By: Conor McCrory, Associate – Business Immigration Law, Cleaver Fulton Rankin, Belfast, Northern Ireland |
The Home Office has released the final confirmed details of how the new immigration system will operate through a ‘Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules’ spanning an impressive 514 pages!
Various policy statements throughout 2020 provided an insight into the inner workings of the planned new immigration system. The Statement of Changes released on 22 October 2020 confirms many of the details contained in the policy statements and now finalises how the new immigration system will operate.
What are the new rules specifically?
The vast majority of the new rules will apply to any UK visa application submitted after 9am on 1 December 2020. Some of the key changes will include the following:
- Lowering of the skills and qualifications required for an employment visa from RQF level 6 to RQF level 3
- Lowering of the minimum salary threshold from £30,000 to £25,600 per annum (subject to a number of exceptions)
- The replacement of Tier 2 (General) visa with the Skilled Worker visa category
- EU and non-EU nationals will be treated exactly the same under the new immigration system
- The removal of the resident labour market test for all roles
- Quotas or limitations on the number of Skilled Worker visas will be removed
- Increased flexibility for switching between visa categories
- Removal of any limitations of time on extending within the Tier 2/Skilled Worker visa category
- The minimum salary requirement for Tier 2/Skilled Workers applying for permanent residency has been abolished
- Removal of being able to count guaranteed allowances under the Skilled Worker category but retention of the existing rules for Tier 2 (Intra Company Transfers) regarding allowances
- The rejection of the Migration Advisory Committees recommendations for a number of new roles to be added to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL
Freedom of movement for EU nationals ends 31 December 2020
From 11pm on 31 December 2020 (little more than 2 months away) freedom of movement for EU nationals will come to an abrupt end. The impact is that the new immigration system will treat both EU and non-EU nationals equally. This will require businesses to obtain a sponsor licence with the Home Office before the end of this year to permit for new hires to join the business from either the EU or outside the EU.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has previously said the new immigration system which comes into play from 1 January 2021 will be “firmer, fairer and simpler” and would “lay the foundation for a high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy”.
From the beginning of next year if living outside the UK the likes of Italian, Spanish, Polish or French nationals will be expected to obtain the new Skilled Worker visa the same as an American, Indian or Chinese national under the new immigration system. There has never been a more pressing need for companies to seriously consider obtaining a sponsor licence with the Home Office to futureproof recruitment plans.
Rejection of key roles for the Shortage Occupation List (SOL)
One area of concern is Priti Patel’s rejection of the Migration Advisory Committees (MAC) recommendations to add several roles to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) including plumbers, bricklayers, electricians and bakers. The MAC had been commissioned earlier in the year by the Home Office to consider new roles (as many as 70) to be potentially added to a new SOL. The Home Secretary’s recent letter to the Migration Advisory Committee makes for interesting reading:
“…At this time, the Government has decided not to immediately accept any of the recommendations contained in the MAC’s SOL report. Before making any changes to the SOLs, we believe it is right to pause and assess how the UK labour market develops and how quickly recovery is evidenced post-Covid 19 and in response to the introduction of the new Points-Based Immigration System”
At least there is some degree of hope in that the Home Office seem to be keeping the recommendations under review for the foreseeable future without committing to any defined timelines. Home Secretary Priti Patel at the end of her letter to MAC said:
“We intend to continue scrutinising the recommendations to ensure our approach to applying them aligns with the UK labour market, and will consider whether to implement some or all of them in a forthcoming set of changes to the Immigration Rules in 2021”
The main benefit of having a role admitted to the SOL is the lowering of the salary threshold to £20,480 per annum. Not all doom and gloom considering all these roles will still be eligible for a Skilled Worker visa albeit at a slightly higher salary of £25,600 per annum
How can we prepare for the new immigration system?
Consider the need to apply for a sponsor licence to the Home Office. This is a requirement for any business wishing to recruit from abroad to the UK. Over 31,000 companies in the UK already hold a sponsor licence with the Home Office for hiring global talent. This licence can be used for recruiting both EU and non-EU nationals with no limitations to the number of employees employed through the licence.
We have received a number of notifications from the Home Office in recent weeks outlining the increased processing times for sponsor licence applications. This will simply be down to the volume of new licence applications received by the sponsor licensing team at the Home Office in the run up to the introduction of the new immigration system. Currently we have been working tirelessly to prepare and submit sponsor licence applications on behalf of our clients with the increased processing times. The beginning of next year and for most of 2021 is going to undoubtedly result in even further delays to the processing of the sponsor licence with more companies applying than ever before due to the end of freedom of movement within the EU.
There will be a need for businesses to consider ensuring that current EU members of staff are enrolled on the EU Settlement Scheme before 20 June 2021. Employers may wish to consider hiring EU nationals before the end of this year to avoid the need for a Skilled Worker visa. Finally, budgets will need to be considered with the need to cover immigration fees associated with the Skilled Worker visa.
Since the Points Based System (PBS) was introduced in 2008 we have seen a tightening of the Immigration rules and requirements particularly so in recent years. Having reviewed the Statement of Changes there undoubtedly is a liberalisation of the rules with the lowering of both skills and salary thresholds to meet the eligibility requirements for a Skilled Worker visa in the UK. Although it should be noted that through a succession of Statement of Changes these rules can be amended or redrafted in the future by the Home Office. Often with very little notice, much to the frustration of immigration lawyers.
Overall there has definitely been a liberalisation of the rules at an unprecedented level. There will be huge opportunities for businesses to consider recruiting globally, especially with the reduction of skills to RQF level 3 and the opening up of many new roles for a Skilled Worker visa together with the reduction of the salary level to £25,600.
At Cleaver Fulton Rankin we have seen a surge in enquiries from businesses wishing to apply for a sponsor licence with the Home Office. We offer an initial free 30-minute consultation to any businesses that may require advice in this area.
This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Please contact the Business and Private Immigration team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.
Cleaver Fulton Rankin is a leading commercial law firm in Belfast, Northern Ireland, providing a full legal service to both commercial and individual private clients.