So You Want to Live and Work in the UK: Transitioning from a Tier 5 Visa to a Tier 2 (General) Visa

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.

NB: Since publishing this blog, it seems like the Tier 2 General restricted visas cap has been hit multiple times since December 2017 meaning that only salaries > £50k – £60k or select shortage positions are now being approved, and many people are being turned away. You can read more about this on Fragomen’s website or in this Guardian article.

I was fortunate enough to be in a position where my employer was willing to sponsor me to stay in the UK following the termination of my Tier 5 (Youth Mobility) visa. Overall, my visa was slated to expire in September 2016, but I broached the sponsorship topic with my manager in December 2015, as you should prepare for a generous lead time to go through multiple steps, especially if your employer is not already a Licensed Sponsor (which my employer was not). Check that the business that you’re asking to be a sponsor is eligible to be a sponsor and that your job is eligible for sponsorship. Alternatively, your business could already be listed on the register of sponsors. It’s worth noting here that if you do get sponsorship before your tier 5 visa expires, then your tier 5 visa gets annulled; you can’t keep both visas at the same time, but you also don’t need to cancel anything yourself as the annulment will happen automatically.

Depending on how quickly your legal / admin team move at your company, you could get approval to be a Licensed Sponsor in a short time frame. All in, my HR department sorted all of the paperwork and payments (it costs up to £1,476 to just get the Licensed Sponsor status for a Tier 2 General type visa) and received approval in about a month and a half. During this time, they also put out an advertisement for my role in two places and were required by law to interview anyone who was qualified for the job and show proof of reasons that other candidates were not suitable for the job (residential labour market test). The guidance for these adverts and the HR / legal processes that the sponsoring organisation must adhere to can be found here. If your company isn’t currently a Licensed Sponsor, it’s worth reading through this guide yourself so that you will be able to assist your company in the process. My company also had an external law firm’s help in this process, and I do not know the fees associated with this process.

Once the residential labour market was complete and my company had received Licensed Sponsor status, the next step was to apply for my Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS). The HR department applied for this, and depending on the timing of when you submit the application for a CoS, you should receive a CoS, at the latest, one month later, as there is a limited monthly quota for restricted certificates. Following the successful receipt of a CoS, I followed the instructions on the government website for applying for a Tier 2 General, namely submitting the requisite documents, inputting the CoS number my employer received (which is valid for 3 months from the date of issue), and paying a. the healthcare surcharge, which was about £900, and the fee for the visa itself which ranges from £400 to £1200 depending on whether you’re applying for a 3 year visa vs. a 5 year visa, and if your occupation is a shortage occupation.

Once you’ve followed all the instructions and the paperwork is submitted, you’ll then be invited to book an appointment with the immigration office from which you are applying (outside of the UK – in my case, I went home to Toronto to apply from the Toronto UK immigration office) to take your biometrics and process your documents. Keep in mind, switching from Tier 5 (Youth Mobility) to Tier 2 General requires that you apply from outside the UK. If you’re extending your visa or switching from other visas, you may not have to apply from outside, but specifically switching from the Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa requires you to physically leave the UK. So, I booked my appointment with the Toronto UK immigration office a few weeks in advance, and booked a one-way flight to arrive the day before my appointment. You need to ensure that you submit the application and have it approved before your CoS expires, so keep the 3-month CoS validity in mind when timing your appointment.

Going into the UK immigration office to submit my documents was a pretty standard experience. Make sure you have all of your documents as listed on the Gov UK guidance, and print out any automated e-mails that were sent to you, including one confirming your payment of the healthcare surcharge, as you’ll need this to submit your application. If you are in a rush, it is advisable to pay extra for the express processing of your application which puts your application at the front of the line. I did not, and I submitted my application during a time when peak student visa applications were taking place, so I waited a while. You can also check the visa processing time website to gauge how long your application might take. My processing times for both my visas from the Toronto, Canada office are listed below for reference:

Tier 2 (General)

Date of Biometrics Appointment: 09/06/2016

Date Application Received: 10/06/2016

Date Visa Granted: 21/06/2016

Date Passport Available: 22/06/2016

Tier 5 (Youth Mobility)

Date of Biometrics Appointment: 09/07/2014

Date Application Received: 10/07/2014

Date Visa Granted: 21/07/2014

Date Passport Retrieved: 22/08/2014*

*They did not notify my when my passport arrived, so I ended up having to go to the office to check if my passport had come back (and it had). Passports usually come back quite quickly after the visa is issued, so if you haven’t received notice after a week, I’d just walk in during passport pickup time to check.

 A note of advice – work out what you’re responsible for paying in this process and what your employer will take on upfront; this will save you from surprises down the line. The total cost of this visa, including the round trip flight was about £4,000. My employer paid for all things visa related, and I paid for the flight, which seemed like a fair bargain.

How was your Tier 5 to Tier 2 experience?

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So You Want to Work and Live in the UK: The Visa

Since moving to London, many people have asked me about the process of getting a visa and moving here. I’m hoping that this blog series that I’m embarking on will give you a good foundation for deciding whether or not this is the right move for you.

Please note that this information is current as of 18/08/2015. Please consult the gov.uk website for the most up to date visa information.

As a Canadian, the easiest path to make a crack into the UK market is through the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) Visa. The requirements are none too stringent. You are eligible as long as you:

  • are aged 18 to 30
  • don’t have any children or dependents
  • have £1,890 in savings
  • have certain types of British Nationality or are from Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong*, Republic of Korea*, and Taiwan*
  • meet the other eligibility requirements

*You need to be sponsored if you’re from Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea or Taiwan.

A couple of things you should know about the visa:

Visa Validity:

  • The visa is non-renewable – you can only apply for and be approved for this visa once, even if you have multiple nationalities. Once your 24 months is up, you must leave the country.
  • The visa entitles to work or study in the UK.
  • If you turn 31 while you’re in the UK, you can stay for as long as your visa is valid.
  • Important: Note that the date you state in your application as your intended date of arrival is the date that your visa will begin. Make sure you time this appropriately to maximise the amount of time you’re working / studying in the UK so that you don’t waste time on your visa not in the country.

Fees:

If you’re still reading, then that’s pretty much all you need to know. The documents you will need to have to apply are:

  • a current passport or other valid travel ID
  • a passport size colour photograph
  • a bank statement showing you have at least £1,890 in savings
  • your tuberculosis (TB) test results if you’re from a country where you have to take the test

You’ll also need a page in your passport that’s blank on both sides for your visa, and you’ll need to provide a certified translation of any documents that aren’t in English or Welsh.

Finally, some practical notes from personal experience. Note that my application was before the health surcharge was enforced. I applied for the visa online and had to go in to the Toronto UK Visa Office subsequently to give biometrics and submit some of my documents in person – it was quite a bit of a wait during the weekday. Once submitted, it took no longer than 1.5 weeks to get approved. Your passport gets sent to the UK consulate in New York for processing, but they DHL the passport back to Toronto, so it should physically arrive quite soon after your visa is approved. Note of caution – they never notified me by phone or email when my passport had returned from New York. After 4 weeks of furious waiting after my visa was approved, I decided to drop in to the Visa Office in Toronto, and sure enough, my visa was there. Keep this in mind if you’ve already been approved and haven’t heard from the Toronto Visa Office.

I hope this guide helps you navigate the process, and I wish you the very best as you take the first step in embarking on an exciting journey! My own journey began with this step, as getting that visa in my passport made things very real for me. I haven’t looked back since.

Click Here to Apply

Bonus – if you’re 25 or under, do get a 16 – 25 railcard to save 33% on your train journeys (regional trains outside of London; for example, to places like Cambridge, Oxford, Windsor, Edinburgh, etc.).

Share your visa experiences in the comments, or check out the next blogs in the series: So You Want to Work and Live in the UK: Circular Finances or So You Want to Work and Live in the UK: Finding Work on Tier 5.