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How do expat contractors’ qualifications translate into UK skills?

Expat contractors seeking to enter the UK as a highly skilled worker by applying for a Tier 1 (General) Migrant visa have to score enough points in the Points Based System (PBS) to qualify for entry via this route.

One major contributor to a contractor’s point score is their qualifications, and as this can add up to 50 points to a contractor’s score, with 75 being the minimum required, understanding the UK equivalent is essential.

The points-based calculator that expat contractors should use initially to determine their eligibility automatically refers contractors to the UK’s National Academic Recognition Information Centre, known as UK NARIC, to compare their qualifications.

Contractors’ academic qualifications

Academic qualifications, such as bachelor, masters and doctorate degrees, contribute towards a contractor’s total score, according to the following scale:

  • PhD/doctorate – 50 points
  • Masters – 35 points
  • Bachelors – 30 points

When the contractor is in the qualifications section of the points-based calculator, they can select the exact qualification they have gained from the UK NARIC database. The calculator will ask the contractor to select their qualification according to the following criteria:

  • Country – where the degree was studied and awarded
  • Type – bachelors, masters, doctorate, diploma and many national variations
  • Length – period of study undertaken, from 1 year to over 10
  • Subject – the subjects available for study in the country selected and the type selected
  • Year of award.

When using the points-based calculator for the first time, contractors should ensure they have all the relevant details of qualifications to hand. The calculator lists hundreds of options for some countries and will automatically assign a score to the contractor’s qualifications.

If the qualification is not listed, then the contractor should contact UK NARIC directly, who can investigate further and, for a fee, confirm in writing the equivalent UK qualification(s) and the points value for the PBS via application.

Contractors’ professional and vocational qualifications

Contractors who have professional or vocational qualifications instead of, or perhaps in addition to, their academic qualifications, can also find the UK equivalent and use it to contribute towards their overall points score.

Comparing professional qualifications can be more complicated than academic qualifications, because the UK Visa Service website recommends that the expat contractor is asked to contact the relevant professional body first.

So, for example, an expat contractor who has professional qualifications as a civil engineer in their home country would contact the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in the UK, who are used to dealing with such requests.

As professional and trade organisations frequently have international links, expat contractors should also contact their own national professional organisation for advice. It may be that a bilateral agreement is already in place recognising the non-UK professional charter.

Further study for academic and professional qualifications

Contractors will have the opportunity to study for further academic and professional qualification once they have gained entry to the UK. The sheer breadth and depth of study options is one of the major benefits of contracting in the UK.

In the IT and other sectors, there is the opportunity for contractors to invest their own time and money to become certified in new and different IT skills areas, particularly on the software development side

In addition, in the IT and other sectors, there is the opportunity for contractors to invest their own time and money to become certified in new and different IT skills areas, particularly on the software development side.

Almost all qualifications, skills and experience can count towards a contractor’s points total, but the trick is to ensure that either UK NARIC or a professional or trade body can provide independent verification and point scoring.

And, of course, it goes without saying that contractors must have all the relevant original documentation to back up their qualifications.

Published: 04 January 2010

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