Changes to the immigration system

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General changes

  • There will be new powers to refuse applications on suitability grounds. Applicants who have been sentenced for longer than 12 months for offences in the UK and abroad will not be able to apply. There will also be restrictions on anyone entering the border who has been involved in a sham marriage or is a rough sleeper.
  • English language requirements are being simplified – Malta will be added to the list of countries where an applicant is deemed to have sufficient English language skills. Applicants who have GCSE, A-level or Scottish Highers in English will be able to rely on this to prove English language capabilities. Finally, applicants will only ever have to prove English language requirements once to the Home Office, making applications to extend leave easier.
  • Maintenance requirements have been simplified, and applicants will not have to prove they have sufficient funds to maintain themselves if they have been supporting themselves in the UK for at least 12 months before the date of their application. Otherwise, applicants will only have to show they have sufficient funds in place for 28 days (not the current 90 days) before they apply and there are fewer restrictions on how to evidence this. The minimum level of funds an applicant must have in place has however been increased from£945 to £1,270 (whereas the minimum level of funds for dependents has been reduced).
  • If the eligibility criteria are not met however the application will be rejected as invalid rather than refused. This will affect an applicant’s section 3C leave, meaning they may have to leave the UK more quickly than they do now or otherwise risk being classed as an ‘overstayer’.

Skilled workers

  • The Tier 2 (General) visa will be replaced by a new Skilled Worker visa, where applicants must have a job offer from a licensed sponsor for a role skilled to at least RQF (Regulated Qualifications Framework) level 3. They must have sufficient English language skills and must be paid at the appropriate rate which is generally £25,600 or the going rate for the role (as determined by the Home Office) whichever is higher. Lower salaries may be acceptable if certain other criteria apply such as if the role is on the shortage occupation list or if the applicant has a PhD in a relevant subject, but the salary must never be below £20,480 (or 80% of the going rate whichever is higher). Allowances can no longer be taken into account when calculating salaries.
  • The rules on “new entrants” have been expanded and now allow applicants who are being sponsored in postdoctoral research positions or those working towards professional qualifications to count as new entrants. The minimum salary level for new entrants is £20,480 or 70% of the going rate for the role, whichever is the higher.
  • The resident labour market test (which currently requires sponsors to prove they cannot fill a position from the local labour market before offering the job to the sponsored worker) will be removed.
  • The monthly cap on the number of applications that can be made will be suspended.
  • The “cooling off” period and six-year maximum length of stay for applicants will also be removed. This means individuals can be sponsored under the skilled worker route for longer than 6 years and no longer need to spend a minimum of 12 months outside the UK after their initial 6-year stay.
  • Existing Tier 2 sponsors can continue to use their existing sponsor licence for skilled worker applications. Their Tier 2 licence will automatically be amended to a skilled worker licence to allow for this.
  • The minimum salary level for indefinite leave to remain applications has also been lowered to £25,600 or the going rate for the role, allowing applicants to apply for settlement more easily.
  • Controversially the government has decided not to follow the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations to review and update the shortage occupation list, stating it will wait for the new system to bed in and the disruption from Covid-19 to pass before deciding whether or not to implement the recommendations. This is frustrating as applicants for jobs on the list are deemed to be in short supply in the UK. The government’s decision not to review and update the list may lead to labour shortages in key areas such as healthcare.

Intra-Company Transfers

  • This route largely remains the same but with a few important tweaks. Visa holders under this category can now apply to switch to the Skilled Worker category, which they have previously been unable to do. Such applications can also be made from within the UK.
  • The “cooling off” period will still apply under this route but only to those who have already held leave under the route for five years in any six-year rolling period or nine years in any ten year rolling period for high earners with a salary of £73,900 or more.

Switching Visa Routes

  • In-country switching will be allowed from most visas except visitor, short term, seasonal worker, domestic, parent of a child student, or a person with leave outside the immigration rules.

Expediated Sponsor License Processing

  • The Home Office also announced that a new fee for priority processing of sponsor licence applications will be available from 12 November 2020.
  • This will cost £500 and may prove helpful for those businesses who have more urgent recruitment needs.

Hong Kong British National Overseas route

  • Applications can be made here from 31 January 2021 and the route allows visa holders to work and study in the UK, with time spent here counting towards settlement.
  • There will be 2 categories: one for British national overseas citizens ordinarily resident in Hong Kong (and their dependents) and one for their household members (i.e. adult children of British nationals born overseas after 1 July 1997.

There have been some updates to the EU Settlement scheme as well, most notably allowing applications to be made after the 30 June 2021 deadline if there are reasonable grounds to allow a late application (although there is no guidance on what ‘reasonable grounds’ means as yet).

While there is quite a bit to digest, the statement of changes has made some promising adjustments to the current system, aligning requirements such as maintenance across the different routes.  We are expecting more detailed guidance to be released in the coming weeks ahead of the new system’s launch on 1 December 2020.

If you have any questions about any of the above or would like some advice about the new immigration system, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.