Can I swap my Tier 2 ICT visa to the new Skilled Worker Visa?

London skyline at sunset which UK Visas serves with its immigration services

With the new Skilled Worker visa now having replaced the old Tier 2 (General) visa there are a number of changes which will be relevant to those present in the UK on the old Tier 2 system. One of the most common questions we get asked is whether individuals currently present on a Tier 2 (ICT) visa will be able to switch to the new Skilled Worker visa.

Under the previous system it was generally not possible to switch from a Tier 2 (ICT) visa to a Tier 2 (General) visa in-country and applicants hoping to make the switch were also subject to a 12 month cooling off period which must be spent outside the UK. Tier 2 (ICT) also contained no route to settlement, unlike the Tier 2 (General) route and the new Skilled Worker visa which allow individuals to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK after 5 years of continuous residence.

Thankfully under the new system the 12 month cooling off period has been abolished and applicants will be able to apply to switch in country provided they have not spent more than 5 out of the past 6 years present on a Tier 2 (ICT) visa. Most applicants present on a Tier 2 (ICT) visa will easily meet the requirements for the new Skilled Worker visa given that they will have had to have been in a role at RQF level 6 (the Skilled Worker visa only requires RQF level 3) and will have had to have been paid a minimum of £41,500 which is well above the Skilled Worker threshold of £25,600.

Applicants hoping to switch will still have to be sponsored in their new role and must meet the English Language requirements, which they may not have had to demonstrate when they applied for their Tier 2 (ICT) visa. It should be noted that time spent on a Tier 2 (ICT) visa will not be counter towards the 5 year residence period required for settlement in the UK on the Skilled Worker route. The clock will start from the date of issue of the Skilled Worker visa.

If you have a job offer in the UK and your company requires help with either the visa application process or the sponsor license application process we can help. Get in touch with us on 01403 801 801 [email protected] for a consultation.

Sponsor Licences – What’s the Difference Between a Small Company and a Large Company?

 

If you want to sponsor overseas workers (including those from the EU after 01/01/2021) you will need a sponsor licence. The fees and costs associated vary depending on whether you are a small, large or charitable sponsor. Here we’ll explain how to determine which category you fall into and what difference it makes.

 

Small Companies and Charitable Sponsors:

Companies fall into this category if they are either registered charities or meet two of the three following requirements:

-They have a turnover of £10.2 million or less

-They have a balance sheet total of no more than £5.1 million

-They have 50 employees or fewer.

 

Medium or Large Sponsors:

Companies that do not meet the above requirements will be classed as medium or large sponsors (for the purpose of obtaining a sponsor licence there is no distinction between medium and large). The following organisations are automatically classed as a large company regardless of actual size:

-Public Companies

-Insurance Companies

-Banking Companies

-E-Money issuers

 

What’s The Difference?

There are a few fees which differ depending on the size of your company:

Sponsor Licence Application Fee – This is the fee you will need to pay in order to apply for your initial sponsor licence. It will cost £536 for a small or charitable organisation and £1476 for a small organisation. The licence will cover you for 4 years after which it will need to be renewed.

Immigration Skills Charge – (Unless the individual is switching from a Tier 4 (student) visa to a Skilled Worker visa, will do a job with a PhD level standard occupational classification, or has a Tier 2 (ICT) Graduate Trainee visa).

Small or charitable sponsors – £364 for the first 12 months and then £182 for each 6 month period after that.

For medium or large sponsors it will cost £1000 for the first 12 months and £500 for each additional 6 month period.

This will be refunded if the worker’s visa is refused or they do not start working with you. You will get a partial refund if they leave their job before the end date on the CoS.

 

In Conclusion

It is important to make sure you have assessed the size of your organisation prior to applying for a sponsor licence and are aware of the costs. For a more comprehensive view of the costs associated with sponsoring overseas workers, please see our blog here.

 

We are experienced in advising both employers and individuals in relation to the sponsorship process. Should you require any further information about this please get in touch with one of our experts on 01403 801 801 or email us at [email protected].

What does a UK Sponsor License Level 1 User Do?

A level one user is the person within your business who is responsible for the day to day management of your sponsor license. They will use the sponsorship management system (SMS) to fulfil this role.

They might also act as your authorising officer (responsible for all staff and representatives who use the SMS) and your key contact (your main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration). You can also appoint an immigration adviser to act as your level 1 user.

If they are employed internally they are normally HR personnel. They must be one of the following:

  • A paid staff member within your organisation
  • An employee of a third party organisation which delivers all or part of your HR function
  • A UK-based representative.

They cannot be independent contractors, project-specific consultants, or temporary staff supplied by an employment agency. They also cannot be bankrupt.

When you apply for the sponsor license the Authorising Officer is normally your level 1 user because you can only assign one person during the application process. After the sponsor license has been granted, they can then add additional users using the SMS.

You can have as many level 1 users as you like but the Authorising Officer is responsible for their conduct, and it can be difficult to oversee level 1 activity for a large number of people. For this reason it is normally best to have 2-3 level 1 users. This ensures they can be supervised appropriately, but also means that in the case of illness or annual leave somebody will be available to perform level 1 duties.

Under normal circumstances at least 1 of your level 1 users must be a settled worker, ie they have the right to reside and work in the UK free from immigration restrictions. They might have Indefinite Leave to Remain or be a British Citizen.

 

If you need help managing your sponsor license or employing overseas workers, we can help. Get in touch for a consultation on 01403 801 801 or email us at [email protected]

A summary of coming changes to the UK immigration system

 

As of 01/01/2021 there will be a number of changes to the UK immigration system, including the introduction of the new points based system, a summary of which can be found here.

 

Changes to take place from 01.12.2020

  • EU nationals cannot apply for leave to remain under routes other than Appendix EU, Appendix S2 Healthcare Visitor or Appendix Service Providers from Switzerland, before 11pm on 31 December. They can apply for any Entry Clearance before then, but any leave will be granted to start on 1 January 2021.

 

As of January 1 2021 they will have to apply for entry under the same rules as non-EU nationals.

 

COVID 19

 

  • The rules have been amended to allow caseworkers to disregard overstaying between 24 January 2020 and 31 August 2020 as a result of Covid-19.
  • Absences due to a “pandemic” will be added on as an exception to the 180 day rule for Indefinite Leave to Remain and British Citizenship applications.

 

English Language

 

  • Malta has been added as a majority English speaking country.
  • Applicants will only need to prove English once and will not need to continue to provide evidence of their English language ability for subsequent applications (For example when applying for Set-O after 5 years on a Tier 2 visa which required you to demonstrate English Language. You will only need to demonstrate your English language ability again if the requirements have changed (for example Life Skills A1 for an initial spouse visa application and A2 for the extension)
  • Degrees from Republic of Ireland can be used to demonstrate English Language ability.
  • The rules will allow applicants to rely on GCSE/A Level or Scottish Highers in English while at school in the UK to prove English language. This last change will, initially, only apply to applications for students, skilled workers, start-up and innovator migrants.

 

Maintenance

 

  • Skilled Workers, ICT, Students, Tier 2 Ministers of Religion, Tier 2 Sportpersons, Tier 5 (Temporary Workers), Start-up and Innovator applicants will NOT need to meet the maintenance requirement if they have been in the UK for more than 12 months.
  • Maintenance figure increased from £945 to £1,270 and applicants are now required to show they have held the funds for 28 days (rather than 90 days).
  • For most dependants, the maintenance requirement is reduced from £630 to £285 for a dependant partner, £315 for the first child applying and £200 for each subsequent child
  • The maintenance requirement for Youth Mobility Applicants will be increased from £1,890 to £2,530 and applicants are now required to show they have held the funds for 28 days

 

 

Appendix FM (Family Visas)

 

  • Will expand to include new family members of EU nationals with limited leave under EUSS – so family members not covered by the EUSS. We believe this is likely to be limited to spouses, partners and children under 18 only, but are awaiting confirmation.

 

 

Visitors

  • Holders of visit visas can now study for up to 6 months rather than 30 days. The short term study visa will still be available for those wanting to study for 6-11 months

 

 

Skilled Worker route

 

  • Largely this is unchanged from the information summarised here https://ukvisas.co.uk/new-uk-immigration-system-july-update/
  • The 12-month “cooling off period” and six-year maximum length of stay in the route are being removed for both Tier 2 General and ICT.
  • The £35,800 salary threshold for indefinite leave to remain applications is being removed, and replaced with £25,600 or the going rate for the occupation.
  • MAC Shortage Occupation recommendations have been put on hold as the government wants to see how the UK labour marker develops post COVID and after the introduction of new PBS system.
  • For an application to be valid, the COS must have been issued [This means you cannot submit an application now without a COS and then supply the COS later].

 

Tier 2 ICT

  • High earner is now £73,900. Migrants on this route can have leave up to 9 years and do not need to have worked for the business for 12 months prior to application.
  • Time limit – 5 years in any 6-year rolling period or, for high earners, up to 9 years in any 10-year rolling period.

 

Turkish nationals

 

  • Will also need to meet the new Immigration rules from 31.12.2020

 

Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme

 

  • San Marino is being added to the list – 1000 spots will be allocated
  • Republic of Korea is also being added.

 

British National Overseas Visa (For those in Hong Kong)

 

Please see our summary here https://ukvisas.co.uk/the-hong-kong-bno-visa-what-is-it-and-how-can-i-get-it/) this route will be opening on 31.01.2021 and there will be two routes available. One will be for holders of British National Overseas Status and one will be for their household members.

 

Skilled Worker category:

 

New Entrants

In addition to having a job offer on Table 1 of Appendix Skilled Occupation (which will replace  Appendix J) the applicant must

 

(a) be under the age of 26 on the date of application; or

 

(b) the job offer must be for a postdoctoral position in any of the following occupation codes: 2111, 2112, 2113, 2114, 2119. 2311 or

 

(c) the job offer must be in a UK regulated profession and the applicant must be working towards a recognised professional qualification for that profession; or

 

(d) the applicant must be working towards full registration or chartered status with the relevant professional body for the job they are being sponsored for; or

 

(e) the application must be for permission to stay and the applicant’s most recent permission must have been as a Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) Migrant; or

 

(f) all of the following conditions apply:

(i) the applicant’s most recent permission was as a Student: and

(ii) that permission expired less than 2 years before the date of application; and

(iii) in that permission or any previous permission as a Student, the applicant was sponsored to study one of the following courses (not any other qualifications of an equivalent level):

  • a UK bachelor’s degree; or UK master’s degree; or UK PhD or other doctoral qualification; or Postgraduate Certificate in Education; or Professional Graduate Diploma of Education; and

(iv) the applicant has completed (or is applying no more than 3 months before they are expected to complete) the course in (iii) above, or the applicant is studying a PhD and has completed at least 12 months study in the UK towards the PhD.

 

Granting the application must not mean the applicant’s combined permission as a Skilled Worker and/or Tier 2 Migrant would be more than 4 years in total, whether or not the permission is for a continuous period.

 

 

Settlement

In addition, to the salary threshold changing to £25,600 or the going rate for the occupation, the following also applies:

Other salary reductions permitted through tradeable points will not apply to settlement applications. Therefore those sponsored in shortage occupations or listed health or education occupations who may have been paid £20,480 per year, for settlement application, their salary must equal or exceed the going rate for the occupation

 

Allowances under the Skilled Worker category

Allowances can only be included in salary calculations for applicants who are applying before 1 December 2026 and were last granted permission as a Tier 2 (General) Migrant, provided they are still working for the same sponsor as in their previous permission, and the allowances are guaranteed for the duration of the applicant’s permission. If not fitting into the above then the following applies and basically means allowances will not be permitted to be included in a salary:

 

Salary only includes guaranteed basic gross pay (before income tax and including employee pension and national insurance contributions).

Salary does not include other pay and benefits, such as any of the following:

(a) pay which cannot be guaranteed because the nature of the job means that hours fluctuate; or

(b) additional pay such as shift, overtime or bonus pay, (whether or not it is guaranteed); or

(c) employer pension and employer national insurance contributions; or

(d) any allowances, such as accommodation or cost of living allowances; or

(e) in-kind benefits, such as equity shares, health insurance, school or university fees, company cars or food; or

(f) one-off payments, such as ‘golden hellos’; or

(g) any payments relating to immigration costs, such as the fee or Immigration Health Charge; or

(h) payments to cover business expenses, including (but not limited to) travel to and from the applicant’s country of residence, equipment, clothing, travel or subsistence.

 

Tradeable points

For applications made before 24 May 2023, if applicant previously had permission as T2 general migrant with a COS given to them before 24 November 2016, then they do not need to score 20 tradeable points In these cases, 20 tradeable points will be awarded for a salary of £20,800 or above, or, if higher, the going rate for the occupation code.

 

If you have a query about the new rules or require help with an immigration issue, please get in touch with us for a consultation on 01403 801 801 or at [email protected]

How to Get Your Immigration Health Surcharge Refund

 

Can You Get My Immigration Health Surcharge Refund For Me?

As a private immigration firm we are not affiliated with the Home Office and unfortunately cannot manage the process of getting a refund on your immigration health surcharge (IHS) unless we managed your application. If you believe you are owed a refund please check the government website for details of eligibility and how to apply and see our quick guide below.

 

If You Work in Health and Care

You may be eligible to get a refund of any IHS you paid to cover the period from 31/03/2020 but not before this date. You must have been in an eligible role for at least 6 months since 31/03/2020 and have worked at least 16 hours per week. The role must be eligible under the current government rules. If you meet the conditions and dependents will also be entitled to the refund.

You will get £200 for every 6 months you have paid and will need to apply every 6 months. You can apply here.

 

If you’re Eligible for the Health and Care Visa

If you have a Tier 2 Health and Care visa, or would have been eligible for one on or after 04/08/2020 then you should automatically get a full refund if you paid the IHS on or after 31/03/2020. If you have not yet received it please email the IHS refund team with your name, your sponsor’s name, your CoS number and your IHS number. The email you should use to contact the Home Office is [email protected]. The refunds will be paid to the account or card you originally paid with so do not send your bank details. Do not use this email address for other queries as they will be ignored.

 

Other Immigration Health Surcharge Refunds

You will be refunded for your Immigration Health Surcharge if you pay twice, your visa application is refused or you withdraw your application. You will get a partial refund for any refused dependants or if you get less time on your visa than you applied for.

If you are granted a visa but do not come to the UK, leave the UK before your visa ends, are told to leave the UK before your visa expires, or apply for ILR you will not be eligible for a refund.

 

How Long Does it Take?

It should arrive within 6 weeks, although it may take longer if you appeal or ask for an administrative review where your visa application was refused. If you do not receive it within 6 weeks you could contact UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) https://www.gov.uk/contact-ukvi-inside-outside-uk

 

If you would like help managing a visa application, including the new Health and Care visa, we can help. Get in touch for a consultation on 01403 801 801 or email us at [email protected]

Immigration Health Surcharge Increase to be Delayed Until October 27th

The Immigration Health Surcharge payable by almost all migrants on a temporary visa was due to rise from £400 a year to £624 as of October 1st. This has however been delayed. The draft order which set the original date for October 1st has now been replaced by a new draft order. The new draft order will still hike up the surcharge but it only comes into force 21 days after it is made into law, as it has now been signed it will come into force on October 27th.

This provides a bit of leeway for those scrambling to get their applications in before the surcharge rises, but individuals should still work hard to ensure their application is in before October 27th in order to avoid paying the higher fee. The new order also sets out that applicants applying under the new Health and Care visa will be exempt from the surcharge while students and their dependents, Youth Mobility Visa holders and anyone under 18 will only have to pay a reduced rate of £470.

How Much Does it Cost to Sponsor Someone for a UK Work Visa?

Readers should note these costs are likely to change in 2021 when the government launches its new points based system. At the time of writing (17/08/2020) the Immigration Health Surcharge is £400 per year, but this will be raised to £624 per year from 01/10/2024.

 

What are the Costs?

Companies MUST pay the following to sponsor a Tier 2 worker

  • Immigration Skills Charge (unless the individual is switching from a Tier 4 (student) visa to a Tier 2 visa, will do a job with a PhD level standard occupational classification, or has a Tier 2 (ICT) Graduate Trainee visa).

 

For small, or charitable sponsors this costs £364 for the first 12 months and then £182 for each 6 month period after that. For medium or large sponsors it will cost £1000 for the first 12 months and £500 for each additional 6 month period. This will be refunded if the worker’s visa is refused or they do not start working with you. You will get a partial refund if they leave their job before the end date on the CoS.

  • Sponsor Licence fee (if not already licensed) £536 for a small or charitable sponsor, £1476 if a medium or large sponsor. (small is defined as £10.2 million or less annual turnover and 50 employees or fewer). This is for 4 years, after which it will need to be renewed.
  • Issuing a Certificate of Sponsorship. This will cost £199 regardless of the size of the company.

 In addition to the above the following is also payable for a Tier 2 visa.

  • Immigration Health Surcharge – £400 a year (going up to £624) 01/10/2020
  • Application fee outside the UK – Shortage (3 years or less): £464. Non-shortage (3 years or less) £610. Inside the UK (extending or switching). Shortage (3 years or less): £464. Non-shortage (3 years or less) £704.
  • Biometric enrolment fee – £19.20
  • UKVCAS appointment fee – £0-£210 (depends on location and time)
  • Expedited processing (optional) – decision in 5 working days = £500, 24 hours = £80

 

Who Pays What?

The Immigration Skills Charge must be paid by the employer, but other costs can be split between employer and applicant. You might for instance decide that you are happy to pay for the application fee but ask the employee to pay for their own Immigration Health Surcharge. This is a matter to work out with your employee prior to applying.

 

What About Family Members?

Family members must also pay their own application fees and Immigration Health Surcharges, meaning these costs increase significantly for every additional applicant. You should ask how many family members your potential employee hopes to bring with them and reach an agreement on who will be responsible for the costs.

 

Case Study: Single Worker

Holly runs a small veterinary practice and is hoping to employ a new veterinary surgeon. One of her employees mentions she has a friend from university, Marcia, who is a Brazilian national and performed top of the class. Holly interviews Marcia and she is perfect for the role so Holly decides to sponsor her for 3 years. Marcia has no partner or children.

Veterinary Surgeon’s are considered a shortage occupation, and Holly’s business is a small family business. As such the cost will be:

  • Sponsor License £536
  • Certificate of Sponsorship – £199
  • Immigration Skills Charge – £1092
  • Immigration Health Surcharge – £1200
  • Application Fee (shortage) £464

This totals £4027, which seems like a formidable amount for a small company, but is very much towards the lower end of the scale. As you can see with our next case study, once you start adding dependants or considering bigger companies, costs can quickly spiral.

 

Case Study: Family of 5

Garima runs a large company with branches all over the world which manufactures luxury cars. She wants to employ Jin, a Chinese national, as a project co-ordinator as he has been introduced to her by an employee of one of the company’s overseas branches. Jin accepts the job offer on the condition that his wife and 3 children are able to travel with him. Garima offers to sponsor him for 3 years.

Project Co-ordinator is not considered a shortage application and Garima’s company is a large multinational outfit so she will have to pay the higher fee for the sponsor license.

The costs will be:

  • Sponsor License £1476
  • Certificate of Sponsorship – £199
  • Immigration Skills Charge (Large company) – £3000
  • Immigration Health Surcharge x 5 – £6000
  • Application Fee x 5 – £3,050

This totals £13,725 even without accounting for any additional fees relating to courier service, priority service, or even fees related with using an immigration firm. This is an amount which many employers will balk at being asked to pay. It is important to discuss with the potential employee exactly how much of the cost each party will take responsibility for paying (for instant perhaps the applicant pays the Immigration Health Surcharge, or all costs associated with their dependants). It might also be useful to work out some sort of repayment scheme with employees that don’t have the necessary savings at the time of application. This is particularly relevant where the potential employee is from a country with an unfavourable exchange rate and/or comparatively low earnings which may have made it hard for them to accrue the necessary savings.

 

If you are interested in employing non-EEA nationals to work for your business (or EEA nationals after 01/01/2021) and would like help with a sponsor license or the application process we can help. Give us a call on 01403 801 801 or email us at [email protected]

The Hong Kong BN(O) Visa – What is it and How Can I Get it?

What is this Visa?

If you’ve been keeping up with the news lately you have undoubtedly heard a lot about China’s relationship with Hong Kong and the controversial new National Security Law it aims to impose upon people living there. The UK considers this law a serious breach of the 1984 Sino-British declaration which also undermines the “one country, two systems” agreement. In response, the UK government has announced it will create a bespoke immigration route which will allow British National (Overseas) citizens who live in Hong Kong to move to the UK with their family to work and study.

If you are not familiar with the intricacies of immigration law or the UK’s role in Hong Kong’s history you might wonder exactly what being a British National (Overseas) citizen means, and why there are so many of them in Hong Kong. To explain simply and without derailing this blog into a long historical thesis is difficult, but in short BN(O) was a nationality status opened to people living in some British Dependent Territories as a result of these locations’ historical ties with the UK. These individuals have no automatic right of residence and have traditionally had to apply for entry clearance in the same way as other non-EU nationals. This new visa greatly increases the immigration rights associated with being a British National (Overseas) citizen in Hong Kong, allowing people with this status to migrate to the UK without a job offer or sponsor.

Who Can Apply?

British National (Overseas) citizens who are normally resident in Hong Kong as well as their immediate family. This can include a spouse, unmarried partner, dependent child and ‘other family members where they can show there is a high level of dependency’. Unmarried partners will have to show evidence they have been living together in a ‘relationship similar to a marriage or civil partnership’ for at least 2 years. This will likely involve providing documents such as tenancy agreements or utility bills in both parties’ names.

Applicants will also need to show a commitment to learning English if they do not already have a good command of the language, as well as be willing to pay an application fee and an Immigration Health Surcharge of £624 a year.

What Can I Do in the UK?

You will be able to work and study in the UK and at this point no restrictions have been announced on the type of work or study you will be permitted to undertake.

You will not be allowed to use any public funds until you achieve Indefinite Leave to Remain or full British Citizenship. You will also have to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge of £624 a year in order to access the NHS (£400 if you enter on this route outside the rules before October 2020).

Can I Live Here Permanently?

Yes, this visa will offer a route to permanent residency after 5 years continuous residence in the UK, and citizenship after 1 year of permanent residency.

When Will Applications Open?

This route will be officially open from January 2021, made available at the same time as the government’s new points-based system.

What if I Want to Come Now?

The government has issued guidance for those who wish to come to the UK before the Hong Kong BN(O) Visa is available. If you are not eligible under any existing paths it may be possible for you to apply at the UK border for a period of 6 months ‘Leave Outside the Rules’. You will be able to apply with dependants and will need to show your identity, your BN(O) citizen status, that you normally live in Hong Kong, and that you can support yourself financially.

This route might be of interest to anybody who feels like they may be in immediate danger as the result of the new law. In order to prove your residence in Hong Kong you should bring documents to the border with you such as a voter’s card, identity card, letter from the local council, medical card etc. and make it clear that you are intending to make an application outside of the rules as a British National (Overseas) Citizen from Hong Kong.

What Documents Will be Needed?

You will need to provide:

  • A valid passport (Does not need to be a BN(O) passport).
  • Documentation to prove your BN(O) status. This can include an expired or current passport.
  • Evidence you normally reside in Hong Kong.
  • Evidence you can support yourself financially for at least 6 months (there is no guidance at present on how much would be required to satisfy this).
  • A TB test from a clinic approved by the Home Office.

 

If you are interested in this route, or need other immigration advice, we can help. Email us at [email protected] or call us on 01403 801 801 for a consultation.

What is the new Health and Care Visa and Who is Included?

Why has it been brought in?

One of the biggest questions around the end of free movement from January 2021 has been how the government will mitigate a potential labour shortage in the healthcare sector given that many care workers and other healthcare staff do not earn enough to be eligible under the proposed ‘points-based system’, which has a minimum salary threshold of £20,408 (For more information see our previous blog). These roles have previously been filled by EU migrants exercising their right to free movement, but with this ending in January 2021 the question of who will fill the gap has plagued the government.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has previously suggested mobilising the country’s ‘economically inactive’, but as this is comprised largely of students, people who have retired, people who are disabled, and people who are not currently seeking work it is apparent that this is not a satisfactory answer. In response to growing public concern, especially in light of the Covid-19 crisis the government has announced a new ‘Health and Care’ visa which will be launched this summer. Let’s explore whether this is just lip service or whether it has a real chance of filling the gap left by Brexit.

What is the Visa?

The government is selling it as a new visa category aimed to ‘ensure UK health and care services have access to the best global talent’. It will include, perhaps most notably, an exemption to the Immigration Health Surcharge, which is due to go up to £624 a year later this year. This is a big concession, likely in response to public opinion towards NHS staff and other frontline workers shifting during the Covid-19 crisis meaning the idea of charging NHS workers to use the service they helped to provide during a global pandemic was no longer palatable to the British public.

Further features of the route will include a reduced application fee (UK visa fees are among some of the most expensive in the world), which further demonstrates government commitment to encouraging foreign healthcare workers to come and support our over-burdened healthcare system. The Home Office also aims to make a decision on these cases within 3 weeks. While they are claiming this will make it ‘faster’ for applicants in this route to obtain a decision, the current processing time is 15 working days for an out of country application for a skilled worker, which the more mathematically minded will note is, in fact, also 3 weeks.

The visa will also not benefit in increased processing times thanks to the abolition of the resident labour market test as healthcare workers are considered shortage occupation workers and are thus exempt. It is difficult to see the government’s claims of a fast-track process as being significantly different from the system as it is today, and as it will exist for other skilled workers under the new scheme. The only material difference appears to be the price.

Who Is and Isn’t Covered? Will Workers in Care Homes be Able to Apply?

One of the primary concerns with the government’s original plans was that whatever provisions may be made for NHS workers, workers in care homes (private or subsidised) were largely forgotten. These workers often earn well under the proposed absolute minimum threshold of £20,408 and while in an ideal world they would be paid more, it is pointless to legislate for an ideal world that does not exist. As such the argument is that care homes, already struggling after the Covid-19 crisis, will be unable to source enough staff to function when deprived of the ability to recruit EU staff. It is worth noting that it is estimated there are currently approximately 110,000 unfilled care jobs in the UK, and of the roles filled, over 100,000 of these are filled by EU migrants.

Obviously it is unlikely that all of these EU workers will quit immediately, but as they leave or retire it will be difficult for care homes to recruit new staff, leading to a potential disaster where over 200,000 posts are unfilled. There is also the risk that in order to fill roles care homes will be forced to offer a higher salary to overseas applicants in order to meet the threshold, meaning British workers and workers with other leave to remain in the UK will end up on a lower salary than their overseas counterparts, which rather undercuts the governments claims that reducing immigration will be of benefit to the British people.

While the government has indicated that the role will be open to ‘all eligible roles within the health and care sector’, these are as follows, and notably do not explicitly include workers in care homes unless they could be classified under ‘Health Professionals not elsewhere classified’:

• 2112 – Biological scientists and biochemists
• 2113 – Physical Scientists
• 2211 – Medical Practitioners
• 2212 – Psychologists
• 2213 – Pharmacists
• 2214 – Ophthalmic Opticians
• 2215 – Dental practitioners
• 2217 – Medical Radiographers
• 2218 – Podiatrists
• 2219 – Health Professionals not elsewhere classified
• 2221 – Physiotherapists
• 2222 – Occupational Therapists
• 2223 – Speech and Language Therapists
• 2229 – Therapy professionals not elsewhere classified
• 2231 – Nurses
• 2232 – Midwives
• 2442 – Social Workers
• 3213 – Paramedics

They have also indicated that they believe ‘immigration is not the answer to the challenges in the social care sector and, as we implement the new immigration system, we want employers to focus on investing in our domestic workforce.’ This suggests that while care workers may be eligible, they will be unlikely to use this route in practice unless reforms in the healthcare sector allow for higher salaries to be paid allowing potential applicants to meet the threshold. It is worth noting that the worse the staffing crisis becomes, the less appealing the sector is to new entrants who are unlikely to be enticed by the combination of a low salary, a difficult job, and increasingly long hours doing the work of several people.

In summary while the new visa route may sound impressive, unless some serious changes are made before its launch it will do little to fill the labour gap and amounts to little more than a cheaper visa for NHS workers which, while certainly a worthy cause, will not do anything to mitigate the potential crisis facing care homes and other low paid healthcare positions as a result of Brexit.

 

If you are interested in a UK visa we can help. Contact us at [email protected] or on 01403 801 801 for a consultation.

What positive changes for employers are coming in 2021? Your guide to the new points based system

With the Covid-19 crisis throwing a spanner into the works of so many government departments and dominating the media, there’s been little news regarding Priti Patel’s new points based immigration system since the bare bones were released in February (discussed here). That changes today (13/07/2020) with a 130 page document published by the Home Office providing ‘Further Details’ of the new system, which is still on schedule to go into force from January 2021 . We will discuss the new developments and what they might mean for you below.

 

Proving Immigration Status for EU Citizens – Currently non-EU migrants working in the UK receive a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) which demonstrates their right to live and work in the UK. EU citizens have thus far not been issued with a similar physical document, prompting concerns that EU citizens may struggle to prove their immigration status to employers and landlords. The document addresses this concern, indicating that while no physical document will be issued, EU citizens will be able to access an online service which can be used to confirm their rights and access to services where necessary.

This will simplify right-to-work checks for employers by making information available in real time and removing the need to check physical documents. Similar plans are in the pipeline for landlords.

 

Biometric Requirements – EU citizens will not have to attend a Visa Application Centre to enrol biometrics but will instead be able to do so via a smartphone app. The long term aim is to expand this so that all visitors and migrants are supplying biometrics under a single system, which prioritises self-enrolment integrated with the digital application process.

 

Fees – The application fees will continue to apply as they do now, however the Immigration Skills Charge will now be applicable to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens in addition to other migrant workers.

The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) will continue to be payable to at the higher rate (£624 PA) announced earlier this year, however a discounted rate will be available for children and the government intends to exempt frontline workers in the NHS and healthcare sector.

 

Switching Visa Categories – ‘Most migrants’ will be allowed to switch from one immigration route to another without having to leave the UK, the exceptions are listed as those on short term routes such as visitors or seasonal workers. While the government has not said explicitly, this implies that individuals hoping to switch from Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visas and other long term visas which currently require return to the applicants home country would therefore be able to switch in country.

 

Sponsoring Students and Skilled Workers – The Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) will be abolished along with the cap on skilled workers.

Existing Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (ICT) sponsors will automatically be granted a new Skilled Worker licence or ICT licence.

 

Skilled Workers – Under the new system prospective skilled workers must score a certain number of points, some of which are tradeable. Meeting the mandatory criteria will net the applicant 50 points, and a further 20 points must be accrued through a combination of points awarded for salary, a job in a shortage occupation or a relevant PhD.

There are will be different minimum salary rules for workers in certain health or education jobs and for new entrants. The salary requirement for new entrants will be 30% lower than the experienced rate to a minimum of £20,480. For healthcare workers the minimum salary will be £20,480 and the £25,600 threshold required to score additional points will not be applicable. An exception will be made for nurses and midwives who can be paid a lower salary for their first 8 months in the UK until they achieve full UK registration as a nurse or midwife.

The definition of a new entrant has been expanded to include people “working towards recognised professional qualifications or moving directly into postdoctoral positions.”

 

Health and Care Visa – Aimed at incentivising people to come to work for the NHS, this visa route will have fast track entry, reduced application fees and dedicated support with the application process. Applicants will also be exempt from the IHS. This visa is still subject to the £20,480 salary threshold.

 

Global Talent Visa – This visa is aimed at attracting highly skilled migrants with specialist skills and replaces the Tier 1 (exceptional talent visa). Applicants must be endorsed by a recognised UK body as approved by the Home Office. Applicants should be internationally recognised at the highest level and should be leaders in their field or likely to become leaders in their field. There is no English language requirement and applicants will be able to settle on this route.

To facilitate access for scientists and researchers there will be a fast-track endorsement process available to individuals who are; in receipt of a named award or fellowship, in a senior academic position and, part of a publicly funded research team in receipt of prestigious funding or awards.

 

Students – No limit will be imposed on the number of international students and to further increase retention of promising students the government will launch a Graduate route in summer 2021 (the current Doctorate Extension Scheme will also close at this time). This will allow individuals who have completed a degree at a UK university to stay in the UK for 2 years after graduation during which they can work at any skill level and hopefully find a job which will enable them to switch into a skilled worker visa. Under the new scheme students will require 70 points which will not be tradeable (similar to the current system).

The current study time limit for postgraduate students will be removed although students will still have to demonstrate they are progressing academically.

 

Visitors Visas – The government intends to treat EU citizens as Non-visa nationals after free-movement is brought to an end. Individuals on a visit visa will be able to study for up to 6 months.

 

Intra-Company Transfer Visas – Unlike the current system applicants on this route will be able to apply to switch onto the Skilled Worker route (previously this was only available to those earning more than £159,600).  The cooling off period will also be adjusted so that applicants must not hold entry leave on an ICT visa for more than 5 years out of any six-year period (except where their salary makes them eligible to be granted an ICT visa for 9 years).

 

These changes (and more) will come into play from 11pm on 31/12/2020 and formal guidance and Immigration Rules will continue to be published up until this point. Please continue to follow us for the latest on immigration news.

If you need help with a UK visa for yourself or one of your employees or students, or would like some advice on any of the issues raised above, please get in touch for a consultation by emailing us at [email protected] or on 01403 801 801.

 

COVID 19 and joining family in the UK

UKVI have today announced temporary concessions for those with or hoping to apply for a spouse visa during these uncertain times

The temporary concessions are as follows:

Expired Leave 

Those who have been unable to travel back to the UK and their leave has expired, the UKVI will overlook a short break in continuous residence but you will be expected to make a new application as soon as possible. However, no guidance has been given on whether this needs to be out of country or in-country.

Short term family visas

For those here with 6 months’ leave as a fiancé, fiancée or proposed civil partner, who have had their wedding or civil ceremony delayed due to coronavirus, can either request an extension until 31 July 2020 by updating your records with the Coronavirus Immigration Team, or apply to extend your stay for a further 6 months to allow the ceremony to take place.

Loss of income 

The UKVI has confirmed that for those who have experienced a loss of income due to coronavirus, they will consider employment income for the period immediately before the loss of income due to coronavirus, provided the requirement was met for at least 6 months up to March 2020. Alternatively, if your salary has reduced because you’re furloughed, UKVI will take account of your income as though you’re earning 100% of your salary.

Those who are self-employed, a loss of annual income due to coronavirus between 1 March 2020 and 31 July 2020 will generally be disregarded, along with the impact on employment income from the same period for future applications.

Lack of documents 

If you are unable to provide certain specified documents, UKVI will be able to decide the application without seeing certain specified documents if you cannot get them due to coronavirus. Otherwise, you may be asked to submit the specified documents after the date of application.

English requirement 

Those who have not had a chance to take an English language test due to centres being closed or travel restrictions can apply for an exemption.

Some positive news concessions from the UKVI during these uncertain times but more is certainly required.

Our team of immigration experts are experienced in helping with all types of family visas.

If you wish to apply for a new family visa or discuss your pending application then contact us today to find out how we can help.

UK VISAS AND COVID-19 – UPDATE

The UKVI has today updated their guidance regarding granting visa extensions on request to those with leave expiring but unable to leave the UK.

Now those with visas expiring before 31 July 2020 and who cannot leave the UK because of coronavirus can get automatic extensions. To get this extension, those affected must fill in an online form.

For those who already applied for an extension until 31 May 2020, have been advised not to re-apply as their leave will be automatically extended till end of July 2020.

If you have any concerns or wish to discuss your immigration matter, do call us on 01403801801 or email us on [email protected]

 

Changes to the Sole Representatives of Overseas Business Visa Route

The Sole Representative visa allows overseas businesses to establish a presence for the company in the UK. Under this route, a senior representative from the company can seek to enter the UK to set up a branch or wholly-owned subsidiary of the business in the UK.

The Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules released by the Home Office last week included tightening of the rules surrounding the Representatives of Overseas Businesses visa category, otherwise known as the ‘Sole Representative visa’.

Some of the main changes are as follows:

  • Tighter restrictions for business stakeholders – Previously, a majority shareholder (51% shareholding or more) could not apply under this route. The rules will now prevent people using this route when they have a majority stake in, or otherwise own or control the overseas business.
  • Changes to dependent applications  –the partner cannot “have a majority stake in, or otherwise own or control, that overseas business, whether that ownership or control is by means of a shareholding, partnership agreement, sole proprietorship or any other arrangement”. Cumulatively, it appears that the partner and representative can together have a majority or more than a majority, but neither can individually. This means a sole representative could not transfer ownership/control or shares to their partner accompanying them to the UK to meet the requirement.
  • Genuine intention – The new wording states that the business’s branch or subsidiary shouldn’t be established solely to facilitate entry.
  • Skills and experience – Applicants must now be able to prove they have the necessary skills, experience, knowledge and authority to represent the overseas business in the UK.

For future applications, these changes mean increased scrutiny and more stringent evidence requirements to prove applicants are not using this route as a personal means of gaining entry to the UK.

These changes take effect from 4th June 2020 and will present many challenges.

If your business is looking to expand in the UK,  legal expertise may be even more beneficial than before with the UK tightening the rules around this route.

Should you require our assistance, please contact our team on 01403801801 or drop us an email on [email protected]

COVID-19 and impact on International Arrivals

On 11 May 2020, the government published its COVID-19 recovery strategy.  The UK border will in due course introduce a range of new measures and restrictions.

All international arrivals (unless exempt) will be:

  • Able to access increased information at the border about the UK’s social distancing regime
  • Strongly advised to download and use the NHS tracking app.
  • Required to supply contact and accommodation information
  • Required to self-isolate in accommodation for 14 days from the day of arrival in the UK. If the individual(s) cannot demonstrate where they shall be self-isolating, suitable accommodation will be arranged by the government.

All journeys within the Common Travel Area (i.e. all journeys between the UK, Crown Dependencies and Ireland) shall be exempt from these measures. Additional exemptions are to be confirmed in an official list which should be published shortly.

Those coming on long terms visas such as Tier 2 are generally asked on the application form regarding their accommodation in the UK. Till date, it has been fine to not specify an address and state that accommodation will be sought upon arrival. However, we now encourage all those coming to the UK to arrange temporary accommodation to avoid any issues at the UK border.

If you have any UK immigration queries regarding your existing visa or these new measures or COVID-19, please contact our team on 01403 801801 or via email on [email protected]

Free visa extensions announced for frontline health and care workers

Home Secretary had announced on 31 March that around 2,800 doctors, nurses and paramedics with leave due to expire by 1 October would get a free one-year extension. Family members are included and there are no fees involved.

On 29 April, the department announced that it was extending the scheme to cover other “frontline workers, including midwives, radiographers, social workers and pharmacists” with visas due to expiring before 1 October. There appears to be no comprehensive list of the professions covered.

letter to the Home Affairs Committee on the same date confirmed that the extensions are available to anyone on the list of professions covered — whatever that list maybe — who is subject to immigration control, “not just sponsored migrant workers on Tier 2 (General) or Tier 5 visa”.

My 30 day entry visa has expired – what should I do?

Many of those who applied for a visa outside the UK and were granted their 30 day vignette to enter, but were unable to travel due to the virus, had been left in a limbo of what to do. There was an increasing worry amongst people having to incur extra costs to apply for a replacement.

The UKVI have updated their guidance today and have given much needed guidance on this issue:

If your 30 day visa to work, study or join family has expired

If your 30 day visa to travel to the UK for work, study or to join family has expired, or is about to expire, you can request a replacement visa with revised validity dates free of charge until the end of this year.

To make a request, contact the Coronavirus Immigration Help Centre. You’ll need to include your name, nationality, date of birth and your GWF reference number with ‘REPLACEMENT 30 DAY VISA’ in the subject line. If you’ve already contacted us about this, please let us know in your email.

You’ll be contacted when our VAC’s reopen to arrange for a replacement visa to be endorsed in your passport.

You will not be penalised for being unable to collect your BRP while coronavirus measures are in place.

This process will be in place until the end of 2020.

 

We are pleased that UKVI have taken positive steps to help those stuck overseas and that the process is free of charge. Now the question remains as to when the VAC’s open and how much backlog there will be.

If you have any questions or require our assistance with your immigration matter, please call us on 01403 801801 or contact us on [email protected]

Furlough and foreign nationals – is it a public fund?

The government’s furlough scheme went live on 20 April 2020.

For the avoidance of doubt, the scheme does cover migrant workers. HM Revenue and Customs guidance states that:

 

Foreign nationals are eligible to be furloughed. Grants under the scheme are not counted as ‘access to public funds’, and you can furlough employees on all categories of visa.

 

Sponsors will still need to report that a worker has been furloughed, and any reduction in salary if not making up the extra 20%.

For any immigration needs, please contact our expert consultants on 01403801801 or [email protected]

Tier 2 workers and Coronavirus: changing employment

Pre lockdown, many Tier 2 employees may have been in the process of changing employment. Due to the lockdown, many have been unable to progress their application. This undoubtedly would be causing many anxiety and fear over their visa status.

The UKVI has now updated their COVID 19 guidance to state the following:

If you’re sponsoring an employee who’s waiting for their Tier 2 or 5 visa application to be decided Sponsors may allow employees to start work before their visa application has been decided if:

  • sponsors have assigned them a CoS
  • the employee submitted their visa application before their current visa expired
  • the role they are employed in is the same as the one on their CoS

The sponsors reporting responsibilities will start from the date of employment, not from the date that their application is granted. If the employee’s application is eventually refused sponsors must terminate their employment.

This will be of some relief to those who were expecting to start new employment. Employment with the new sponsor on the agreed start date, as long as the above conditions are satisfied. Please note that biometrics do not have to have been enrolled.

If you require assistance with any of your immigration issues, please get it in touch with our experienced consultants on [email protected] or call us on 01403 801801.

Pressing Coronavirus problems the UKVI needs to address

Applicants who have successfully applied for a UK visa from overseas but are now unable to travel to the UK.

This is perhaps the most pressing concern for a lot of overseas applicants. Once being granted a visa, an applicant must enter the UK before their entry clearance vignette expires. While this can be extended, it can only be extended for a further month, and the process is not free. There is no guarantee that travel conditions will be any better in a month which could result in wasted money, and besides, PBS applicants may also be tied to the work start date on their CoS.

The Home Office needs to allow extension of work start dates for overseas applicants until the end of the year as well as make allowances for applicants to enter the UK using entry vignettes which have expired but were acquired during the COVID-19 crisis. Vignettes issued until the end of the COVID-19 crisis could benefit from being granted for a longer period to allow entry into the UK where possible. The current uncertainty for overseas applicants and sponsoring companies, both who have made significant financial investments into the visa, is not sustainable and we hope will be addressed in future updates.

We advise any individuals stranded overseas to take a printout/screenshot of the FCO travel guidance for the country to have as proof when it is time to apply for ILR or BC applications.

Visa-holders who are unable to collect their BRPs from post-offices or register with the police due to self-isolation.

Currently, individuals have a 10 day from arrival or before the expiry of the temporary vignette in which to collect their BRP from the post-office after arriving in the UK. With many people coming into the UK required to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival, it is not possible for them to obey government guidelines on social-distancing as well as collect their BRP within 10 days.

This problem could be overcome by either extending the window in which individuals must collect the BRP or allowing another individual to collect the BRP on the visa holder’s behalf, for example, their legal representative. Similar extensions could be applied to registering with the police which must normally be done within 7 days.

 

Visa-holders who are stranded overseas for a period which may invalidate their application for ILR or British Citizenship

Current eligibility requirements for ILR or British Citizenship specify the applicant has not spent more than a certain period (ordinarily 6 months out of every year) out of the UK. This could present problems for those stranded abroad who have exceeded this six-month limit. This is particularly relevant for those hoping to apply for ILR after 5 years on Tier 2 (General) visa, who are unable to renew their tier 2 visa beyond 6 years to clear the period of lengthy absence from their record.

The Home Office should recognise the COVID-19 crisis as an exceptional circumstance and absences from the UK relating to the crisis should not count against an applicant where they can evidence that they were not able to return to the UK due to circumstances beyond their control.

 

Applicants who require IELTS or Life in the UK to make their application

For some individuals, the next step in their visa process comes with added academic requirements. Applicants for spouse visa extensions are required to show their English has improved and must sit A2 if they previously relied on A1 for their first visa. Applicants hoping to achieve ILR must pass the Life in the UK test. As test centres for both these tests are now closed, those whose visas are running out are left wondering whether they should submit their application without these qualifications, which would ordinarily render it unsuccessful, or risk overstaying until the centres re-enter.

The Home Office should clarify whether applicants applying in-country for an extension may also be able to extend their visas until 31/05/2020 to sit their tests, or whether applications will still be considered valid without sitting the tests given the exceptional circumstances

If you have any Coronavirus related issues with your visa, or any issues you feel have not been addressed by the Home Office, please get in touch at [email protected] or on 01403 801 801 for a consultation.

UPDATE: New Immigration System 2021

The UKVI has updated its guidance on the Immigration system coming into place in 2021.

The key points to note are:

  1. New immigration routes will open from autumn 2020 for applications to work, live and study in the UK from 1 January 2021.
  2. Re-iteration on the process for Skilled Workers. Please see our blog on this
  3. The global talent scheme will be opened up to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens. It will allow highly-skilled scientists and researchers to come to the UK without a job offer.
  4. Student visa routes will be opened up to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens.
  5. A new graduate immigration route will be available to international students who have completed a degree in the UK from summer 2021. You’ll be able to work or look for work, in the UK at any skill level for up to 2 years.
  6. Short-term work visas in specific sectors (the current ‘Tier 5’) and investor, business development and talent visas (the current ‘Tier 1’) will be opened up to EU citizens.
  7. EU, EEA and Swiss citizens and other non-visa nationals will not require a visa to enter the UK when visiting the UK for up to 6 months.
  8. If you’re an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen living in the UK before 31 December 2020, you and your family can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021.
  9. EU, EEA and Swiss citizens will use an online service to view their immigration status and to prove their status to others.
  10. Non-EU citizens will continue to use a physical document to prove their immigration status.

 

In the midst of the global pandemic, when the whole nation has seen how much a country relies on its ‘low-skilled’ workers, the Home Office felt it necessary to state that care workers, nurses, hospital porters, cleaners, logistics personnel, postal workers etc will not be able to apply for the UK work visa from January 2021.

The update to the guidance on the new immigration system reiterates:

“There will not be an immigration route specifically for those who do not meet the skills or salary threshold for the skilled worker route.”

The only “low-skilled” workers that the government envisages letting in are agricultural labourers.

At UK Visas, we have a team of expert consultants who have significant experience in advising clients on all aspects of immigration law. If you would like bespoke advice or answers to any queries on the points above, please contact a member of the team on 01403 801801 or email [email protected]

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UK VISAS NO WIN NO FEE PROMISE

We provide a ‘No Win – No Fee’ guarantee for all points-based system visa applications unless expressly stated at the time of appointment. We will guarantee our service for these applications by offering a full refund on our fee should it be unsuccessful.

These guaranteed terms are conditional upon the client being able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Home Office that they have earned the income claimed or that they have the necessary funding in place for maintenance or are fully conversant with their business plan in the case of Tier 1 Entrepreneurs.

It also presumes that neither the applicant nor their dependants have previously come under scrutiny or been under investigation by the Home Office for any immigration matter. In order that we can do our job properly the necessary information and details required should be made available and they must genuine as well as accurate.