Points-based immigration system (United Kingdom)

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uk visa

Five Tier Points-Based System

If you are a foreign national wanting to work or study in the UK but you are subject to immigration control, you must first apply for a UK visa. The UK Border Agency uses a five-tier points-based system with each tier divided into various categories for different types of work or study visa applications. Tier 1 is for high-value migrants, Tier 2 for skilled workers, Tier 3 for temporary unskilled workers, Tier 4 for students, and Tier 5 for temporary skilled or youth mobility workers.

TIER 1 – under Tier 1 entrepreneurs and investors, highly skilled and exceptionally talented workers can apply to enter or remain in the UK without needing a job offer but must pass a points-based assessment. Tier 1 of the points-based system currently contains 5 categories:

  • Exceptional talent
  • Entrepreneur
  • Investor
  • General highly skilled workers
  • Graduate entrepreneur

TIER 2 – under Tier 2 skilled workers can apply to enter or remain in the UK with a job offer in the UK from a licensed sponsor, a valid certificate of sponsorship, and bypassing the points-based assessment. Tier 2 of the points-based system contains 4 categories of skilled worker:

  • Generally skilled workers
  • Sportspeople
  • Ministers of Religion
  • Intra-company transferred staff

TIER 3 – Tier 3 of the points-based system is currently suspended preventing the employment of low-skilled workers from outside the EEA (European Economic Area).

TIER 4 – under Tier 4 students can apply to enter the UK as a child student between 4 and 17 years old, as an adult student over 18, alternatively as a child or student visitor. There are 4 categories to choose from:

  • Tier 4 (Child)
  • Tier 4 (General)
  • Child Visitors
  • Student Visitors

TIER 5 – under Tier 5 temporary skilled workers can apply to enter the UK for a short time although generally, they will need to be sponsored by an employer in the UK. There are 5 categories of temporary worker here, plus the youth mobility category (note, the youth mobility scheme is not an employment route):

  • Creative and sporting
  • Charity workers
  • Religious workers
  • Government-authorized exchange
  • International agreement
  • Youth mobility scheme

If you currently have permission to stay in the UK you may be able to switch to or from your category and/or tier from inside the UK although this will involve a fresh points-based assessment. An application for a worker or student visa can be complex and using the services of an immigration expert is highly recommended.