Tier 2

map, passport and ID card

Tier 2 is an employer-led category which means that employers must sponsor any skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland. 

Sponsorship licence

To employ an individual using this category of the points-based system, employers require a sponsorship licence. This licence enables employers to apply for the relevant certificate of sponsorship (CoS) needed to employ an individual from outside of the EEA.

When granted a sponsorship licence, employers are given access to the sponsor management system (SMS) which enables them to issue CoS to migrant workers.

Sponsorship categories

There are two categories of certificates of sponsorship (CoS) within Tier 2 and each requires a different issuing process:

  • An unrestricted CoS is used for individuals who are already working for you under Tier 2 who need to extend their stay to continue working for you and for individuals you recruit who are already in the UK and who are allowed to switch to Tier 2.
  • restricted CoS is used for individuals who are applying from overseas as new entrants into the country.

Download our Immigration and the Tier 2 recruitment process - a quick guide which sets out the recruitment process that an employer should follow to meet the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) requirements to sponsor migrants under Tier 2 (General). 

Unrestricted certificates of sponsorship (CoS)

Each licensed employer should have their annual allocation of unrestricted CoS loaded onto their SMS account on 6 April each year. If this has not taken place, or more certificates are required throughout the year, employers will need to request these through their SMS account.

There is no restriction on the number of CoS that can be granted to employers for use with individuals who need to extend their employment, transfer employers within Tier 2 or transfer into Tier 2 from another relevant Tier, such as Tier 4. However, employers need to be able to account for why they are requesting that number of certificates, if asked by UK Visas and Immigration.

When appropriate, employers will need to demonstrate that the resident labour market test (RLMT) has been carried out, or that the post is exempt from the test. Further information can be found on our resident labour market test web page.

Restricted certificates of sponsorship (CoS)

Employers wishing to recruit a non-EEA skilled worker who is currently outside of the UK, will need to apply for a restricted CoS. The allocation of restricted CoS is determined on the 11th of each month (or closest working day) when the Home Office (UK Visas and Immigration) holds a panel meeting to decide.

Applications must be received by the 5th of each month to be considered on time. If applications are not received by this date, they will be reviewed at the following month's panel meeting. For example, if an application is received by the Home Office (UK Visas and Immigration) on 7 May, it will be reviewed by the panel on 11 June.

The panel's decision making process is based upon points gained against one of the three following categories and salary awarded for the job:

  • the job is identified on the shortage occupation list
  • the job is at PhD level
  • the resident labour market test (RLMT) has been conducted or the job is exempt.

The salary rates work on a sliding scale and higher paid jobs are awarded more points. A minimum of 21 points is required. 

The UK Visas and Immigration restricted CoS allocation meeting

The allocation meeting takes place monthly to review all certificate of sponsorship (CoS) applications. Applications that do not meet the minimum criteria of 21 points will be rejected.

The allocation meeting has the discretion to roll over or use an additional 100 certificates each month. The overall figure available for the year will not change but this will enable the panel to issue CoS to a group of applications that may all have the same number of points. Without using the 100 discretional CoS, all applications would normally be rejected and employers would be required to re-submit their request the following month.

Employers are notified of the result of their applications within five working days of the panel meeting via the SMS.

Successful applications

If an application has been successful, the CoS will become available to assign from within the restricted section of the employer's SMS account. The format of the restricted CoS will not look any different from the unrestricted CoS but employers need to ensure that they use this new CoS for its intended purpose only. 

Employers will only be required to pay for the CoS at the point it is assigned to the individual.

If you subsequently find out that you do not or cannot use this CoS, either because the migrant has withdrawn their application or you have withdrawn the offer, then you must inform the Home Office so the CoS can be recycled. You will not be charged if the CoS has not been assigned to the individual but you will be required to pay the fee if it has been assigned.

Unsuccessful applications

If your application is not successful and you wish for it to be re-considered the following month, you will need to re-submit the application along with the relevant paperwork. You are not required to pay to have your application considered. Employers will have to determine how many times they continue to re-submit applications for consideration if they are repeatedly rejected. Be mindful that the current rules only allow a CoS to be granted within six months of the advert being placed.

Tips for applying for a restricted certificate:

  • ensure that you are an A-rated sponsor
  • be confident that your recruitment process meets the RLMT or that the job is on the shortage occupation list
  • ensure that the job title includes any specialism the individual will be working in
  • include the full salary for the individual, including any allowances such as London weighting, on-call payments or banding - these would need to be allowances that would also apply to resident workers and would not include overtime or a bonus
  • check that the application would collect the minimum threshold of 21 points.

Full guidance detailing changes to the system and any sponsor duties is available on the GOV.UK website.

Indefinite leave to remain under Tier 2

The maximum length of stay under a Tier 2 visa is six years for people who entered the UK on or after 6 April 2011. Individuals who entered the UK under a Tier 2 visa can apply to settle in the UK after five years continuous residency, but must meet certain eligibility criteria in order to be granted indefinite leave to remain (ILR).

Employers should be aware that from 6 April 2016, a minimum ILR income threshold (£35,000) will apply for any individual who entered the UK on or after 6 April 2011. Other criteria also applies, and the rules are slightly different for people who were granted their Tier 2 visa before 6 April 2011.

Please see our Tier 2: Indefinite leave to remain section to access the full criteria and further guidance.

Latest changes to Tier 2

November 2016

In November 2016 the Home Office published changes to the Tier 2 (General) immigration route to come into effect on 24 November 2016. The key changes include the requirement for employers to carry out a RLMT before recruiting a non-EEA nurse (although nursing will remain on the shortage occupation list, the RLMT will apply) and an increase to the minimum salary thresholds to be eligible under the Tier 2 route. Find out more on our Tier 2 policy reform page and download our factsheet.

March 2016

In March 2016, the government announced the planned changes to be made to the Tier 2 (General) immigration route, following the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) reviews around reforming Tier 2 and nursing shortages. The main changes include the decision to keep nursing on the shortage occupation list (employers have to carry out a RLMT before recruiting a non-EEA nurse), new salary thresholds and the introduction of an Immigration Skills Charge (ISC). Find out more on our Tier 2 policy reform page and download our factsheet.

January 2016

In January 2016 the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its recommendations to reform the Tier 2 route. The MAC is also partially reviewed the shortage occupation list to assess whether there is a national shortage of nurses. NHS Employers made a submission to the MAC, on behalf of employers in the NHS, following a survey collecting nursing workforce data about the supply and demand of qualified nurses. 

April 2015

Following agreement between the Department of Health, Department for Work and Pensions, and the Home Office, the automatic transfer of vacancies from NHS Jobs to Universal Jobmatch was re-introduced on Tuesday, 7 April 2015. This will ensure that organisations advertising on NHS Jobs are able to comply with the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). Please see the news item for more information. The NHS Jobs website provides guidance on locating your vacancy in order to obtain the required screen shot evidence.

March 2015

In March 2015, the Home Office published a new version of the UK immigration rules, which contain important Tier 2 changes for employers in the NHS and overseas nurses to be aware of. The immigration rules now allow for an individual nurse to come to the UK to prepare for the observed structured clinical examination (OSCE) that forms part of the NMC's overseas nursing registration process.

March 2014

In March 2014, the Home Office announced a number of changes to the immigration rules which came into effect on 6 April 2014.

  • A new category to allow Tier 2 (General) applicants to be granted up to five years' leave (rather than up to three years') at a time on payment of a higher fee. This additional category will increase flexibility for applicants and their sponsor.
  • The temporary exemption from the requirement to advertise via Jobcentre Plus (to satisfy the resident labour market test) that exists for NHS positions advertised on NHS Jobs, is being extended to 1 October 2014 while ongoing technical issues are resolved.
  • Changes to the minimum salary thresholds and appropriate salary rates for occupations in Tier 2 and other categories (page seven of the Explanatory Memorandum) in line with annual wage inflation.
  • Minor changes to reflect the fact that application forms are now published on the visas and immigration pages of the gov.uk website.

Where can I get advice?

Detailed guidance is available from UK Visas and Immigration or you can get advice to individual queries by emailing BusinessHelpdesk@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk or calling the sponsorship and employers' helpline on 0300 123 4699.

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