Europe, Life, Moving to the UK

The Ultimate Guide to the UK Tier 2 (General) Visa

A little over two years ago I came to London on a Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa. The process of applying for this visa was made a lot easier as I had help from a number of sources – I had friends living in London who had already gone through the process of getting this visa, and searching on the Internet helped answer any other questions I had (this guide by the Aussie Nomad was particularly helpful).

However, the Tier 5 visa is strictly a two year visa so Australians wishing to extend their UK beyond two years have limited options. I went down the route of obtaining a Tier 2 (General) visa.

Leading up to the time of the application I did a lot of research online to try and find success stories written by people who had obtained a Tier 2 visa. Unlike when I applied for the Tier 5, I wasn’t able to find a lot of information to draw on and I knew very few people personally who had been able to stay in the UK on a Tier 2 visa (most people I know had either gone home once their Tier 5 visa had expired or they were able to stay in the UK on an ancestry or defacto visa).

Which brings me to the purpose of this post – I wanted to document the application process as I experienced it so that maybe someone in my position in the future may get some use out of it. Please note that all information in this post is correct as of June 2014, prices and eligibility criteria may have changed slightly since then. Please refer to the gov.uk website for the most up-to-date information.

Eligibility Requirements

You can apply for a Tier 2 (General) visa if:

  • You’ve been offered a skilled job in the UK and have been assigned a certificate of sponsorship reference number (more on that below)
  • You’re from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland
  • You meet the English language requirement, either by passing an English test or being a national of an English-speaking country (like Australia)
  • You will be earning a salary of £20,500 or more
  • You have at least £945 in savings in your bank account for 90 days before you apply, or your sponsor has stated on the certificate of sponsorship that they will certify maintenance for you

Cost

When applying outside the UK, the cost for a standard Tier 2 (General) 3 year visa is £514 (the price may vary depending on your country of origin and whether you have dependents or if your job is listed on the shortage occupation list).

There is now an option to apply for a five year visa but this is roughly double the cost of the three year visa.

Documents Required

  • Your current passport
  • A passport-sized colour photograph
  • Bank statements showing you’ve had at least £945 in savings continuously over the last 90 days, unless your sponsor has certified maintenance for you
  • Proof that you meet the English requirement (in my case, my Australian passport is proof enough)
  • Your tuberculosis test results if you’re from a country where you have to take the test (Australia is exempt from this so it didn’t apply to me)

You’ll need to have a blank page in your passport on which to put the visa.

Finding a sponsor

First of all, the hiring company must obtain a sponsorship licence. The application for a sponsorship licence normally takes around three months to be approved. For this reason, when I was looking for work I would only apply directly to companies who I knew already had a sponsorship licence. This gave me my best chance at finding a job as I knew it would be pretty difficult to find a company willing to go through the time and expense of getting a sponsorship licence and then the actual visa.

There is a list of all companies who are licensed sponsors, so as I found job advertisements that matched my skill set I would look for that company on the list of sponsors to see if they already had a licence. If they did, I would submit my application. This was quite a frustrating process. I would always explain in my cover letters that I was a migrant seeking sponsorship, a lot of companies will disregard you at that point even if they do hold a licence. I was actually offered a role with an iconic British brand who did hold a licence, but when I told them that I required sponsorship I was simply informed that they never do that. There were a few companies that showed a genuine interest in me and were willing to sponsor so I kept on trying.

Resident Labour Market Test

The hardest part of getting a Tier 2 visa is, unless you have a job that is listed on the shortage occupation list, the hiring company must be able to demonstrate that the role cannot be filled by someone already permanently living in the UK. To do this they must complete what is known as the ‘resident labour market test’. The company must advertise the role in at least two places to settled workers for 28 calendar days. One of these job advertisements must be through Jobcentre Plus.

Now the problem with my line of work is that no company ever advertises through Jobcentre Plus. So when I did find a company that liked my CV and portfolio, they would then have to post a job advertisement on Jobcentre Plus in order to meet the resident labour market test requirement. Again, this was a deal breaker for some companies as they didn’t want to have to advertise the role for another month.

Certificate of Sponsorship

After a couple of months of searching I did finally receive a job offer! They fulfilled the resident labour market test requirement, so the next step for them was to obtain a certificate of sponsorship. This is an electronic record, not a physical document. Each certificate has its own number which a worker can use to apply for a visa. There are two types of certificates of sponsorship – restricted and unrestricted.

I fell into the restricted category because my job on the Tier 2 visa pays less than £153,500 a year. There’s a limited number of restricted certificates available each month so a company can only apply for one after they have completed the resident labour market test. Restricted certificates are allocated once a month, usually on or around the 11th of the month. Even though the number is limited, they never seem to allocate the full amount. Any that aren’t used are rolled over to the next month. There’s a page on the UKBA website which has figures on recent allocations of certificates. My certificate was in the June 2014 allocation and my employer received the certificate in the afternoon of the 11th June.

The Application Process

Once you have a certificate of sponsorship you are able to apply for the visa. The application must be submitted in your home country (or at least, a country where you hold the right to live and work) so for me this meant a trip back to Australia.

On the recommendation of my employer I engaged the help of a solicitor during the application process. This can be quite expensive though, and in hindsight the application form is not too difficult to do yourself – I just didn’t really know what to expect going in and wanted to play it safe.

You fill in an online form for your application which will include all your personal details (if you’ve done the Youth Mobility visa, this part of the application is very similar to that). The main difference is that you also need to fill out some information about your sponsor and eligibility for the Tier 2 visa. You will need to specify your entry date to the UK – this can be up to two weeks before the start date specified on your certificate of sponsorship. Be sure to check everything is correct on your application before you submit it. My solicitor did not do this and actually made a mistake with my name on the form! This had to be hand amended on the printed version but it did not have any negative impact on the application.

Once you have completed the application form you will then be able to book your biometics appointment. You will need to print off your application form and bring it, along with the required documents outlined above, to the appointment.

The appointment will take around 30 minutes. Plan to arrive a little early, but no more than 15 minutes early. If you arrive late you will need to reschedule the appointment.

When you are called they will check over your paperwork and ask you to decide whether you would like to pay for the priority processing. The priority service takes 6 working days. The regular service, I was told, will take 3-4 weeks. I opted for the priority service which cost AUD $214. This price includes the cost of the courier service to have your passport sent back to you.

The second part of the appointment is to have your finger prints and photograph taken. The visa office will then submit all your documents for processing – you no longer have to mail them yourself.

I attended my biometrics appointment on a Tuesday and with the priority service I had the visa returned to me within a week. For me it was definitely worth the extra cost to not be sitting around for a month waiting.

Do you have any further questions about the visa application? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

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