Any sense of a post-Brexit slowdown in UK immigration changes was quickly swept away last week with a thorough spring clean and polish to a wide range of rules. As is commonly the case at this time of year, a statement of changes in the Immigration Rules was released in advance of 6 April when many of the changes will come into force. We set out the main changes below and also include a quick summary of the headlines from the Budget on how new immigration categories aim to assist with the economic recovery.
Upcoming rule changes
This new route was announced as long ago as 2019 but will finally go live at 9 am on 1 July 2021. Essentially, any international student with a valid student visa that completes a degree level course should be able to qualify for a 2 or 3 year visa which enables them to work full time for any UK employer at any skill level without the need for sponsorship. Time spent on a Graduate route visa will not lead to indefinite leave to remain (settlement) but before the expiry of the visa it will be possible to switch into the Skilled Worker category. Our blog on the Graduate route has all the key details on how the new category will work.
For employers with a sponsor licence, the key changes to the Skilled Worker category from 6 April 2021 include:
- £10.10 per hour. Sponsored workers must be paid a minimum of £10.10 per hour. When calculating the minimum salary payable to a sponsored worker, employers must continue to ensure the salary is at or above the Skilled Worker category minimum salary amount (often £25,600 or £20,480 depending on the circumstances) and the going rate for the role. But they must also now check the salary is at or above at least £10.10 per hour. This applies even if the going rate for the occupation code is lower than £10.10 per hour and the person is contracted to work such long hours that their annual salary is above the £25,600 general salary threshold (£20,480 for new entrants).
- Shortage occupations. At least in part reflecting the pandemic, more shortage occupations have been adopted in health-related jobs such as senior care workers, lab technicians, pharmacists and physios. Chefs are no longer a shortage occupation but do qualify for sponsorship as a skilled role. As covered in our article at the time, the Migration Advisory Committee recommended an expansion of the shortage occupation list in September 2020 with the government only now implementing some of the recommended roles. Shortage occupations benefit from lower application fees and minimum salary requirements.
- Reducing salaries. If a sponsor wants to reduce a sponsored worker’s salary they must still meet the same minimum threshold which was applicable in the last application. So for example, if at the time of the last application the required minimum salary level was £30,000, even if the sponsored worker would now qualify in a different tradable points option with a lower salary threshold, the salary cannot be reduced below the same £30,000 salary amount. Otherwise, a fresh application will be required.
- Graduate route. From 1 July 2021, there will also be consequential changes following the introduction of the Graduate route. Those holding a Graduate route visa will be able to switch into the Skilled Worker category as a new entrant, meaning they will need to meet the lower salary thresholds. Time spent on a Graduate route visa will count towards the maximum 4 years that a Skilled Worker can be classed as a new entrant.
- Tech Nation. From 6 April 2021 the Tech Nation criteria will be adjusted for Global Talent applications for those with exceptional promise so that they only need to provide evidence of two listed optional criteria, rather than at least two.
- Prestigious prize. From 5 May 2021 there will be an ability to qualify solely on the basis of a prestigious prize, with no need for endorsement. The bar of what is a prestigious prize is set very high though – with the list, for example, including a BAFTA, Oscar, Golden Globe, Nobel Prize, Olivier Award or Tony Award.
- Fast track. From 6 April 2021 the fast track eligibility criteria changes for endorsement by Royal Society, the British Academy and Royal Academy of Engineering with applicants being eligible either as an individual or with responsibility across a wider team.
This category covers for example family members of British citizens and those settled in the UK and a helpful change means that applicants can rely on having proved their English language ability to the required level in a previous successful application.
T5 (Temporary Worker) Creative Worker
Under the current system, those in the UK as a creative Temporary Worker must have no more than 14 days between paid engagements. The new rules allow creative workers and their sponsors to ‘stop the clock’ by only counting time spent within the UK.
For the Innovator category, the new rules will add that applicants must be the sole founder or an instrumental member of the founding team of the business for which they have been endorsed by an endorsing body.
Budget announcements – immigration changes to aid COVID-19 response
As Rishi Sunak announced his Budget last week, despite the length and complexity of his to-do list he found space to include some new immigration proposals to help in lifting the UK economy back to full strength. Katie Newbury’s views on the proposals have been quoted in the press.
More details on the ambitious proposals to attract highly skilled workers will be released this summer and any new categories are unlikely to commence before March 2022.
It is not news that the government plans to introduce a new unsponsored route for highly skilled workers. Policy statements released last summer included the possibility of such a points-based route which would be designed to prioritise STEM subject skills and experience and may be subject to a cap on numbers. It remains to be seen whether the detail of the Elite visa will be different. Certainly the Budget proposal from last week for a ’scaleup’ (start-up) stream would be new. It would enable those with a job offer from a recognised UK scale-up to qualify for a fast-track visa. The proposals include a desire to modernise the sponsorship system and so welcome changes could possibly include the ability for scale-ups to recruit without the expense and delay of obtaining a sponsor licence.
The Global Talent visa will be reformed including to allow holders of international prizes and winners of scholarships and programmes to automatically qualify.
The Innovator category will be reviewed to make it easier for those with the skills and experience to found an innovative business to obtain a visa. It is common ground that the Innovator and Start-up routes are not fit for purpose and with the Global Talent category being only for those with exceptional talent, reform is required.
Global Business Mobility visa
There is a plan to launch a new Global Business Mobility visa for overseas businesses to establish a presence or transfer staff to the UK. Again, talk of improvements to the sole representative category are not new. As we covered previously in our blog, last year the government asked the Migration Advisory Committee to look at the possibility of teams (rather than only one person) being able to enter the UK to set up a UK subsidiary of a company based overseas.
Other COVID-19 related updates
As ever, for the latest information on how coronavirus is affecting the UK’s immigration rules, our FAQs are regularly updated. Latest changes include the need for COVID-19 tests within 3 days of departure to the UK as well as on day 2 and 8 after arrival, the reversal of the switching concession which allowed visa applications to be submitted in the UK which would normally need to be submitted outside and the requirement from 8 March 2021 for those leaving England to have completed a travel declaration form before arriving at the airport.
ABOUT THE AUTHORs
Katie Newbury is a Partner in the immigration team and has over 10 years' experience across a wide spectrum of UK immigration matters, with particular expertise in applications made under Tier 1 of the Points Based System and complex personal immigration matters. She regularly provides commentary on the workings of the UK Immigration Rules and is often involved in lobbying the Home Office, including in relation to the design of a future post-Brexit UK immigration system.
Kim Vowden covers all areas of business immigration. He has extensive experience of advising companies in the finance, media and technology sectors. He has a particular interest in European free movement law and in the implications of Brexit for EU citizens living in the UK, and for their employers. Kim is listed as a rising star in Legal 500 UK 2020.
Tim Richards joined the immigration team as a professional support lawyer in June 2019. He is a solicitor with extensive experience in corporate and private client immigration matters and is responsible for the knowledge management and ‘know-how’ development for the immigration team.
Katie Newbury (she/her)
Professional Support Lawyer