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Visas and Immigration

Tier 2 is the main category in which Queen Mary can employ skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area.  In order to be eligible to employ an individual on a Tier 2 visa numerous procedures must be followed precisely. Only if we meet these criteria can we sponsor an individual under Tier 2.  Below is each step of the process: 

  • The job must meet the Home Office's minimum skill level and salary requirements;
  • If necessary, the job must meet the requirements of the Resident Labour Market Test;
  • The rules concerning the selection process must have been followed;
  • The individual must be eligible to apply for a Tier 2 visa;
  • HR must obtain a Certificate of Sponsorship for the individual;
  • The individual must successfully apply for a visa;
  • Prior to commencement and throughout employment, the Department and employee must comply with the Sponsor Duties set out by the Home Office.

Recruiting International Staff

If you are due to recruit to a job that you believe will attract candidates who may require sponsorship you will need to make sure that all aspects of the job meet the necessary requirements set out above.  The below guidance will assist you through the process of recruiting non-EEA candidates. 

Before advertising a vacancy, Recruiting Managers must consider whether the vacancy will attract candidates from outside the settled workforce.  Candidates who do not have the right to work in the UK will require sponsorship under Tier 2 of the points based immigration system.  To allow Queen Mary to sponsor someone the vacancy must meet the minimum skill (RQF Level 6 or PhD Level) and salary requirements. 

To establish the correct skill level and salary the job must be matched against an applicable SOC code.  SOC Codes are the method the Government uses for classifying jobs according to their titles and activities.  Appendix J of the Immigration Rules details each SOC Code and their relevant minimum salary requirements.

It is vital that the appropriate SOC code is identified before the start of the recruitment process so that:

  • The University can establish whether the job is eligible for sponsorship, and;
  • The department/institution can ensure that the advertising and selection requirements are met for the level of SOC code that has been chosen.

The HR Operations and Recruitment Team, and International Employment Compliance Adviser will be able to provide advice on this.

If a vacancy is likely to attract international candidates who require sponsorship then the advert must meet the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT).   To be eligible for sponsorship a vacancy must be advertised for a minimum of 28 days on at least two approved websites.  In the case of RQF level 6 positions the role must also be advertised on DWP Find a Job.

The HR Operations and Recruitment Team will ensure that the RLMT requirements of the advert are met.

Once a job advertisement has closed, the vacancy is still subject to the RLMT.  In order to sponsor an individual it is essential that the following records are kept:

  • Shortlisting – complete shortlisting table with detailed information of why each candidate does or does not meet the selection criteria outlined in the Job Profile.
  • Interview – Information about the panel composition and notes on each candidate with a justification of why preferred candidates have or have not been selected.
    • NOTE: Under immigration rules, if the role is at RQF level 6 then a qualified settled worker should get preference for the role and there must be evidence that no settled worker is eligible for the role.  
    • If the role is PhD level the panel can select the best candidate.
  • Right to work check taken at interview stage
  • Qualifications necessary for the role

Establishing Eligibility for Sponsorship

Before an offer is made we need to establish if the person is eligible for sponsorship. There are two questions to ask of an individual when considering making an offer:

  • Have they previously worked on a Tier 2 visa in the UK?
  • Are they currently in the UK, sponsored by another employer?

Have they previously worked on a Tier 2 visa in the UK?

If an individual is not in the UK, but has been employed on a Tier 2 visa for more than a 3 month period within the last 12 months they will be subject to a ‘cooling off’ period.  This means they must wait for a period of 12 months from the date they left the UK before they can be sponsored again.  The University will not be able to issue a CoS during that period.

Are they currently in the UK, sponsored by another employer?

If they are currently employed on a Tier 2 visa we will need to establish  when they initially obtained their visa. The maximum amount of time an individual can work on Tier 2 is 6 years.  Therefore, if they have worked with another employer for 3 years, the maximum amount of time they could be employed with the University on Tier 2 is 3 years.  However, as it is possible for the individual to secure alternative visa routes after this time, i.e. settlement, this would not necessarily prevent continuation of employment.

Eligible for Sponsorship

If the individual is eligible for sponsorship then the department will make an offer to them. Once they have accepted the verbal offer the department will upload all of the necessary documents to igrasp for approval. 

HR will issue a contract to the successful candidate and inform them regarding the CoS and visa application process.  

Cost of a Certificate of Sponsorship

Each CoS costs £199, except for nationals of Turkey and North Macedonia where it is free.  RQF Level 6 jobs are subject to the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC), the cost of which will depend on the length of the contract.  PhD level jobs are exempt from the Immigration Skills Charge.   

The cost of the CoS will be borne by the recruiting School / Department. 

Before the University can issue a Certificate of Sponsorship we must be assured that the prospective employee is qualifed for the job in question.  This is an essential part of any Tier 2 application. It is not possible to sponsor someone under Tier 2 who does not hold the essential qualifications as described in an advert and job profile.

In all cases, even for those exempt from the Tier 2 Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) advertising requirements, applicants must meet the essential criteria listed in the job description to be considered to be suitably qualified to undertake the role. 

We will require evidence of any essential qualification in order to proceed with an application for a certificate of sponsorship. 

There are a number of concessions available to International Students on Tier 4 which allow them to easily switch into the Tier 2 visa route.  Students who meet the eligibility criteria can make this switch without being subject to the Resident Labour Market Test.

Eligibility requirements to switch from Tier 4 into Tier 2

A Tier 4 student visa holder is eligible to apply for a Tier 2 visa when they have either: 

  • Completed over 12 months of a PhD course in the UK; or
  • Completed a undergraduate or graduate degree at a UK academic institution.

In addition, the Tier 4 student visa must also have met the required qualifications specified in the job description before a Tier 2 Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) can be issued.

Where a job description specifies that a PhD is required (and gives no provision for those who are close to completion or have relevant experience), a Tier 2 CoS cannot be issued unless the individual actually has been awarded a doctorate.

As a part of the Tier 2 CoS application, one of the documentation below must be provided:  

1. Original certificate of award which clearly shows:

  • Student's full name;
  • Title of the qualification/award;
  • Name of the awarding body


2. Original academic reference, on headed paper, from their academic institution which contains the following information:

  • Student's full name;
  • Course title/award;
  • Course duration;
  • Date of completion of the course (unless the applicant is a DPhil/PhD student, in which case the letter must confirm that the applicant has been studying for more than one academic year);
  • Name of the awarding body;
  • The reason why an original certificate of award cannot be provided (where studies have been completed);
  • That the certificate will be issued (where studies have been completed).

Tier 4 visa holders working before obtaining a Tier 2 visa 

A Tier 4 student visa holder awaiting the outcome of an application to switch into Tier 2 (General) which was submitted before their Tier 4 visa expired can fill a full-time permanent vacancy as long as they have successfully completed a course at degree level or above and they are employed in the role for which they are applying under Tier 2.

Once we have established that a candidate is eligible for sponsorship and they have accepted the offer of employment, HR will make the necessary arrangements for their Certificate of Sponsorship.  The CoS will allow the candidate to apply for a Tier 2 visa, though it is not a guarantee of a successful visa application.

Certificate of Sponsorship

The CoS is the University's undertaking that the role is genuine and meets the necessary salary and skill level requirements.  In most cases, evidence of how the job was advertised will also need to be provided in order to meet a Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). A CoS will only assigned to an individual once we are satisfied that these requirements have been met. Please note the following:

  • For non-PhD level roles, the CoS must be assigned to the individual within six months of the date the advert first went live.
  • For PhD level roles, the CoS must be assigned to the individual within twelve months of the date the advert first went live.

We would advise that an application for a Certificate of Sponsorship is made at least three months before the prospective employee is due to commence employment.

All overseas nationals who have been issued a Tier 2 Certificate of Sponsorship must obtain entry clearance/visa before arriving in the UK.

The CoS will be processed as part of the offer process by your HR Administrator

The UK Government imposes an annual limit on the number of non-EEA nationals who can come to the UK under Tier 2.  To manage this limit, and differentiate between new and existing workers, there are two types of Certificates of Sponsorship: restricted and unrestricted.

The type of certificate required by an individual will depend on their status and country of residence.

Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship

A Restricted CoS issued in the following circumstances:

  • New employees earning under £159,600 per year coming to start work in the UK from overseas in an non-PhD level job.
  • Individuals who are dependants of Tier 4 students, where that dependant is already in the UK and wishes to switch into Tier 2 (General).

All restricted CoS application must be made to the Home Office to be assessed in the monthly allocation review.  The monthly allocation meetings take place on the first working day after the 10th day of the month.  

Application Process

HR will make an application to the Home Office for a restricted CoS on your behalf. Once submitted a CoS application will be assessed at the next monthly allocation meeting. All application must be submitted before the Home Office’s monthly application deadline to be eligible for the next allocation meeting. The Home Office will notify HR of their decision, usually within 48 hours of the monthly allocation meeting.

To ensure that we meet the monthly deadlines, all paperwork for restricted CoS application must be submitted to HR by 25th of each month (or the Friday before if it falls over a weekend).

Unrestricted Certificates of Sponsorship

We can issue an unrestricted CoS in the following circumstances:

  • New hires employed in a PhD level role
  • Highly-paid new hires: where the annual salary for the job is £159,600 or more.
  • Switching immigration category: Where an individual who is already in the UK under another immigration category is eligible to switch into Tier 2 (General). Please see the list of visas eligible to switch to Tier 2.
  • Extensions: Where you need to extend leave for an individual who is already in the UK working for you and has or was last granted leave under Tier 2 (General) or as a Work Permit holder. See the guidance below on how to apply for a CoS extension.
  • Changes of employment (1): A current University employee who was last granted leave under Tier 2 (General) and who wants to change to a new job which falls in a different SOC code.*
  • Changes of employment (2): An individual who was last granted leave under Tier 2 (General) while sponsored by a different UK employer, who wants to start a new job at the University (Please note: this does not include employees transferring to the University under TUPE – seek advice from the Compliance Team in such cases).*

*Please note: where an individual is making a change of employment application, in either of the above scenarios, they cannot start the new job until the Tier 2 visa has been issued.

Application Process

Unrestricted applications are not subject to the monthly cap; the University has an annual fixed allocation and can make a CoS application at any time.  

Once a CoS has been assigned to an individual, they have three months in which to make their visa application.  It is essential that HR are kept informed of any issues that arise during the application period.

Please Note: A CoS can be used once only. If a visa application is rejected then a new CoS will be required.

While the sponsored individual is expected to start work on the date listed on their CoS it may be possible to make changes depending on the status of their visa application. Changes to the start date must be reported to the Home Office within 10 days of the change. It is essential that HR are kept informed of any changes to the start date before they are made.   

After an application has been submitted there is a 4 week limit on any delayed start. If you have any cases where a start date may be delayed speak to HR as early as possible.

The sponsored individual must make plans to arrive in the UK before their first day at Queen Mary.  This is to allow us to verify the individual and undertake a right to work check before their start date.  If a right to work check is not undertaken before their start date then the individual will not be able to start work on this day.

Individuals arriving on or after their start date will have their start date amended to reflect the date in which the right to work check is taken, this will also be reported to the Home Office.

Review immigration status of successful applicant

If the successful applicant is a non EEA National we will need to assess their current immigration status and whether they are the following should be considered before requesting sponsorship.


Eligibility for Tier 2 Sponsorship

If the individual is applying from outside the UK we need to make sure that they have not previously been sponsored under Tier 2 in the past 12 months.  

Individuals who have previously been sponsored under Tier 2 by any employer in the UK, and have now left the UK and their visa lapsed or expired are subject to a 12 month colling off period.  They cannot return to the UK on Tier 2 during the 12 months period after they left the UK.  

Failure to apply this rule will result in automatic refusal of their visa with no refund.

Where the individual left the UK before their Tier 2 visa expired, the 12 month cooling off period can start earlier than the date their visa expired but only if they can provide evidence of having not been in the UK for a period of 12 months before the date of their new Tier 2 visa application.

  • The cooling off period does not apply to individuals who are already in the UK under Tier 2 and are applying for an extension of their existing leave or making a change of employment application.
  • It does apply where they are overseas and their previous grant of Tier 2 leave has expired or lapsed, or they are in the UK and have switched into a different immigration category.

Individual holds a Tier 2 visa:

Sponsored by Queen Mary: Please send a copy of the job description to the Human Resources to consider the new role against the individual’s current appointment and sponsorship. 

  • If the new appointment is within the same occupation for which they are currently sponsored it is likely that HR will just need to report to the Home Office changes to their employment. 
  • If the new appointment is within a different occupation then a new Tier 2 visa will be required. For example the individual holds a postdoctoral position and has applied for a teaching role. This will is considered a change of employment, the individual will require a new certificate of sponsorship and visa.  The individual cannot commence the new role until they have received their new visa.

Sponsored by external organisation: This is a change of employment, the University will need to request a new certificate of sponsorship. The individual cannot commence the new role until they have received their new visa. 

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