United Kingdom: New Season Brings Fresh Changes to Immigration Rules
Making changes in the U.K. immigration rules is becoming an annual spring event. Having taken into account the findings from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), this year the U.K. government has introduced various changes. We outline those changes below.
Tier 2 Changes
These changes relate to foreign nationals entering or remaining in the U.K. sponsored by “A-rated” employers.
• The skills eligibility criteria for the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) is increased to level 6 from level 4 for all those applying under Tier 2. Although the overall skills level for qualifying for sponsored permission would remain at graduate level and above, by increasing the NQF level to 6, this will mean the removal of some middle management effective from 14 June 2012. There are some provisions in place to ensure that those already in the U.K. – and extending their current permissions – can continue to be so without having to meet the new skills criteria.
• A new Premium Customer Service for Sponsors is introduced whereby eligible sponsors, on payment of a fee, would gain certain privileges, including guaranteed access to the Public Enquiry Office, thereby reducing the time a worker is without his or her passport, as well as access to a premium sponsor support team.
• The Tier 2 General restricted quota will remain at 20,700 for the next two years.
• The advertising requirements are relaxed for those highly paid or undertaking Ph.D. level jobs such that the requirement to advertise on JobCentre Plus would no longer apply effective 14 June 2012. Please note that it would still be necessary to advertise for 28 calendar days in the prescribed medium for the job code.
• The temporary leave for Tier 2 General is increased to six years maximum, after which an individual must either qualify and apply for settlement (indefinite leave to remain) or leave the United Kingdom.
• To avoid re-occurring applications to remain under Tier 2, anyone switching into Tier 2 General would be subject to a maximum period of stay cumulatively not exceeding six years.
• A salary threshold to be eligible for “indefinite leave to remain” (ILR) is imposed of £35,000pa or the minimum salary as specified under the standard occupational classification (SOC) code, whichever is higher, effective for those applying after 6 April 2016.
• Tier 2 holders must leave the U.K. at the end of their stay, and will be excluded from returning to the U.K. under Tier 2 for 12 months unless they qualify for ILR or for an extension. Please note that this change would apply for all Tier 2 holders irrespective of when permission was first applied for.
• As a result of the closure of the Tier 1 Post Study Worker category, a new category under Tier 2 General Unrestricted (Graduates) is in effect from 6 April 2012. No “resident labor market test” (RLMT) would be required, and being unrestricted, it is not necessary to request the quota. However, the job offer must meet the salary minimum along with the applicant having obtained a degree in the United Kingdom.
Other Immigration Changes Affecting Employers
• A new business visitor category route is defined – “permitted paid engagements” – which covers certain specified, specialist activities where permission under the Points Based System is not required when the maximum stay does not exceed one month.
• Biometric Residence Cards are required for all foreign nationals remaining in the U.K. for more than six months.
• Introducing a new Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneurs category which enables “Highly Trusted” sponsors to nominate eligible graduates to remain in the U.K. under this category.
• Domestic workers in a diplomatic household will be able to remain as long as their employers do (maximum five years) and will not be able to switch employers or qualify for ILR.
• For domestic workers in a private household, the immigration option has been severely restricted. From 6 April 2012, an individual who is a domestic worker in a private household can only enter for a maximum six months when accompanying a visitor, and would not be able to extend or qualify for ILR. Further, the dependant category for domestic workers under this section has been removed.
• Tier 5 (Contractual service suppliers under GATS) who do not qualify under Tier 2 would only be allowed to enter and remain in the U.K. for a maximum six months.
• Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange) is now limited to 12 months rather than 24 months unless the activities are considered under the fellowship/research provisions.
These changes to the country’s immigration rules are likely to add to the complications arising from the existing measures applicable to foreign workers coming into the United Kingdom.
Employers seeking to move employees or household workers into the United Kingdom should consult with their professional advisers or seek legal counsel.