US

Oct 23 2020

Immigration Rule Changes Announced

United Kingdom

At a Glance

  • The UK government has announced changes to the Immigration Rules to create the new Skilled Worker route, which will open on December 1, 2020 for non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals and on January 1, 2021 for EEA nationals.
  • The Statement of Changes builds on the Policy Statement that was published in February and July 2020 by setting out the detailed rules for the new immigration system.

The situation

The UK government has published the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules which set out the legal framework for the new immigration system. This will apply to both EU/European Economic Area (EEA) and third-country applicants.  Applications under the new system will open on December 1, 2020 for non-EEA nationals. EEA nationals will be eligible to apply under the new system from within the United Kingdom starting January 1, 2021, and EEA nationals applying for entry clearance will be eligible starting January 1, 2021 as well. Irish nationals will not require a visa or permission to work.

A closer look

Key details published in the Statement of Changes include the below:

Change Impact

Closure of Tier 2 categories. The Tier 2 (General) route will be closed to new applications on December 1, 2020.

  • Companies will need to add a ‘sponsor note’ to allow an existing Certificate of Sponsorship to be issued for a Skilled Worker visa if they are applying under this category from December 1, 2020.

Skilled Worker route. The UK government will introduce a new route to replace the existing Tier 2 (General) route. 

  • Skilled Workers will require a confirmed job offer skilled to at least Level 3 of the Regulated Qualifications Framework and to meet the English language requirement.
  • The individual must also meet a minimum salary requirement.  In most cases, this will be the higher of the going rate for their occupation code, and the general salary threshold of GBP 25,600. A reduction in the minimum salary requirement can be obtained if the job offer is in a shortage occupation, the applicant has a PhD in a related field or in a STEM subject, or the applicant is a ‘new entrant’.
  • The annual quota under the current Tier 2 General route will be suspended.  Employers will no longer need to conduct Resident Labour Market testing.
  • Existing Tier 2 General migrants extending their visas may apply in the Skilled Worker route once the Tier 2 General route closes.
  • Companies seeking to sponsor migrants under the Skilled Worker route which do not already hold a Tier 2 General sponsor licence are encouraged to apply for one now.
  • Those who already hold a Tier 2 General sponsor licence will not need to reapply in order to sponsor foreign nationals under the Skilled Worker route.
  • There is no change to the Shortage Occupation List at this time. The Home Office stated that they will take time to consider the functioning of the new immigration system before deciding how to implement recommendations in the September report of the Migration Advisory Committee.

English language requirement.

  • Malta will be added to the majority English language county list. Individuals can rely upon a degree obtained in Ireland.
  • Applicants who have gained GCSE / A level or Scottish Highers in English while at school in the United Kingdom can rely on this to prove their knowledge of English.
  • Applicants should only need to prove their English language ability to the Home Office on one occasion (at a given level).

This provides applicants with more flexibility and generous provisions to meet the English language requirement.

Switching categories. Foreign nationals will be able to switch into the Skilled Worker category from within the United Kingdom from any other route, except where a visa is held as a visitor, short-term student, parent of a child at school, seasonal worker, domestic worker or leave outside the rules.

This will make it easier for those already in the United Kingdom on temporary routes to be offered sponsored work.

New entrants under the Skilled Worker route and Tier 2 ICT. New entrants will need to meet a lower minimum salary requirement of 70% of the going rate for their occupation code, or GBP 20,480, whichever is higher.

New entrants will now be expanded to include:

  • Those under the age of 26;
  • Those switching from a Student, Graduate or Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) visas or those who have held a student visa in the last two years before the apply; and
  • Those working toward recognised professional qualification or moving directly into postdoctoral positions

Settlement/Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR). An applicant will be eligible if they have spent five continuous years in the United Kingdom on the Skilled Worker visa (including all time spent in Tier 2 (General) category.

  • The minimum salary requirement for ILR (currently GBP 35,800 under Tier 2 (General)) will decrease. Applicants will need to continue to meet the minimum salary requirement for the Skilled Worker visa. The salary reductions permitted through tradeable points will not apply to settlement applications, unless the applicant is in a role which is on the Shortage Occupation list.
  • If an applicant is not eligible for ILR, there is no maximum time limit under Skilled Worker Route.
  • Provisions have been made for excess absences during the five-year period because of the pandemic.

Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) visa.  Intracompany transferees will be permitted to switch into the Skilled Worker route, if eligible.

  • From 2021, an overseas intra-company transferee cannot hold an ICT visa for more than five years in any six-year period, except where they qualify to be granted up to nine years on the basis of their salary.
  • The high earner threshold will be reduced from GBP 120,000 to GBP 73,900. This will enable eligible applicants to hold the ICT visa for up to nine years in any 10-year rolling period. They will also be exempt from the requirement to work for the overseas business for twelve months prior to entering.
  • The ICT route will not lead to settlement but it will be possible to move to the skilled worker category, starting a path to settlement.

Employers will benefit from a relaxation of the cooling-off period provisions, which will allow more flexibility and short-term assignments.

 

Background

A key manifesto promise of the Conservative government in the 2019 general election was to launch a new system for skilled immigration from 2021.

In July 2020, the UK government published a Policy Statement on the points-based system.

Looking ahead

  • More detailed guidance forthcoming. As the rules have now been published, the Home Office will release detailed guidance before December 1, 2020.
  • EEA citizens. EEA and Swiss nationals who first enter the United Kingdom after December 31, 2020 will be treated similarly to other third country nationals and will need to hold a visa to live and work in the United Kingdom.

 

This alert is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions, please contact the global immigration professional with whom you work at Fragomen or send an email to [email protected].