Late on Monday night the Home Office’s House of Lords spokesperson announced a £1,000 Immigration Skills Charge for companies sponsoring skilled non-EU workers. I half questioned this in Tuesday’s blog. The government doesn’t normally announce big policy so quietly. 
This morning the reason became very clear. Monday’s announcement was just a small taste of things to come. James Brokenshire, UK Minister for Immigration, has announced substantial changes to UK immigration policy. 
Companies recruiting international graduates to their UK operation can take comfort from a number of helpful changes:
  • Despite fears to the contrary, the Home Office will not apply a Resident Labour Market Test to foreign students looking for graduate roles;
  • Non-EU Graduates of UK universities with UK jobs will be given additional priority when the Home Office allocates a limited number of Certificates of Sponsorship each month if they apply from overseas; 
  • It will be possible for those who complete a graduate programme to switch roles without risking their immigration status (a very sensible and welcome change).
The news is less helpful for companies assigning staff to the UK, particularly where they fill less senior roles. The Home Office is restricting and streamlining Intra-Company Transfer visas by variously abolishing shorter term ICT visas and introducing flexibilities for higher paid workers. This streamlining has three key effects:
  • The minimum salary for assignees holding ICT visas will largely increase from £24,800 to £41,500, although up to 20 people in graduate programmes could be sponsored each year with salaries of £23,000;
  • New hires will no longer be able to use the ICT category for skills transfer purposes unless they are paid at least £73,900; but
  • An ICT visa holder paid £120,000 or more will now be able to stay in the UK for nine years, a privilege currently reserved for those paid £155,300.
The final policy changes relate to costs. I signalled the first change earlier in the week – the new £1,000 per year Immigration Skills Charge for large companies, or £364 for smaller companies. The Home Office will also now apply the Immigration Health Surcharge, £200 per person per year, to Intra-Company Transferees.
So, what does this mean for businesses? In the simplest terms, it means higher costs and easier access to graduate recruits.
Really though, in practical terms, it means it is time to start planning for this autumn and next April. Will a graduate recruitment programme need to be changed? Will budgets for assignees need to be rethought?
Businesses probably have at least six months to get ready for the new law, but that time can come and go very quickly.  So the trick will be to start planning.