed sponsor. This will be an employer, for those coming to the UK to work, or an educational institution, for students.
A summary of the sponsorship requirements for each tier is laid out below.
- Tier 1: 'High-value migrants', entrepreneurs and investors do not require sponsorship but those with 'exceptional talent' must be sponsored by endorsed by a 'Designated Competent Body'
- Tier 2: All applicants under Tier 2 require a Certificate of Sponsorship from their prospective employer. This will certify that the migrant 'will fill a genuine vacancy in the UK that cannot be filled with a suitably qualified or skilled settled worker'. UK immigration defines a settled worker as someone who is 'a national of the European Economic Area or is legally settled in the United Kingdom with permission to work here'.
- Tier 4: All applicants under Tier 4 must have a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies from the UK educational institution at which they intend to study. This institution is known as the 'sponsor'. The sponsor is responsible for ensuring that the student complies with the terms of his visa and must inform the UKBA if he does not.
- Tier 5: All applicants under Tier 5 require a Certificate of Sponsorship except those who are visiting the UK under the youth mobility scheme (or working holiday visa as it is often known).
- Family: In most cases, spouses and dependants are allowed to come to the UK with the main applicant. Spouses are usually allowed to work. However, the following spouses do not have the right to work in the UK:
- Tier 4 (student) visa holders who are studying for a non-degree course and/or have been granted a visa for less than 12 months. (The spouses of Tier 4 visa holders who are at university and/or have leave to remain in the UK for over 12 months are permitted to work.
- Tier 5(temporary worker) with leave to remain in the UK for under 12 months.