Details published on the UK’s future immigration system
‘The UK’s future immigration system’ is not a new immigration system. Rather, the government proposes further changes to the ever-changing, existing system. It published details on 13 July 2020.
Many more employers are likely to need sponsor licences than before, because European Economic Area nationals who arrive on or after 1 January 2021 will require sponsorship under the new system which will be in place from that date, or some other visa permitting work, to take up employment in the UK. Further, the new sponsorship system will apply to many more roles, as the required skill level will drop from graduate level to A-level and the required salary thresholds will be reduced.
The Government is encouraging UK employers to apply for sponsor licences. The published details confirm that sponsor licences granted under the current system will be converted to Skilled Worker and Intra-Company Transfer licences. Licence expiry dates and allocations of Certificates of Sponsorship will likewise transfer to the new licences. Fees will be the same.
The Government has made clear that it still expects sponsors to fulfil sponsor duties and that it will still penalise sponsors who do not have the necessary systems in place to ensure compliance, reporting and recordkeeping in relation to sponsored skilled workers. Therefore it is important to seek advice on the sponsor duties and the required HR systems before applying for a sponsor licence.
Don’t say ‘Tier 2 General’, do say ‘Skilled Worker’
The points-based plan involves points calculations relating to the salaries of sponsored Skilled Workers. All workers in this route will require an offer by an approved sponsor of a job at the appropriate skill level. They will have to demonstrate intermediate English language ability. They will also have to meet an absolute minimum salary threshold of £20,480.
Having satisfied those mandatory requirements, an applicant then needs to earn at least twenty points, which can be gained through a combination of factors. Meeting general salary thresholds of £20,480, £23,040 and £25,600 will be considered in combination with the proposed salary’s relation to the ‘going rate’ for their particular job. Applicants can gain points for being a ‘new entrant’ to the labour market, having a relevant PhD (with extra points for a PhD in a STEM subject), and a job being on the shortage occupation list.
For example, where an applicant meets the absolute minimum salary threshold, but the proposed salary is at only 80% of the going rate for their job, they will not gain points for salary but they will be able to gain the necessary points if their job is on the shortage occupation list.
PhDs will generally only gain points where the role is at graduate level. Sponsors will be responsible for assessing the relevance of an applicant’s PhD. The government will provide lists of the jobs eligible for sponsorship and the ‘going rate’ for each. The government will no longer distinguish, within occupational classifications, between jobs that are eligible for sponsorship and those that are not: if an occupation is eligible, all jobs falling within that occupation are eligible. Required salary levels for 24 health and education public service occupations will be as per national pay scales.
New entrants to the labour market currently include applicants switching from student visas or who are under 26 years old. In future, those switching from the new graduate route, described below, and those who are working towards professional qualifications, or moving to postdoctoral roles will also count as new entrants.
For those sponsors willing to do maths problems about salaries, or to instruct advisors to do so, the government is promising a number of useful changes:
- Abolition of the requirement to fulfil the resident labour market test, e.g. by advertising the role, before sponsoring a non-UK skilled worker; and
- ‘Suspension’ of the cap of 20,700 per year on sponsored skilled worker applicants from overseas, who will be earning £159,600 or less
A new Health and Care visa will be available under the Skilled Worker route. Applicants under this route will benefit from fast-track entry, reduced application fees and an exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge. In addition to meeting the Skilled Worker route requirements, Health and Care visa applicants will require an offer for a qualifying role with the NHS, NHS service providers or the social care sector.
The future system separates the Intra-Company Transfer and Skilled Worker routes, whereas the current equivalents both fall under the Tier 2 visa type. The Intra-Company Transfer route will have a different minimum salary requirement and, unlike the Skilled Worker route, the minimum skill level requirement will be maintained at graduate level for Intra-Company Transferees.
Welcome changes to the Intra-Company Transfer route include that Intra-Company Transferees will be allowed to switch into the Skilled Worker route. This affords them a possible route to settlement. The restriction preventing Intra-Company Transferees from applying for settlement will otherwise apply.
The ‘cooling off period’ will also be relaxed. The ‘cooling off period’ means that equivalent visa holders under the current system must wait one year after having held a Tier 2 visa before they are eligible to apply for a further Tier 2 visa. The government proposes instead that an overseas Intra-Company Transferee must not hold an Intra-Company Transfer visa for more than 5 years in any 6-year period.
Details on the new Graduate route
The government has confirmed its plans for a new visa route for international students in the UK, allowing them to stay in the UK and work, or look for work, after they graduate. Undergraduate and master’s degree students will be able to stay for two years under the new visa route and PhD students will be able to stay for three years. The visa will be available from ‘summer of 2021’. Coupled with the 4 months of visa duration that students are usually afforded after the end of their course, this means that those graduating in the Spring term of 2021 will likely be eligible for the new Graduate visa.
Applicants must have completed the entirety of their degree in the UK, other than study abroad programmes undertaken or distance learning due to COVID-19. Applicants must have completed their degree with a Higher Education Provider with a track record of compliance.
There will be some restrictions on employment under this visa type. Restrictions other than the common prohibition against employment as a professional sportsperson or as a doctor or dentist in training will apply to this route, but they have not yet been specified.
Applicants will not be able to extend this visa type. They will only be able to hold this visa once. However, they will be able to switch into other visa types from within the UK. The time spent on a Graduate visa will not count towards any residence period required for settlement in the UK.
Other business and work visa routes
Other, existing business and work visa routes will remain largely the same.
There will be few changes to the Global Talent, Innovator and Start-Up visas which allow for self-employment. Unfortunately the government has not provided any further details on its plans for a true points-based visa route which will allow non-UK nationals to come to the UK without a job offer, on the basis of characteristics such as age, qualifications, having studied in the UK and high-value skills. For more information on these existing routes and the need for a true UK points-based visa offering, please see my article for Maddyness.
The publication of further details on the future immigration system hints at European nationals being included in the Youth Mobility Scheme in future, subject to negotiations. This visa route allows young adults from certain countries with which the UK has reciprocal arrangements in place, to experience life in the UK for a one-off, non-extendable period of two years. They are permitted to work.
The government commits to reviewing and improving the route for those coming to the UK under contract to provide a service covered by international law. The category includes those coming under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Effective changes to this route could raise it from obscurity to be a useful visa route.
The government confirms that it will introduce a new immigration route for Hong Kong residents who are British Nationals (Overseas). They and their immediate family members will be authorised to work on a visa route that leads to settlement in the UK.
Visit visa and systemic changes
EU nationals will be able to use a smartphone self-enrolment application form when applying for non-visit visas to the UK. This is likely to resemble very closely the technology employed for EU settlement scheme registration. At least initially, they will not be required to enrol or self-enrol biometrics to visit the UK. Non-EU nationals will still have to enrol biometrics at visa application centres, though the government hopes to eventually expand the use of self-enrolment.
The Government states that it will also introduce Electronic Travel Authorisations (ETAs). Similarly to those the US ESTA system, applicants will apply for permission to travel in advance.
The government’s proposals form a mixed bag in which they try to make up for the loss of free movement in the labour market. We will never arrive at finalised immigration system and only time will tell if these proposals will be enough to buoy the UK into a competitive position in the global race to economic recovery.