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The government introduced a Points Based Immigration System (PBS) in November 2008 that determines the rules for people seeking to work in the UK. It is the Government's stated intention to reduce net immigration levels significantly, and the rules are reviewed and updated on a regular basis to achieve this goal. Immigration policy and processes in the UK are managed and directed by UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI).

This guidance is intended to help you understand the immigration routes available to prospective employees and eligibility.


The rules surrounding immigration must be followed for all applicants and all employees with working restrictions. Failure to comply may result in UCL losing its 'A' rated sponsor status along with potentially unlimited fines and possible imprisonment.

The Points Based System

There are five main 'Tiers' through which people may enter the UK, though only four are currently active (Tier 3 'unskilled workers' is closed). This guidance is intended to describe the various Tiers, and supplementary routes, and the restrictions and responsibilities for each route.

The section headed 'departmental guidance and responsibilities' outlines the processes to be followed by departments when checking right to work documentation, applying for certificates of sponsorship under Tiers 2 and 5 and departmental responsibilities on monitoring migrant's attendance.

Visa holders coming to the UK from particular countries (listed on the government website) for more than 6 months are required to register with the Police within 7 days of arriving in the UK, or receipt of their biometric residence permit. Further information is available at: Register with the Police.

Tier 1
 Tier 1 – Exceptional Talent / Exceptional Promise Route
 Tier 1 Post Study Worker
 Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneur Scheme
Tier 2
 Tier 2 Skilled Workers
 Tier 2 Recent Graduates
  Unrestricted Certificates of Sponsorship
  Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship
  Points allocation table
 Tier 4 - Students
 Tier 5 – Sponsored Researchers and Visiting Academics
Business Visitors (including Academic Visitors)
Youth Mobility Scheme
All Tiers: Settlement
All Tiers: Maintenance
Departmental Guidance and responsibilities
Certificates of Sponsorship Departmental Guide to Completing Forms:
  new applicant
  extension for existing employee
  work permit transition
  Sponsored Researchers or Visiting Academics
Monitoring migrant's attendance and Sabbatical Leave
Further Information
Checking the Right to Work – Guidance for Managers
Right to Work FAQs 


Tier 1

Tier 1 – Exceptional Talent / Exceptional Promise Route

Tier 1 – Exceptional Talent / Exceptional Promise Route

Tier 1 (Exceptional talent) is for people who are internationally recognised as world leaders or (exceptional promise) potential world-leading talent in the fields of science and the arts, and who wish to work in the UK.

There is a limit of 1000 places per annum, nationally.

The Application Process

The following steps provide an overview of the application process:

Stage 1

A postal application for an endorsement is made from abroad or within the UK. Enclosed with this application is the information requested by the Designated Competent Body (DCB) and a standard charge for consideration of the application.

The applicant submits this directly to UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI). UKVI will send the relevant documentation to the applicant’s chosen DCB who will advise UKVI whether the applicant meets their endorsement criteria.

UKVI informs the applicant of the decision.

Stage 2

The applicant submits

Biometrics and a further fee for the visa are taken

The application is considered by UKVI and a decision made and communicated.

What if the application is refused?

At both stage 1 and 2 the applicant can contact UKVI to request that the decision to refuse them is reviewed.

How long does this take?

Currently the DCBs take, on average, 30 days to assess the application, though this can be longer particularly where the subject area is highly specialised and there are limited experts available to assess the application.
UKVI aims to:

Designated Competent Bodies (DCB)

The following DCBs will advise UKVI which applicants meet the 'exceptionally talented' or ‘exceptionally promising’ criteria to ensure that they are the brightest and best in their field:

Each DCB has set the criteria it will operate to select those who will qualify for endorsement and its procedures for receiving and processing requests.

The criteria applied by each of the DCBs when deciding whether a particular applicant is "exceptionally talented" are published on UKVI website.

The Exceptional Talent visa is available to those applying from outside and inside the UK. Applicants are able to switch from other Tiers.

For further information see the UK Visas & Immigration website

Tier 1 - Post Study Worker

Where permission has been granted to stay by UKVI, prior to 5 April 2012, post-study workers can look for work without needing to have a sponsor. UKVI expect that such persons will switch into another tier of the points-based system as soon as possible.

From 6 April 2012: Recent graduates will be able to apply for jobs with a Tier 2 approved sponsor. See under Tier 2 Recent Graduates

From April 2013 a new Doctorate extension scheme for PhD students is open. See under Tier 2 Recent Graduates.

Tier 1 - Graduate Entrepreneur Scheme

A new Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) scheme is now operational. This is for those students who have been identified by UK universities as having developed world class innovative ideas or entrepreneurial skills, but who are not yet in a position to meet the full requirements of the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route. This will allow them to develop their businesses in the UK.

This route will be subject to a limit of 1000 places pa nationally.

The scheme is open to all HEIs which are Highly Trusted Sponsors for the purposes of Tier 4 of the points-based system, and A Rated for the purposes of Tier 2. Please read the guidance on how this is managed at UCL.

Tier 2

Tier 2 – Skilled Workers

This route is for people being sponsored by UCL to fill a genuine vacancy that cannot be filled with a suitably qualified or skilled settled worker to undertake a specific skilled job role in line with the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). UCL will issue a certificate of sponsorship (CoS) to each sponsored person. To be issued with a valid visa by UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI), the applicant must then demonstrate they also meet English language requirements at intermediate level B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference for languages and have sufficient maintenance. Maintenance is currently set at £900 + £600 per dependent to have been in the individual's bank account for 3 months prior to the application.

To fulfil the criteria to issue a CoS the post must be either on the shortage occupation list  or the RLMT must be met (except for posts attracting a salary of £155,300+, named researchers on a grant or recent graduates). As part of the new RLMT we must also confirm that the post is at NQF 6 level (graduate occupation level) and the minimum salary requirements for the post are met (£20,800 pa or as specified in the relevant occupational code).

Occupational codes and salary levels

Occupational codes now have two salary levels: new entrant and experienced hire.

The new entrant thresholds apply to:

For everyone else the experienced hire threshold must be used when applying for a CoS. It is important to remember that even where the new entrant threshold applies on initial appointment, they will need to meet the salary requirements of an experienced hire for any extention to their CoS, or it will be rejected. In some codes this is a significant difference.

The following exemptions to the RLMT apply :

The specified PhD level occupations and their SoC codes are:

2111 – Chemical Scientists
2112 - Biological Scientists and BioChemists
2113 – Physical Scientists
2114 – Social and Humanities Scientists
2119 – Natural and Social Science professionals not elsewhere classified
2150 – Research and Development Managers
2311 - Higher Education Teaching Professionals

The prescriptive list of specific publications for each occupational code has been replaced by the following guidance:

Type of medium

Criteria for suitable media


Must be:

  • Marketed throughout the UK or throughout the whole of the devolved nation in which the job is located, and
  • Published at least once a week

Professional Journal

Must be:

  • Available nationally through retail outlets or through subscription
  • Published at least once a month, and
  • Related to the nature of the job, i.e. a relevant trade journal, official journal of a professional occupational body, or subject-specific publication


Must be:

  • An online version of a newspaper or professional journal which would satisfy the above criteria
  • The website of a prominent professional or recruitment  organisation, which does not charge a fee to jobseekers to view advertisement or to apply for jobs via those advertisements, or
  • If the Sponsor is a multinational organisation, or has over 250 permanent employee in the UK, the Sponsor's own website

Recent Graduates

Under the Tier 2 (General) route recent graduates with a Bachelors, Masters, PhD, PGCE or PGDE qualification may be issued with a CoS. Applicants must have an offer of a skilled job and be paid at least £20,800pa. However, unlike other Tier 2 sponsorships the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) does not have to be met. These CoS will be issued from the 'unrestricted' category.

Under the Doctorate extension scheme for PhD students, you can apply to stay in the UK for a further 12 months after your course completion date.

This applies to Tier 4 PhD students who start after April 2013 and to those already in the route, but who have not completed their studies by April 2013.

You must apply no more than 60 days before your course completion date on your CAS and still be resident in the UK.  If you are given permission to stay under the Doctorate extension scheme you will have full unrestricted work rights, except for some limited professions such as doctors or dentists in training or sportspersons (including coaches). You will be able to work without restrictions once your Tier 4 sponsor has confirmed that you have finished your PhD.

For further information on post-graduate employment options

See UKVI website for more information.

Certificates of Sponsorship

There are two categories of Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS):

There is no annual limit set against this category. UCL is allocated a number of CoS on an annual basis and these will be issued by the HR Department, subject to meeting the criteria set out above.
Unrestricted category includes:


This is for all out of country/new applications and dependants of Tier 4 migrants switching to Tier 2 in their own right. Each request must be approved by UKVI before a CoS is issued locally.

Limits and Process

There are 20,700 places per annum, nationally, allocated on a monthly basis (2250 in April and 1,650 for each of the following months). Places not allocated in one month will be carried over to the following month.  Where more applications are received than there are places available, they will be ranked according to the following criteria:

Please see the timetable for submitting requests for restricted Tier 2 CoS.

CoS allocation points table





Shortage Occupation List 


£20,800 to £20,999


PHD level posting and RLMT


£21,000 to £21,999




£22,000 to £22,999




£23,000 to £23,999




£24,000 to £24,999




£25,000 to £25,999




£26,000 to £26,999




£27,000 to £27,999




£28,000 to £31,999




£32,000 to £45,999




£46,000 to £74,999




£75,000 to £99,999




£100,000 to £149,999


A minimum of 32 points are required. Each application must score points from both of the above columns, but will only receive points for one entry in each column.

The points structure has been designed to favour shortage occupations and then PHD level posts on lower rates of pay.

Any applications that are not granted, even if they meet the minimum criteria, will not automatically be considered the next month but must be resubmitted.

Tier 4


Students with a tier 4 visa studying at degree level, or above, may work 20 hours per week during term time and full time during holidays. Students studying at below degree level may only work 10 hours per week during term time and full time during holidays.

PhD and taught masters students are considered to be studying continuously and do not have term dates. Therefore, these students are restricted to working no more than 20 hours per week at any time during the calendar year.

Hours of work per week includes any paid work, unpaid work, voluntary or otherwise, and internships. Hours per week are determined on a rolling 7 day period, and therefore are not limited to Sunday – Saturday.

If the tier 4 visa states “no work allowed” or “work prohibited” the student is not allowed to carry out any paid or unpaid work.

Before employing a student who has a tier 4 visa, the department must obtain evidence of the student’s academic term and vacation dates. This evidence should originate from the education institution which is sponsoring the student. A right to work check is invalid without evidence of the students term dates.

If the student is studying on a non-standard programme, including Masters or PhD students who do not have vacation dates, please complete the template here:

Students on a tier 4 visa must not:

There are also restrictions placed by UKV&I on work placements.

Tier 5

Sponsored Researchers and Visiting Academics

Though not exhaustive, the definition for Sponsored Researchers is currently:

The Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange (GAE) arrangements allow HEIs to recruit a Visiting Academic (as distinct from an Academic Visitor!) who will be paid to give lectures, act as an examiner or work on a supernumerary research collaboration and who is required to be in the country for more than one month.

Academic Visitors, or Visiting Academics in the country for less than one month will enter the UK via a new permitted paid engagements route.

Student internships may be covered by this tier, if the following criteria are met:

Tier 5 internships, work experience/exchanges and youth exchanges are limited to one-off stays of a maximum of 12 months.

All other GAE schemes (sponsored researchers, fellowships and training schemes in the fields of science and medicine) will continue to attract up to a maximum 24 months' leave.

To bring Sponsored Researchers or Visiting Academics in through the Tier 5 route departments must complete a CoS5 Application form and return to your ECA Officer contact within HR Employment Contract Administration Team who will provide any further advice and guidance on this route.

Visit Visa

Visa nationals wishing to come to the United Kingdom on business for up to six months must apply for a visit visa and prove they will be carrying out the following activities:

Scientists and researchers may:

Non-visa nationals will not be required to obtain prior entry clearance for a business visit of up to six months.

For information on which nationalities require a visa visit


Academics will be able to visit the UK on the visit visa for up to twelve months.

Academics may:

Academic visitors must:

Permitted Paid Engagements

UKVI have created a route for permitted paid engagements under the visitor rules for a limited group of professionals who are invited to come to the UK because of their particular expertise and occupation overseas. Permitted activities will include visiting to give a lecture, examining students and participation in or chairing selection panels. Entry will be restricted to one month. Visits of longer than one month to undertake paid activity will require sponsorship under Tier 2 or 5.

Visitors under this route will require a formal letter from UCL outlining the work to be undertaken and the dates of the engagement.  Please click on the following link for a recommended letter template. Template.doc

Youth Mobility Scheme

The youth mobility scheme is for young people from participating countries who would like to come and experience life in the UK.

The countries and territories participating in the scheme, and the number of places or certificates of sponsorship allocated to them for 2013, are:

Nationals of one of these countries, may be able to come to the UK under the youth mobility scheme. Their national government will be their sponsor. See the UKVI website for further information

British overseas citizens, British overseas territories citizens and British nationals (overseas) can also apply under the scheme, and do not need a sponsor. There are no limitations of the balance of work and travel under this visa.


Employees on Tier 1 sponsorship (legacy general or exceptional talent) will continue to be able to apply for settlement/indefinite leave to remain (ILR) after 5 years. Tier 1 migrants will also be able to extend their temporary leave as now.

To be able to apply for settlement /ILR Tier 2 general migrants will be subject to a minimum settlement pay threshold of either £35,500 p.a. or the appropriate rate for their job as set out in the UK Visas & Immigration Codes of Practice, whichever is higher.

Those in specified PhD level occupations (see below) and in shortage occupations will be exempt from the minimum £35,500 pay threshold, but must still be paid the appropriate rate. 

PhD occupations:
2111 – Chemical Scientists
2112 - Biological Scientists and BioChemists
2113 – Physical Scientists
2114 – Social and Humanities Scientists
2119 – Natural and Social Science professionals not elsewhere classified
2150 – Research and Development Managers
2311 - Higher Education Teaching Professionals

All Tier 2 temporary leave will be capped at a maximum of six years (three years leave to enter plus three years extension).

To prevent repeat grants of Tier 2 temporary leave, those who leave the UK will not be able to re-apply for entry clearance as a Tier 2 migrant until 12 months after they leave the UK, regardless of when their visa is due to expire, providing they can show when they left the UK and that they have not returned to work here since.  This is referred to by UKVI as 'the cooling off period'.

The new rules apply to those eligible to apply for settlement from April 2016 (i.e. those who entered the points-based system after the Immigration Rules changed on 6 April 2011). 

People applying for settlement may do so after 5 years and before 6 years. They will need to continue to meet settlement criteria, which includes: a test of the migrant's knowledge of language and life in the UK, to be free of unspent criminal convictions, to have certification from UCL of their continued employment. HR will provide such a letter. Migrants may be absent from the UK for up 180 days per year without it affecting their application to stay permanently in the UK, provided the absence is for a legitimate reason. For Tier 1visa holders this may be for any reason. For Tier 2 visa holders the legitimate reason must 'relate to the purpose of their stay (i.e. work related absence) or a serious compelling reason'. Time out of the country for other personal reasons must be limited to normal periods of annual leave.


Maintenance requirements are:

Tier Category Main applicant Dependant
Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneurs and
legacy General
£945 if applying from inside the UK, £1,890 if applying from outside the UK.  £1,890 dependants who have been in the UK less than 12 months
£630 dependents in the UK for more than 12 months
  Exceptional talent Exempt Exempt
Tier 2   £945
(A rated sponsors may certify maintenance)
£600 all other dependants
Tier 5 Temporary workers £945
(A rated sponsors may certify maintenance)
£600 all other dependants
  Youth Mobility Scheme £1,890  


Departmental Guidance and Responsibilities

Certificate of Sponsorship – Departmental guide to completing forms

Form CoS1 - applications for new employees (restricted or unrestricted). See guidance.
Form CoS2 - for extension applications (unrestricted).  See guidance.
Form CoS3 - for transition from a work permit (unrestricted).  See guidance.
Form CoS5 – for Sponsored Researchers or Visiting Academics. See guidance.

Please read the information on departmental responsibilities on checking the right to work, both at the time of initial recruitment and annual checks. Please contact your  HR Employment Contract Administration Team contact if unclear.

The HR forms should be completed by the department (e.g. HOD, DA, PI, etc) not the individual concerned (CoS applicant).

HR forms should be emailed to your ECA Officer contact in the HR Employment Contract Administration Team. The signed form and all supporting documents must then be delivered to the HR Employment Contract Administration Team, 2nd Floor, Bidborough House, 38-50 Bidborough St.

When the CoS is issued the applicant will need to take this to their Embassy or Overseas Diplomatic post (out of the UK) or UKVI (in UK) to continue the points based assessment.

It is illegal to employ staff who do not have the right to work in the UK. No one must start until they have full entry clearance / further leave to remain from the UK Visas & Immigration. It is imperative that any extensions to CoS or transfer from work permit to CoS is undertaken in a timely manner to ensure continued employment. Contracts will be terminated immediately if permission to work expires.

CoS 1 – New Employees

If an applicant does not have the right to work in the UK we will consider an application to issue a CoS.

Unrestricted CoS requests to be made to the HR Employment Contract Administration team in line with the process below.

Restricted CoS requests to be made to the HR Employment Contract Administration team in line with the process below AND in line with the monthly HR Employment Contract Administration Team’s deadlines.  The request must include the requisite UCL CoS application form, and any other supporting paperwork and information, for this to be processed in the relevant month.  If the case is incomplete (or unclear), and it cannot be reasonably addressed before UKVI deadline, the case will be held over to the next month.

UCL can apply for a CoS up to three months ahead of the planned start date

Before we can sponsor a skilled migrant, we need to check that the job we are sponsoring them to do meets the conditions of the sponsored skilled worker tier:

the post applied for is on the national shortage occupation list , or

If the job does not meet the above conditions, we cannot issue a certificate of sponsorship.

* you are not required to provide proof of advertising in the following circumstances:

However the qualification and salary criteria must still be met. See Tier 2 - Skilled Workers

What supporting documents must I submit?

Where it is necessary to meet the resident labour market test, you must fully complete the information requested in Q37 and Q38 on:

and attach:

References/statements should ideally be on headed notepaper and verify the person's relevant work experience. References/statements that only describe the person to be of good character are not appropriate. They must give the start and finish dates, details of the work and any experience that makes the person qualified to do the job. Emailed references/statements may be accepted as long as the source of the email is reasonably identifiable (e.g. from a recognised HEI email address, or a response to a request sent to that e-address by UCL).

If they are not in English, please send translations.

For certain professions where the person has to be registered with a UK professional organisation, for example, GMC, NMC, GDC and RCVS, please provide the person's registration number - this is acceptable instead of references/statements from previous employers, including date checked and expiry date.

This documentation will be kept by the HR department for the duration of the migrant's sponsorship, in line with UK Visas & Immigration requirements.

Please read  UCL policy on payment of immigration costs.

CoS 2 – Extension to an existing CoS

You are not required to readvertise the post and meet the resident labour market test to satisfy an extension to a CoS.
The process for applying for an extension is:

If the employee wishes to submit any dependant applications at the same time as their own application, they are encouraged to send both application applications in the same envelope.

Please read  UCL policy on payment of immigration costs.

CoS 3 – Transition from Work Permit to CoS

Please ensure this form is completed in a timely manner – ideally three months before the current leave to remain expires.
You are not required to readvertise the post and meet the resident labour market test to satisfy a transition to a CoS.

Employees can apply under the transitional arrangements if you have permission to stay in the following categories at the moment:

You must continue to be working for the same employer doing the same job.
You cannot apply under the transitional arrangements if you are currently here and want to extend your stay:

What are the transitional arrangements?

The transitional arrangements are that you apply under tier 2 without having to meet the requirements for the tier, but you must:

Please read  UCL policy on payment of immigration costs.

CoS 5 – Sponsored Researchers or Visiting Academics

Before we can sponsor a Sponsored Researcher or Visiting Academic, who does not have the right to work in the UK, we need to check that the job we are sponsoring them to do meets the Tier 5 conditions before issuing a CoS. We do not have to undertake a Resident Labour Market Test or meet other specific conditions to engage someone.

What supporting documents must I submit, alongside the CoS5 form?

For sponsored researchers,

For Visiting Academics (academics giving a lecture or external examiners),

For paid student internships which come under the supernumerary research criteria,

For certain professions where the person has to be registered with a UK professional organisation, for example, GMC, NMC, GDC and RCVS,

This documentation will be kept by the HR department for the duration of the migrant's sponsorship, in line with UK Visas & Immigration requirements.

Monitoring migrant's attendance and Sabbatical Leave

It is a UK Visas & Immigration requirement that UCL monitor attendance for all migrants that we sponsor. This includes:

UCL are required to notify UKVI under these circumstances, plus any changes to the migrant's role or sponsored status including where the migrant leaves employment with UCL. Please inform your Senior HR Consultant if you believe there may be an attendance breach and HR will liaise with UKVI.

In order to assure ourselves that we are aware of when a sponsored migrant is absent for more than 10 working days they are required to

Please note on the form if the applicant will use the diary or other agreed system (please state what this will be) 


Please be aware that UKVI places limitations on the ability of academic staff to partake of a period of unpaid sabbatical leave in line with UCL’s Unpaid Leave of Absence or Career Break Policy. Paragraph 225 of the Tier 2 and 5 sponsor Guidance states:

"If a sponsored migrant wishes to take a longer period of other unpaid leave, for example a sabbatical, you must stop sponsoring them and report this to us using your SMS account."

UCL would be obliged to terminate the certificate of sponsorship at this point which would bring the contractual relationship to an end.

There is no intention to restrict paid sabbaticals, related to work and personal career development, as long as the employee is still receiving the appropriate salary for the job.

Further information

For further information on the Points Based Scheme go to UK Visas & Immigration website.
For further information on the Prevention of Illegal Working go to UK Visas & Immigration website.

1 A settled worker is 'normally a resident of the UK/ EEA, with no immigration restriction on their length of stay, i.e. has the right to abode or indefinite leave to enter or remain in the UK'