Expanding the Shortage Occupation List won’t halt Britain’s recruitment crisis, warns UKVisas.co.uk

According to a report by the British Chamber of Commerce, three quarters of UK businesses are struggling to fill vacant roles in their organisations. The second Quarterly Recruitment Outlook for 2019 shows that while 53% of 6,000 businesses polled attempted to hire new employees, 73% of them found it difficult to successfully recruit for these roles.

The report places the blame on a lack of skilled candidates, and with Brexit still on the cards, the situation is only likely to get worse. If EU nationals become subject to the same UK Visa restrictions as other overseas candidates, the pool of freely available qualified talent will become even more limited. The situation has wider implications for our economy, and a solution must be found within the next few months if UK businesses are to continue to operate effectively.

As a response to the growing crisis, the UK government has announced a radical revision of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL). The list defines jobs that employers can offer to migrants without first checking local labour availability, and its purpose is to expedite recruitment for roles that are traditionally difficult to fill.

In the past, the types of roles on the list were considered specialist, but the latest additions include more commonplace occupations such as IT professionals, nurses, and social workers, further indication that the government has acknowledged the skills shortage is affecting areas of the jobs market that were previously considered well serviced.

The news that the SOL has been expanded will be welcomed by UK employers, but this measure alone is not enough to avoid an impending national recruitment crisis.

While the number of occupations on the list has risen dramatically, the 20,700 cap on the number of migrant workers that can enter the UK each year has not. When this limit has been reached, UK firms will be unable to employ any more overseas workers for the rest of the year, regardless of whether their occupations are on the SOL or not.

Our Managing Director, Jamie Bryant, comments: “The reason for the unchanged cap may be due to the government’s pledge to reduce net migration, but this is at odds with the realities of the situation; until a domestic solution to the skills shortage can be found, UK businesses must be able to rely on overseas workers to fill positions.”

“The government needs to acknowledge this and raise the annual cap on migrant workers accordingly. Until they do, it will only be a matter of time before Britain’s businesses, and therefore its residents, suffer the consequences of understaffing.”

If you have any questions about the SOL and how it may affect your business, contact our team of UK immigration experts for advice.

Six top reasons why UK visa applications get rejected

Every year, thousands of UK visa applications are rejected by the Home Office as a result of mistakes made either by the applicant or their sponsor. Something as seemingly trivial as submitting a photograph in the wrong format can lead to the application being rejected and the process having to be started again.

Has the government made the process deliberately difficult? Possibly. Considering its pledge to reduce net migration, this could indeed be the case, but one thing is for certain – for those responsible for the recruitment and employment of overseas workers in their organisations, the prospect of having a visa application refused should be a major cause for concern.

The application process is far from straightforward, requiring in-depth knowledge of the immigration rules and complicated documentation. For small and medium-sized businesses without their own dedicated immigration teams, the time and subsequent cost involved in securing working visas for employees is significant, and a rejected application can have further serious financial implications.

To help demonstrate the wide range of potential pitfalls, here are some of the most common reasons why UK visa applications are rejected:

1. Problems with Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)

Employers need to issue a valid Certificate of Sponsorship, or CoS, if they’re to employ an overseas worker legally. Assigning an incorrect or invalid CoS to a prospective employee could lead to the application being rejected or, even if approved, a potential fine of up to £20,000 for the employer, and the loss of their sponsor licence for employing a worker illegally.

2. Failure to carry out Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT)

Before they can hire a Tier 2 visa worker, employers may need to show they were unable to find a suitable worker from within the UK. Failure to meet the requirements of the RLMT may result in the application being rejected or their subsequent removal from the UK if identified during a UKVI compliance visit.

3. Inadequate supporting documentation

Supporting documents with missing or incomplete information or that are incorrectly formatted are a common reason why visa applications are rejected.

4. Incorrect SOC code

Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes are used to define the skill and salary level for occupations. Assign the wrong code and the application could be delayed or rejected.

5. Insufficient maintenance funds

The application will be rejected if the applicant can’t show they’ve enough money to support themselves when they arrive in the UK.

6. Mistakes in the application form

Something as simple as an incorrectly typed digit in a contact number can be enough to result in rejection.

As you can tell from this by no means comprehensive list, the ways in which a visa application can fail are many and varied, and the potential penalties can be devastating for a business. To avoid falling into one of these traps, we recommend securing the services of an immigration expert to take care of the application process for you.

At UK Visas, our team of specialists manages over 400 employee visa applications every year. We have the knowledge and experience to ensure applications are correctly prepared and submitted, and provide a full No Win, No Fee guarantee on all PBS visa applications.

So don’t leave it to luck; to arrange a free consultation with our team and learn how we can help your organisation with its immigration process, contact us now

EU Settlement Scheme – keeping your homegrown talent

What is the EU Settlement scheme, how does it affect EU workers in Britain, and why should employers take notice?

The EU Settlement Scheme is a government programme that allows EU, EEA or Swiss nationals currently living in the UK to apply to remain here following the country’s exit from the European Union. Successful applicants who have lived here for five years or more will be given settled status, while those who have been here for under five years will receive pre-settled status.

It’s imperative that those responsible for the recruitment and management of overseas workers in their companies are aware of the scheme and what is required during the application process. While it’s not yet clear what will happen to EU employees in Britain without a registered status, it’s safe to assume they will no longer be able to work in the country once the deadline has passed. Along with causing disruption for both the worker and their employer, there may also be legal ramifications for both parties.

What can I do as an employer to keep my EU employees?

Firstly, there are a couple of dates for UK employers and their EU employees to be aware of. If Britain and the EU agree a Brexit deal by the 31st October deadline, then the final date for registering for settled status will be 30th June 2021. However, if no deal is reached, the date moves forward to 31st December 2020. The government’s website explains the process here: https://www.gov.uk/eusettledstatus

As an employer, there are a number of steps you can take to prepare

1. Undertake an audit to identify which of your employees are affected
2. Make use of the factsheets, posters and videos that the government has provided to raise awareness in your workforce
3. Check the expiry date of your Tier 2 sponsor licence. This system is likely to be extended to EU nationals after 2020
4. Make a diary note to conduct Right to Work checks in 2020 in order for your business to remain compliant with new immigration rules
5. Encourage your employees to review the options open to them. For instance, if they are eligible for Permanent Residence it might be more appropriate to apply for that instead of the EU Settlement Scheme

If you’re concerned about the possible pitfalls of the process, the UK Visas immigration team offers expert assistance. Let us help you by:

• Reviewing the status of your EU employees and their family members
• Assisting with applications
• Advising employees of their options
• Performing compliance reviews
• Examining your Right to Work checks and providing advice on best practice post-Brexit

Contact us now to arrange a free consultation and find out how we can support your organisation and assist your EU employees in securing their long-term status in the UK.

Changes to UK based Tier 2 visa applications

Procedures for submitting Tier 2 visa applications in the UK have become far more complex and time-consuming since the appointment of the Home Office’s commercial partner Sopra Steria to run the UKVCAS service points around the UK.

Applicants submitting their applications inside the UK no longer have the option to send in their passports and BRP cards by post. Instead all UK based applicants must upload electronic copies of their supporting documents.

Although this means that applicants are able to retain their passports whilst their application is being processed, it does not mean that they are free to travel.  They must remain in the UK until they have received a decision on their application and their new BRP cards.

 

If the applicant were to leave the country after their application has been submitted and they have enrolled their biometrics but before a decision has been made, their application would be deemed to be withdrawn.

Unfortunately, the changes introduced also mean that applicants are no longer able to enrol their biometrics at a local Post Office. The biometric enrolment fee of £19.20 is now included in the cost of the Tier 2 visa at the point when it is submitted and all applicants must attend an appointment at one of the UKVCAS service points run by the Home Office’s commercial partner, Sopra Steria.

These appointments have to be booked in advance and at many of the service points, there are additional fees ranging from £60-£260 per applicant depending on the time and location of the appointment.

Free appointments are only available at the six core service points in:

  • Belfast
  • Birmingham
  • Cardiff
  • Croydon
  • Glasgow
  • Manchester

 

However, these free appointments have to take place between core hours of 10am and 4pm from Monday to Friday and usually have to be booked at least two weeks in advance.

If the applicants want to attend an appointment at one of these sites with less than two weeks’ notice or outside of core hours, there will be an additional charge of £100 per applicant.

There are another 50 enhanced service points dotted around the country, which offer appointments during the week between the core hours of 10am and 4pm at a cost of £60 per applicant. If the applicants require an appointment at one of these enhanced service points at short notice or outside of core hours, the additional charge is £125 per applicant.

Appointments can also be booked in the Premium Lounge at 20 Mark Lane, London EC3R 7AF and are usually available up to 28 days in advance. However, there is a fee of £200 per applicant for appointments at the Premium Lounge during core hours of Monday to Friday between 10am and 4pm.

For urgent appointments at the Premium Lounge or for appointments outside of core hours, the additional fee rises to £260 per applicant.

 

The processing time for a decision on an application only starts from the date of the appointment to enrol biometrics:

  • With the standard service costing £723.20 per applicant, most people will get a decision on their application within 8 weeks of attending their biometrics appointment.
  • With the priority service costing £1223.20 per applicant, most people will get a decision on their application within 5 working days of attending their biometrics appointment.
  • With the super priority service costing £1523.20 per person, most people get a decision on their application on the next working day after attending their biometrics appointment.

Please note that applicants are required to choose which service they want for their application at the point of submission, but they must do so before they have booked their biometrics appointment and once an application has been submitted it cannot be amended. So even if the applicant chooses to submit their application using the super priority service, there is no guarantee that they will be able to get a biometrics appointment straight away.

Renewing CoS allocations for this Financial Year

For those clients on Auto Renewal (about half of you) your new allocation for this year can be seen on the SMS – go to sponsor summary and scroll down to Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (ICT) CoS and the new number available will be shown – this is usually equal to the number issued last year.  If you didn’t issue any, or may need more this year, then we can always request additional CoS for you.

For those not on automatic renewal, a few sponsors have been allocated one or two but generally most are starting the new year off without any.  But, as stated above, if you may need any this year, then we can always request additional CoS for you. We usually need to provide detailed reasons why a CoS is required, eg: the vacancy details and/or candidate details.

Remember of course that for all out-of-country applications, we still have to request restricted CoS at the monthly panel.

New charges for 2018-19

No changes to our fees but Health surcharge doubles (Read more)

We are pleased to advise you that our fees will remain unchanged for the 2019 calendar year.  Although some elements of our work have become more complicated our determination to provide an excellent service at competitive prices remains a hugely important driver for us as a business.

Home Office charges usually change on 6 April, and are not made public until the very last minute, but there has been one major change: the Health Surcharge for Tier 2 applicants doubled on 8 January, from £200 p.a. to £400 p.a.

The Home Office have also recently opened a number of UKVCAS centres across the UK. These centres are managed by the Home Office’s commercial partner, Sopra Steria and are replacing the Premium Service Centres, which previously allowed applicants to receive a decision on the same day.

Appointments at the Premium Lounge in Central London are usually available at short notice but attract an additional payment of at least £200 per applicant. There are a further six core locations in Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Croydon, Glasgow and Manchester offering appointments during office hours, but applicants may have to wait up to 24 hours (or slightly longer in some cases) for a decision. Appointments are also available at evenings, weekends and at short notice (on the day/next day) with additional prices starting from £100.

Sopra Steria are also offering enhanced user-pay services in 50 local libraries, with prices starting from £60. In these locations, applicants can submit their biometrics and upload copies of their documents, rather than sending originals to the Home Office. Please note though that even if the applicants retain their passports after visiting one of these centres, they must not travel until they have received a decision on their application.

High Skilled Workers to trump EU workers

Brexit will no doubt have a great impact on the business immigration sector.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC)’s long-awaited report on the effect of European migration to the UK has been published last month.

According to reports, the MAC does not see ‘compelling reasons’ to give EU citizens any preferential treatment over non-EU citizens. Recommendations are made largely to loosen the Tier 2 system itself and have a more open policy like in countries such as Canada.

Below is a summary of the key recommendations for work migration post-Brexit

1. Making it easier for higher-skilled workers to migrate to the UK than lower-skilled workers.

2. No preference for EU citizens

3. Abolish the cap on the number of migrants under Tier 2 (General).

4. Tier 2 (General) to be open to all jobs at RQF3 and above.

5. Maintain existing salary thresholds for all migrants in Tier 2.

6. Retain but review the Immigration Skills Charge.

7. Consider abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test. If not abolished, extend the numbers of migrants who are exempt through lowering the salary required for exemption.

 

However, if all foreign migrants are bought into the same system then employers will need to become extra vigilant as risk of civil penalties faced by employers will increase significantly.

Hiring costs will increase and if medium skilled jobs are also included as more businesses will require to get on the sponsor licence register meaning increased administrative burden on organisations and a significant effect on businesses which have previously not had any engagement with the wonderful immigration system.

Croatians to be granted same rights as EU citizens

Croatians will have unrestricted access to the UK jobs market from the end of June, the Home Office has confirmed.

Currently Croatian nationals seeking employment must be sponsored by their employer before they can apply for an Accession Worker Card (aka Purple Card) which usually requires a resident test to be completed prior to a CoS being issued.

From the end of June however, their rights to work in Britain will fall in line with other EU citizens.

The Home Office could have extended the restricted access by a further two years but, with fewer than 10,000 Croatians living in the UK, they have conceded that there is not enough evidence to extend the controls any further.

Shortage of restricted CoS (Change Of Status)

Demand for Restricted CoS has been far outstripping availability since December 2017.

Each month the Home Office sponsor panel meets on 11th to allocate restricted CoS (needed for out-of-country Tier 2 applicants). The monthly availability reduces throughout the year, from 2200 in April down to just 1000 in March.

In December 2017 the demand exceeded supply for the first time in three years, but to such an extent that only those earning in excess of £55,000 p.a. were successful. In January and February, the situation was not much better and in March it was worse again.

Fortunately, April signals the start of a new CoS year so the monthly allocation should go back up to at least 2200. This may still not be enough for those on lower salaries who may have to try yet again in May. Very frustrating for all concerned.

Thinking of lowering the pay of your Tier 2 migrant – sponsors be aware

The Home Office is conscious of the changing nature of employment and remunerations associated with these changes. However, the new rate of pay must continue to meet the appropriate rate requirements. The current minimum gross salary (including any guaranteed bonuses and/or permitted allowances) that a Tier 2 (General) migrant must receive is £30,000 per year* or the appropriate rate of pay for the job as stated in the codes of practice. The minimum Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) salary thresholds are £41,500 for long term staff and £23,000 for graduate trainees. If a sponsor seeks to pay a sponsored migrant below these rates, they will forfeit the right to continue to sponsor them.
The Home Office has modified its guidance to reflect changes and add in exceptions to the rules. These exceptions being:

• Where a migrant is required to undertake professional examinations to assess whether their skills meet UK standards before starting work. For example, where the passing of a Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) examination is a regulatory requirement of the role;
• Where the reduction is due to the migrant taking a period of maternity leave, paternity leave, shared parental leave or adoption leave;
• When a migrant is on long-term sick leave for more than one continuous calendar month;
• Where a doctor is taking (up to six months) authorised unpaid leave to assist in the Ebola crisis; and
• Where the salary paid to a Tier 2 (ICT) migrant has been reduced due to them not being physically present in the UK.

Therefore, if a sponsored migrant wishes to take a long period of unpaid leave, for example a sabbatical, the employer must cease their sponsorship of the migrant and report the change in circumstances to the Home Office via the Sponsor Management System (SMS).

An apple a day, keeps the doctor away…. but not the Immigration Health Surcharge

Recent reports have suggested that the government wishes to the double, the already controversial, Immigration Health Surcharge. The main rate will go from £200 a year to £400 a year, with students and those on the Youth Mobility Scheme paying £300 (up from £150).
Once this increase takes effect, the IHS cost to a family of four securing the right to reside in the UK for 5 years will amount to £8,000.

Here is to hoping that those wishing to relocate are given a few weeks’ notice so that they can start saving up!

There is always light at the end of the tunnel!

Tier 2 Migrants will no longer require to have been continuously employed throughout the 5-year qualifying period to be eligible for settlement.

Previously, the rules stated only breaks of employment less than 60 days could be disregarded.

However, since the Home Office is notoriously slow in issuing curtailment notifications, this may lead to some Tier 2 holders gaining additional time to change employment within the UK whilst still qualifying for indefinite leave to remain.

This will definitely bring a sigh of relief to many.

Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) refunds – an update

There has been some confusion with regard to getting refunds for Immigration Health Surcharge payments when a second application is submitted across a time period when an IHS charge has already been paid.

Our understanding initially was that the person or company who paid the first IHS payment would receive a refund for each complete six months period that was not used due to a new visa being issued (and therefore new IHS being paid).

However it now appears that the refund is made to the person or company paying the IHS with a new application and the original payer gets nothing back.

New changes to Tier 2 to be introduced this autumn

A number of small changes to Tier 2 will be introduced in the Autumn as part of the UKVI’s response to the MAC Report late last year.

Here is a brief summary of the main points likely to affect our clients:

• The minimum salary threshold for Tier 2 (General) “experienced workers” goes up to £25,000 in October and to £30,000 p.a. next April 2017. In reality most NQF Level 6 roles have a minimum salary requirement above £30k anyway.
• The threshold for Tier 2 (ICT) short-term goes up from £24,800 p.a. to £30,000 p.a. prior to the sub-category being closed in April 2017.
• The threshold for Tier 2 (ICT) Graduate Trainee goes down from £24,800 p.a. to £23,000 p.a.
• The Tier 2 (ICT) Skills transfer sub-category will be closed.
• Tier 2 (ICT) applicants will become liable for the Immigration Health Surcharge

New changes to Tier 2 (General)

On 24 November 2016 the following changes will come into effect.

• The salary threshold for experienced workers (ie: those aged 26 or more, or anyone applying for a period of more than three years) has been increased to 25,000 p.a. except for a few specialist roles such as nurses, medical radiographers, paramedics and secondary school teachers in certain subjects.

• The salary must also comply with the relevant SOC Code which is usually more than £25k anyway.

• Those extending their Tier 2 (General) visas between now and next April 5th, are excused this requirement, but from that date, the limit increases further to £30,000 p.a. or the SOC amount, whichever is the higher.

• Applicants sponsored in graduate training programmes can now change occupation – ie SOC Code – within the programme without the need for a resident test and new application.

• Nurses continue to be a shortage occupation but now a resident labour market test must be carried out before a CoS can be issued.

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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.