The revelation that fraudsters posing as United Kingdom (UK) skilled worker visa agents are preying on unsuspecting foreign nationals including Nigerians, offering them fake job opportunities requires that applicants become more circumspect.
An investigation by Sky News uncovered how victims are losing substantial amounts of money as they fall prey to these fraudulent job offers under the UK Skilled Worker visa system. This validates the need for a guide to understanding the process as well as red flags to avoid.
Skilled Worker Visa System
The UK skilled worker visa system allows applicants to come to or stay in the UK to do an eligible job with an approved employer. It replaced the Tier 2 (General) work visa and also allows work in UK waters.
Long-term sponsored work visas granted to main applicants increased more than two and a half times (+161%) in 2022, from 63,757 in 2019 to 166,408 according to UK Home Office data.
Who is eligible
The visa is open to individuals who attain 70 points by meeting specific eligibility requirements such as skill and salary level, English language ability and having a qualifying job offer from a UK employer with a valid sponsorship licence.
The Skilled Worker visa makes provision for spouses, ‘durable’ partners, and dependent children to apply to join the main visa applicant in the UK as Skilled Worker dependants.
A skilled Worker visa is granted for up to five years, after which the worker can become eligible to apply for UK Indefinite Leave to Remain.
While the UK skilled worker visa system has become popular among applicants, an investigation by UK-based Sky News found that the skilled worker visa system is being abused, with middlemen allegedly being paid huge sums of money to arrange jobs in the UK as carers who do not exist.
How to Avoid Scams
Understand the rules. The seeming complexity of the visa system has led many to seek the aid of agents or middlemen. Usually, immigration lawyers play a role, but an applicant needs to understand how the process works.
It starts with attaining 70 points to be eligible. The applicable 70 points threshold for a Skilled Worker visa is made up of 50 points for mandatory or ‘non-tradeable’ criteria (i.e.; the job offer, speaking English, and the requisite skill level for the job on offer), and 20 points for what is classed as ‘tradeable’ criteria.
The table below explains how these points are arrived at.
Source: DavidMoris Consultancy
An expert can provide deeper insights and confirm that the programme is the most viable option.
Confirm that the prospective employer meets requirement. The programme places an obligation on both the applicant and the sponsor to ensure that the employer/sponsor is real to begin with.
Under the terms of the skilled worker visa, an applicant can’t work in any other job category and is limited to 20 hours a week under another employer, for example, in the care sector. Switching sponsors is often impossible under the programme.
Therefore, confirm that the prospective sponsor/employer attains 20 mandatory points to qualify as an employment sponsor. If an applicant is going through an agent, he must request to see a copy of the valid sponsorship license of the prospective employer with an ‘A’ rating. Also, request to see evidence that the sponsor has paid the ‘Immigration Skills Charge’.
Insist on seeing a Certificate of Sponsorship. Before the agent submits the visa application, insist on seeing a valid Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) to confirm that the applicant and role meet sponsorship eligibility. The CoS is a reference number that the Skilled Worker visa applicant will need to provide with their Home Office application. Only licenced sponsors can issue a CoS.
There are now two types of Certificate of Sponsorship: the defined Certificate of Sponsorship and the undefined Certificate of Sponsorship. Applicants resident in Nigeria will get the ‘Defined CoS’ from their sponsor which is the specific job and salary.
The UK Home Office checks to see if a vacancy is genuine and the ‘Certificate of Sponsorship’ is the confirmation of a genuine vacancy.
Note, these checks, will help you avoid being duped both by fraudulent middlemen or a fake employer in the UK. Sometimes, these intermediaries are in the same network.
Ensure your skills meet the criteria. Skilled worker visa holders can only work in certain eligible roles. To be eligible, the role must be deemed to be at Regulated Qualifications Framework (RFQ) level 3 or above. This is the equivalent of a UK A-level. Any roles considered to be lower than this will not qualify under the skilled worker visa requirements.
A Skilled Worker visa application can be rejected if it is determined that the job being recruited for or the applicant’s skills and experience, do not match the relevant SOC code and skill level requirement.
Ensure that the pay matches the approved threshold. The Skilled Worker visa general minimum salary threshold is the highest of either £26,200 per year, or £10.75 per hour, or the ‘going rate’ for the particular role being recruited for. Every occupational code is assigned a ‘going rate’. If the pay is too low or too high above the threshold, this should raise red flags.
Confirm you meet the financial maintenance requirement. The applicant must show they meet the financial requirement, and have sufficient funds to support themselves as they will not have access to public funds such as benefits.
According to the rules, applicants must have at least £1,270 in their bank account when applying. This amount must have been available for at least 28 consecutive days, with day 28 being within 31 days of making the visa application. The applicant will need to provide evidence of their savings, or if their sponsor agrees to meet their costs of up to £1,270 during their first month in the UK. Dependents would attract more show of funds.
There are a host of checks to make but these are some of the most critical. This has become important considering the huge shift towards Skilled Worker visa systems.
In the 12 months to March 2023, 170,993 skilled worker visas have been awarded, of this over 40,000 were issued in the care workers and home carers category making it one with the lowest entry requirement. It is also where most applicants reportedly fall victim to scams.
The data from the British government show that the number of Nigerians under the health and care category of the skilled work visa rose by 263.7 percent (16,153) to 22,278 in the year ending June 2023 from 6,125 in the year ending 2022.