UK Skilled Worker Visas: Tier 2 (General) versus Tier 2 ICT

Tier 2 of the points based system is the primary immigration route for skilled foreign workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland seeking permission to work in the UK.

There are various sub-categories under Tier 2 of the points based system, including the Tier 2 (General) visa and the Tier 2 Intra Company Transfer (ICT) visa.

The ICT visa enables non-EEA nationals who are existing employees of multi-national companies transfer to a UK-based branch of the same organisation that is linked by common ownership or control.

The Tier 2 General visa enables skilled non-EEA workers to accept an offer of a job that cannot be filled by a suitably qualified or skilled settled worker. This includes workers coming to the UK to fill shortage occupations, ie; where there are not enough workers in the domestic labour market to meet demand.

To satisfy the Tier 2 criteria, unless the job qualifies as a shortage occupation, the UK licensed sponsor must typically undertake a resident labour market test to show that the job will not displace a suitably qualified or skilled settled worker.

The resident labour market test requires the Tier 2 sponsor to first advertise the job prior to assigning a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). In this way the sponsor can show that the offer of the job is genuine and there are no suitable workers already living permanently in the UK.
Minimum salary thresholds also apply to Tier 2 roles.

Tier 2 General eligibility

To qualify for a Tier 2 General visa, the applicant will typically need to satisfy two further criteria: the English language requirement and the maintenance requirement.

The Home Office will award an applicant the requisite 10 points for English language in the following circumstances:

  • They are a national of a majority English speaking country
  • They hold a degree that was taught in English which must be equivalent to a UK bachelor’s degree or above
  • They have passed a Secure English Language Test (SELT) at the appropriate level.

Typically, to be awarded the requisite 10 points for maintenance, an applicant must show that they have available funds in the sum of £945.

This can comprise of either personal savings, although this must have been held for 90 consecutive days, finishing on the date of the closing balance, ending no more than 31 days before the date of their application.

The funds can also be shown by way of guarantee from the UK sponsor, whereby they must certify on the CoS that they will maintain and accommodate the applicant up to the end of their first month of employment in the UK if required.

Tier 2 ICT eligibility

The Tier 2 ICT visa category consists of two sub-categories: Long-Term Staff and Graduate Trainee.

The long-term staff sub-category is for workers who are filling a position in the UK for a year or more at a salary level above the prevailing threshold. Applicants must have been employed by the company overseas for at least a year, unless the UK job pays at least £73,900 a year. The length of stay will be determined largely by salary level.

The graduate trainee sub-category is for workers with a recent degree level or above qualification who are filling a position in the UK on a graduate trainee programme for up to one year. Applicants for this category must have been employed and/or trained by the company overseas for at least 3 months and must earn above the current threshold level.

To make an application under any of the ICT subcategories you must satisfy the points assessment by achieving a minimum score of 60 points, comprising 30 points for the Certificate of Sponsorship, 20 points for salary and 10 points for maintenance funds (available funds of £800 in your bank account for at least 3 months prior to the application being made).

Alternatively, if your potential employer is an A-rated sponsor they can provide you with a letter that will cover you for meeting the maintenance requirements.

What are the main differences between the Tier 2 ICT and Tier 2 General visa?

A crucial difference between the Tier 2 ICT and the Tier 2 General visa is the ability to settle in the UK.

Subject to a minimum qualifying period and other requirements, individuals on a Tier 2 General visa can apply for indefinite leave to remain to settle in the UK after 5 continuous years in the UK with Tier 2 General leave.

Tier 2 ICT visa holders granted entry clearance under the rules in place on or after 6 April 2011 however cannot apply to settle in the UK.

In addition, the minimum UK salary threshold for the ICT visa is typically higher than the General category and a 12-month cooling-off period also applies to Tier 2 ICT holders at the end of their period of UK leave or if they change employers. During this time they must leave the UK and wait a year before they can apply again for leave under Tier 2.

Switching from Tier 2 ICT to Tier 2 General?

It is no longer possible for Tier 2 ICT holders to switch into the Tier 2 General category. Alternative immigration options should be considered to remain in the UK following a Tier 2 ICT period of leave, including the impact of the Tier 2 cooling-off period.

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