Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to provide immigration advice; I am merely sharing my personal anecdotal experience to shed light on what you might encounter in the process.
Before I begin, if you are on a Tier 2 ICT visa, this blog is not for you. As many of my friends who transferred to the UK with their employers on an ICT, you cannot switch from a Tier 2 ICT visa to a Tier 2 General visa without leaving the country for a 12-month cooling off period. There are few exceptions to this.
“Individuals who entered the UK under Tier 2 (ICT) on or after 6 April 2011, or those who entered before then but have since made an application for entry clearance from abroad, will have to leave the UK for the 12 month Tier 2 cooling off period before they can return under Tier 2 (General). The only exception to this rule is if the individual has been offered a new role and will be paid a salary at the ‘higher rate'(this is currently £152,100 but it will be increased to £153,500 on 6 April 2014).”
After consulting my friend who is an immigration barrister, it seems the only way around this might be if your spouse were a dependent on your visa, and he / she got sponsored on a Tier 2 General, and then you became their dependent. In any case, that would require that you were married, and I would advise you to speak with an immigration lawyer if this is something you wish to pursue.
Onto the main topic: switching employers on a Tier 2 (General) visa.
This blog has been split into two parts: The first part will cover the process of finding a sponsor / role as well as documents required for application, the second part will cover off the actual application process and timing considerations.
Employers Willing to Sponsor
I was fortunate enough to be in an industry and skill set where I did not find it too difficult to find another Tier 2 sponsor to hire me so that I could switch jobs. I took the approach of looking for my next job via regular recruiting means, making it clear that I required sponsorship, and generally receiving the feedback that this would not be a problem.
When people ask: “Is it easy to switch jobs on a Tier 2 (General) visa?”, my answer is (as usual), it depends. It depends on what industry you’re in (and the supply / demand in that industry), your skill set, your seniority / salary, and the size of company / type of role you’re targeting. Generally, the more niche / in-demand your skillset, the higher paid you are, and the larger the company, the chances are it is much easier to get continuation of sponsorship on Tier 2 (General). If you’re thinking about switching jobs on the Tier 2 (General) visa and want to get a better idea, the easiest thing to do is to speak to recruiters and actively start looking – you’ll get a sense from recruiters soon enough as to whether your requiring sponsorship is a barrier with employers. As always, do consult the Register of Sponsors for a list of companies who are already eligible to sponsor you, which simplifies the process.
Offer to Visa Paperwork – Process Overview
The employer who took on my sponsorship is a multi-national company, so they were very well versed in the regulation and what is required to sponsor me, and gave me a lot of support throughout. The process played out like this:
- The company outreached to me regarding an opportunity for which they conducted the required RLMT in the process
I turned on my “open to new opportunities” feature on LinkedIn as one of my avenues of looking for a new job which resulted in an outreach message from a recruiter at this company. The job posting was available on multiple websites, and at this point, I can only presume they were interviewing other qualified candidates and following the requirements of the RLMT. In my initial call with the recruiter, I made it clear to her that I required sponsorship, but she said it was not a problem.
- I interviewed with the prospective employer and received an offer
I had my first and second round interviews within a month and shortly after, received my offer of employment with them for their London office.
- I clarified the visa / sponsorship process with them (i.e. whether they had done it before, what the process was like, and likely timelines)
Within the contract, the terms of employment are obviously conditional on my receiving sponsorship / passing necessary checks. However, the recruiter verbally reassured me that were almost never problems with the process (they are such a big company, they probably have a direct line into the Home Office!), and that they would make sure they did everything that they could to work out any unlikely issues.
If you’re being sponsored by a smaller company, it would be particularly advisable to ask them about the sponsorship process, since it might take longer than you might anticipate (or shorter, if fewer approvals are required!). I’ve heard anecdotally that some big companies can take a while.
- I accepted their offer formally, signed documents, and negotiated a start date
The new employer was aware that my notice period was 3 months, so they asked if there was any chance that I could negotiate the notice period down with my current employer. When I told them that this was unlikely, we put in a tentative start date in the system taking into account my notice period and holiday. However, at this point, I had not resigned. See section in part 2 on “When Should I Resign?” for more information about timing to protect your status in the country.
- The company put me in touch with their internal immigration team and Deloitte, the firm who handled my application on my behalf
Big multinationals tend to outsource the visa application process to third party firms such as Deloitte; however, the application process is not too different from the initial Tier 2 application process which I worked with my current smaller employer to submit. Therefore, if your sponsor is a smaller firm where you’ll have to fill out the form yourself, don’t be alarmed.
- I provided supporting documents and verified the details of the application before Deloitte booked an in-person appointment on my behalf. At this stage, fees were paid (see part 2 for details on fees), and the new sponsoring company issued me a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS).
Documents scanned and uploaded:
- Copy of my current passport, bio page and visa page
- Copy of my current BRP, back and front
- Copy of my previous passport (now expired), bio page and visa page
- Copy of my registered traveller’s card, back and front
Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS):
You will recall that when you applied for your first Tier 2 General Visa, you will have had a CoS issued to you. This CoS is known as a restricted CoS as it applies to Tier 2 (General) workers currently abroad who will be paid less than £155,300 a year. When you are already on a Tier 2 General Visa and move to a new company, a new CoS will need to be generated for you by your new company. However, this new CoS is a different type of CoS known as an unrestricted CoS which applies to individuals who are already in the UK on Tier 2 (General) but switching sponsors.
There are a limited number of restricted certificates available each month. Applications are considered on the first working day after the 10th day of the month. This is called the “allocation date”. If you apply after 5th day of the month then your application will be held until the next month’s allocation dated. All CoS, restricted or unrestricted must be assigned within six months of the date the vacancy was first advertised.
However, there is no limit on how many unrestricted CoS-es a company can get, though they have to provide evidence annually that the quota they request is justified.
It is reasonable to assume that if you’re working for a large company and they are accurate in their unrestricted CoS estimations, they will be able to easily issue you an unrestricted CoS as soon as you need it for your visa application, which was the case for me.