Can I switch my visa in the UK because of Coronavirus?

European flags fluttering in the wind: we provide advice to EU citizens on permanent residence cards

The short answer is yes. At present there are a number of visa applications which must ordinarily be made from the applicant’s home country, regardless of whether the applicant has existing leave in the UK. Given the current climate many people are likely to find this difficult to impossible, due to the widespread travel disruption and amount of countries on lockdown.

Thankfully the Home Office has indicated that due to these ‘unique’ circumstances that it will allow in country applications for those ‘applying to stay in the UK long-term’, whose current visas run out before 31/05/2020. This would mean applicants in this position would no longer have to return to their home countries’ in order to apply. It is also possible to extend your visa to 31/05/2020 if you are unable to return to your home country, if it expires before this date. Doing this does not exclude you from being able to apply to switch in country.

As the Home Office has not provided any lists of accepted visa switches or further details we are working under the assumption that any switch to a long term visa, could be made. This would include, but is not limited to:

  • Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme to Tier 2 (general)
  • Tier 2 (dependant) to Tier 2 (general)
  • Visit visa to any long term visa.
  • Visit visa to ancestry visa.
  • Marriage visit visa to any long term visa.

Applications are to be made online and can only be made up until 31/05/2020, although this is up for review and may be further extended if the need should arise. You will still need to pay the same fee and meet all the other requirements of your visa.

This presents a chance for people to save money on an expensive international trip, so if you have been planning to apply for a long term visa, have an expiry date before 31/05/2020, and are already in the UK, now might be a good time to make the switch.

We can help you manage the process of switching in country. Contact us at info@ukvisas.co.uk or on 01403 801 801 to arrange a video consultation.

Coronavirus Latest – Your guide to the 24/03/2020 Home Office Advice

On the 24th of March 2020 the Home Office finally released updated advice for those whose UK visas are affected by Coronavirus. While this guidance is by no means comprehensive, and leaves a lot of questions unanswered it will still be helpful for a number of people. As such I have summarised the questions it has answered below.

What if my leave is expiring but I can’t return to my country?

This is a common problem, and one which the previous update did not address for the vast majority of people. Thankfully the government has said if you are in the UK and your leave expires between 24/01/2020 and 31/05/2020 you will be able to extend your visa if you cannot leave the UK due to travel restrictions or self isolation.

This will be a relief for those dreading the prospect of international travel, as well as for those whose visas may have already expired and who may be anxious about the long term implications of overstaying. This process is not, however, automatic.

The government has set up a Coronavirus Immigration Team who should be contacted to update your records. You will need to provide:

  • Your date of birth
  • Your full name
  • Your nationality
  • Your previous visa reference number
  • The reason you cannot go back to your home country (ie isolation, border closure)

Please note that if flights are running back to your country and you are not in isolation, you may run into trouble as this concession only appears to apply to those who are physically unable to return, not everyone.

 

Do I have to return to my home country to switch my visa?

The Home Office insists, for reasons best known to itself, that a number of visa applications must be made from the applicant’s home country, regardless of whether the applicant has existing leave in the UK. These include switching from Tier 5 to Tier 2, and switching from a Tier 2 dependent visa to a Tier 2 general visa. Given the current climate applicants are likely to find this difficult to impossible.

Thankfully the Home Office has indicated that due to these ‘unique’ circumstances that it will allow in country applications for those ‘applying to stay in the UK long-term’. As the Home Office has not provided any lists of accepted visa switches or further details we are working under the assumption that any switch to a long term visa, such as tier 2, could be made.

Applications are to be made online and can only be made up until 31/05/2020, although this is up for review and may be further extended if the need should arise.

 

I’m outside the UK and the Visa application centre in my country has shut. What should I do?

Unfortunately a number of overseas visa centres are now shut and you will not be able to apply until they re-open. If you already have an appointment and it has been cancelled, you should follow the instructions from your visa centre on what to do next.

English Language Testing Centres are also affected, so you should keep up to date with the IELTS website for information on what to do if your test is cancelled.

If your documents are with a visa centre then you may be able to get them couriered back to you, but you should check with your specific visa centre.

If you are British and need a passport to urgently travel to the UK, you will not be able to apply for this if your country’s visa application centre is shut. You will need to apply for an emergency travel document.

 

I’m a sponsor, what do I need to know?

If you are a Tier 4 sponsor, you should be aware that the government has indicated that in these circumstances it will permit distance learning, which is not normally permissible, where students are overseas but wish to continue studying. There will be no requirement to withdraw sponsorship in this scenario.

Furthermore students who wish to commence a course via distance learning will not need to travel to the UK or be sponsored under Tier 4.

If you are a tier 2 or 5 sponsor, there is a good chance that much of your workforce is suddenly working from home. While you would ordinarily need to report this to the Home Office, if it is as a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic, you will not need to report this. All other changes of circumstance must be reported as usual.

 

Other questions

There are a number of other questions which remain unanswered, including:

  • Whether those on visas with ‘no recourse to public funds’ will be eligible for wages through the ‘coronavirus job retention scheme’.
  • Whether Tier 2 employees can be ‘furloughed’.
  • How long Tier 2 employees will have to find another sponsor should they be made redundant, or their sponsor go bankrupt.
  • What will happen to people overseas who have been granted visas but now cannot come to the UK within the allowed time frame.

We will let you know as and when answers to these questions become apparent. If you have any other questions, please do let us know in the comments and we will do our best to answer you. You can also contact us at info@ukvisas.co.uk or on 01403 801 801 for a consultation.

The New Immigration System and How it Will Affect You

The New Immigration System and How it Will Affect You.

On the 19th of February the government released its plans for immigration from 2021. Find out what impact this could have on you, your business or your students. It should be noted that EU, EEA and Swiss citizens will all remain non-visa nationals, capable of entering for 6 months without a visa under the normal visitor rules.

Changes to the skills based system

Despite the government’s claims to reduce low-skilled migration, they will be lowering both the minimum general salary threshold as well as the minimum necessary RQF skill level. The new rules will apply equally to applicants applying from both inside and outside the EU, although not to EU residents already in the country who have settled or pre-settled status.

The minimum salary will be lowered to £25,600 from £30,000, with the potential to go down to £20,480 if the applicant has strengths awarding them points in other areas (for example working in a shortage occupation or having a relevant PhD). This appears to lead to an counter-intuitive scenario where the stronger the applicant, the less the sponsoring company is required to pay them. It will be interesting to see how the government reconciles this with their pledge to attract the ‘brightest and best’ and to reduce wage undercutting.

The minimum RQF level of the job will be lowered from RQF6 to RQF3, essentially meaning that the required difficulty level of the job to be offered has gone from one equivalent in experience and difficulty to a Bachelor’s degree, to one equivalent in experience and difficult to A-levels. While this does not cover unskilled entry positions, it is still a big shift in the required skill level in order to sponsor an overseas worker.

The Resident Labour Market Test will be abolished along with the cap on the number of people who are able to come to the UK on the skilled-worker route.

The Global Talent Scheme will be opened to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, allowing highly-skilled scientists and researchers to come to the UK without a job offer. This will also be expanded to be more accessible to those with a background in STEM subjects, although more details on this are not yet available.

The Seasonal Agricultural Visa pilot scheme is due to be quadrupled (from 2,500 to 10,000) as the government recognises this sector is reliant on low-skilled temporary workers to function. This would allow farms to hire workers for a period of up to 6 months, and is intended to ease pressure on the agricultural sector during busy harvest months. There is no other current path for unskilled workers to enter the UK, which does little to reassure employers in other sectors heavily reliant on unskilled or low-paid workers, including care-work, hospitality and construction.

International Students and Graduates

This appears to be largely similar to its current form however there are a few differences. Most obviously the student routes will now be open to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens.

Secondly and perhaps most excitingly for those hoping to study in the UK and work here afterwards, a new immigration route will be opening in 2021. This will allow graduates who complete their degree from summer 2021 to stay for up to 2 years after the end of their degree to work or look for work. They can work at any RQF skill level during this period but if they wished to convert their visa to a skills-based visa at the end of the 2 years they would presumably need to secure a job offer meeting the minimum salary and RQF levels described above.

What should I do?

If you are an EU citizen in the UK, we strongly advise applying for the settled or pre-settled scheme as soon as possible to secure your right to live and work in the UK next year.

If you are an employer or educational institute considering sponsoring overseas workers or students in the future, we would advise applying for your sponsor license now. We can assist with this process, so call us on 01403 801 801 or emails us at info@ukvisas.co.uk to arrange a consultation.

No Automatic Deportation After Brexit

“No Automatic Deportation After Brexit”

This has been the latest revelation from Boris Johnson regarding the settlement of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit. On the face of it this seems like a very positive message to EU citizens concerned about their future in the UK after Brexit, but let’s examine what it really means for EU migrants and their employers.

 

Does this mean people who fail to apply for settled status by the deadline will be allowed to stay after all?

In short, unlikely. The government has indicated that in order to avoid deportation after missing the deadline, EU migrants must ‘give grounds for why it was not possible to apply in the timeline, if no valid reason is given then the valid immigration rules will be applied.’ It is not clear exactly what the government would regard as a ‘valid reason’ but it is likely to be a difficult threshold to meet given that applicants have got until 30 June 2021 to apply and they have been able to apply since 30th of March 2019.

This would suggest that an applicant would need to provide evidence of a compelling impediment to application which spanned over 2 years. It is unlikely many people would be able to satisfy this criteria. While the wording of ‘valid immigration rules will be applied’ deliberately avoids the term ‘removal’, it is clear that this may be the fate of those who fail to apply in time.

 

Can those who have not yet applied for settled status continue to work in the UK now we have left the EU?

Yes. While a survey by the grassroots organisation ‘the3million’ indicates that 1 in 10 EU citizens have already been asked to provide evidence of their settled status, this is not a legal requirement. EU citizens may continue to work without applying for settled status throughout the transition period. A lack of clarity in government communications has left employers and employees alike confused as to what their duties are, but until the end of the transition period, EU workers can continue to work, although they should still aim to complete the settlement application at their earliest convenience.

 

What kind of proof will people receive of their settled status?

Controversially, the government has elected to provide no physical documentation confirming the settled status of EU migrants. All records will be electronic which the government claims will “future-proof [applicants] rights and is linked to their passport or ID card, replacing physical documents which can get lost, stolen, damaged, tampered with and expire”. 90% of survey participants however indicated they feared discrimination without a form of physical evidence which can be shown to employers, banks or landlords, and would prefer a card.

Maike Bohn, co-founder of the3million has warned that the government is setting itself up for another Windrush crisis by failing to provide physical evidence which applicants may be able to later use to prove their right to live in the UK.

 

We will have to wait to see the full impact of the EU settled scheme, but as always, anybody concerned about their immigration status should contact us on 01403 801 801 or at info@ukvisas.co.uk for a consultation.

MAC recommendations – Tier 2 overhaul, revolutionary or recycling?

 

The Migration Advisory Committee has released an extensive report on the Points-Based System and Salary Thresholds. This was commissioned by the Government in July and September of last year.

If you’re wondering how the system might affect you, or your employees, then read on for a brief introduction to the new system as imagined by the MAC.

 

What might change?

The 278-page report advises against a full-scale ‘Australian-style’ points-based system. Instead, it recommends retaining the existing Tier 2 structure with an addition of lower skill-level jobs and a lower salary threshold from the current £30,000 per year.

  • Foreign nationals hoping to come to the UK may now be able to do so without a job offer if they score high enough on the points system.
  • The report recommends the existing tier 2 system remain in place, with a salary threshold, as a route for migrants with a job offer. They do however recommend that this route be expanded to include medium skilled workers.
  • Potentially the threshold for migrants settling under the tier 2 route may be paused and the requirements for settlement reviewed to increase flexibility. This is due to concerns that required pay progression is too steep for settlement.
  • There may be greater flexibility in the salary thresholds for those that come to the UK as full-time workers then transition to part time after having a child.
  • Overhaul the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route and re-design it is using a points-based system but add safeguards to prevent abuse.
  • Introduce a separate pilot visa for ‘remote’ parts of the UK, which could include a lower salary threshold exemption.
  • Review the Shortage Occupation List after the new immigration system is introduced

 

Factors like age, education, work experience and English language ability are likely to be taken into account. It is not yet clear how the government will weight each factor.

 

What about the income threshold?

Until now foreign workers looking to come to the UK to work must have a job offer paying more than £30,000. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) however has just recommended that this be dropped to £25,600 in order to boost recruitment of skilled NHS staff and teachers who are unlikely to meet the current threshold.

The current system is a complex mix of occupation specific thresholds relating to average earnings in a specific sector, worker experience, and a general threshold. The MAC indicated this could be profitably improved by having new entrant rates at 70% of the experienced rate, and using national pay scales to calculate thresholds in sectors like education and the NHS.

They also recommend that differences in average pay across regions should not be taken into account, with one threshold for the entirety of the UK, citing concerns that lower thresholds in certain parts of the UK risk ‘institutionalising’ some parts of the UK as ‘lower wage’, as well as adding unnecessary complexity.

While some stakeholders would prefer no threshold aside from the minimum wage, the MAC justifies the continued wage threshold by arguing that it prevents the undercutting of the labour market (i.e. employing migrants because they are cheaper than British nationals), ensures migrants are making net positive contributions and makes sure that policy supports the current government’s “ambition to make the UK a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy”.

Concerns that sectors such as social care will still fail to meet this lower threshold and may suffer staffing shortages have been dismissed, claiming “the root cause of the problems there is the failure to offer competitive terms and conditions”.

 

We will watch with bated breath to see if these recommendations actually result in any material changes in immigration policy. As we have said  before, the introduction of the “Australian” points based system was never anything ground-breaking, so it will be interesting to see how the current government works to implement these MAC recommendations.

In the meantime, if you have any queries or concerns relating to your visa or the visas of your employees, you should contact us on 01403 801 801 or at info@ukvisas.co.uk for a consultation.

Boris to review earning thresholds for migrant workers

While one of the current government’s selling points has been its pledge to crack down on immigration and to reduce the overall number of people coming to the UK, it has chosen to review the income threshold of 30K which prospective workers would have to meet in order to enter the UK. Let’s explore what this means in practice:

What’s the current system?

The current system for non-EU workers to come to the UK to work requires applicants to meet several stringent conditions. Applicants must currently meet an income threshold, although this varies based on the vocation, as well as the age and experience of the applicant. Applicants must also demonstrate a good knowledge of English.

Companies hoping to employ migrant workers from outside of the EEA also have to prove that they have not been able to find anyone within the UK or the EEA capable of doing the job unless the job is on the shortage occupation list. There is also a cap on the number of workers who can enter if they are not filling a position in a shortage occupation.

What’s Boris proposing?

Boris wants to replace the current system with a more holistic points-based system under which income would be taken into account alongside English ability, occupation, and qualification.  Each contributing factor would be assigned points, and the point total used to decide on whether the person would be a benefit to the UK.

What will change?

Critics of the current system argue that the income cap severely restricts the ability of industries which employ workers who are skilled but not particularly well-paid to fill positions. This includes the NHS, farm-workers and other industries which currently rely on EU workers to do low paid but skilled or crucial work.

Boris has pledged to cut ‘unskilled’ immigration but has not set out exactly who he will class as an ‘unskilled’ worker. This raises concern over the ability of organisations reliant on EU labour, such as care homes, to recruit enough staff, should their staff not be considered ‘skilled’ workers.

Hopefully, the removal of the wage cap will make the UK more appealing to skilled workers in low-paying industries to contribute to the UK economy, as well as mitigating some of the potential labour shortages as a result of Brexit.

What does this mean for me?

If you are a migrant worker or a company hoping to employ migrant workers and you want to find out more about how this might affect you, the team at UK visas can help.

Contact us now to arrange a free consultation and find out how we can support you.

Changes to the shortage occupations list

 

There has been a radical shake up of the shortage occupation list.

 

the UKVI recently announced a radical revision of the Shortage Occupation List which defines roles that employers can offer to migrants without first checking local labour availability. 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.

A full list of jobs on the shortage occupation list can be found in Appendix K of the Tier 2 immigration rules here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/immigration-rules/immigration-rules-appendix-k-shortage-occupation-list

 

Examples most relevant to our client base include:

  • Physical scientists in the oil and gas industry
  • Civil engineers
  • Mechanical engineers
  • Electrical and electronics engineers
  • Design and development engineers
  • Production and process engineers
  • IT business analysts and systems designers
  • Programmers, software developers and web designers
  • Medical practitioners and radiographers
  • Veterinarians
  • Nurses
  • Architects and quantity surveyors

New “Australian style” immigration policy

There is actually nothing new about the UK adopting an Australian style points-based system – we have this already.

 

The UK introduced the PBS (points-based system) in November 2008, with five tiers:  Tier 1 for highly skilled migrants, who were allowed to be self-employed or work for any business; Tier 2 for skilled migrants who had to be sponsored by their employer so needed a Certificate of Sponsorship; Tier 3 for lower managerial and blue collar/agricultural workers (this has never been opened up); Tier 5 for temporary workers and, finally, Tier 4 for students.

 

Steadily over the intervening 12 years or so, rules and conditions have been tightened up to the point that now Tier 1 is limited to a few exceptionally talented, or rich, individuals, whilst Tier 2, the arena in which we work together with you, the businesses that power this country, is restricted to highly skilled workers who, apart from a few exceptions, have to earn at least £30,000 p.a and are restricted in numbers from entering the UK.

 

There are a couple of recent changes which suggest there may be light at the end of the tunnel: nurses and doctors are excluded from the 20,000 annual cap and the list of shortage occupations has been increased significantly so reducing the number of resident labour market tests that need to be carried out and speeding entry for those candidates.

With the publishing of the MAC report today it is good to see that the new “Australian style” PBS Tier 2 (General) is envisaged to apply to both EEA and non-EEA citizens and to be expanded to medium-skill jobs with the cap and Resident Labour Market Test abolished and a simplified process introduced. It is proposed that the minimum salary levels will fall in line with this to £25,600 for experienced workers and £17,920 for new entrants.

 

 

 

Tier 4 immigration scrutiny – why outsourcing is the safest option to protect UK educational establishments

With close to half a million international students studying in the UK every year, educational institutions including universities, schools and colleges are under continuingly increasing pressure when it comes to conforming to the terms of their sponsor licence for Tier 4 visas.

As London Metropolitan University proved a while back, get it wrong and there’s the potential to end up in hot water! In fact, the UK Home Office is becoming increasingly quick to take enforcement action on sponsors, from a reduction or freeze on CAS allocations, to a complete licence revocation if they meet a failure rate of 10% or above – a costly implication for any establishment if they can no longer benefit from the revenue stream from overseas students.

Currently the Tier 4 immigration system requires robust checks prior to offering any student a position. The system also undoubtedly faces further scrutiny and changes when the full Brexit effect comes into play at the end of 2020.

With such a complex and time consuming system, the question remains – should establishments outsource their Tier 4 sponsor requirements? The safest answer to guarantee success and safeguard students is yes…

Obtain and maintain – It all starts with a sponsor’s licence:

Every education provider must obtain a Tier 4 sponsor licence if they wish to accept non-EU students, and, shortly, EU students too. This process is complex in itself ensuring CAS estimates are correct, supplying the appropriate documents to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and meeting basic sponsorship duties. The Home Office can visit a sponsor’s premises at any time, without prior notice if they choose, to ensure the way in which they hold and process records is compliant.

Once an establishment is granted a sponsors licence they must adhere to the Home Office’s ongoing record keeping, monitoring and reporting requirements to maintain their status.  Any establishment found to be enrolling students without UK immigration permission, failing to properly assess a student’s academic progression or English language ability, or even failing to monitor and record international student attendance, are all serious breaches of sponsor duties. Outsourcing immediately alleviates unnecessary stress and pressure on staff and ensures that an establishment is compliant every step of the way.

Eliminate errors and protect the establishment:

If educational institutions allow their students to arrange their own applications, rather than enforcing that they utilise their selected third party expert, it is important that they’re aware of the risk – to both school and student – to get every application right. The process and stringent checks are a minefield and the simplest of errors could lead to rejection which in turn impacts the Institution’s overall success rate. No stone is left unturned and, not only would a student be refused a visa, the establishment would be marked with a failure and could face a complete licence revocation if repeated failures were processed – 10% or above as mentioned earlier!

Outsource to success:

If an establishment has taken the wise decision to outsource then they must ensure their adviser is qualified to do so, such as being accredited by the OISC. This means everything can be actioned on their behalf, they can offer CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies) and act as a consultant in the advisory stage when offering a place.  The benefits of an OISC registered adviser is the protection they offer to your reputation and the security of knowing you’re in expert hands.

If you have any questions about Tier 4 sponsor licence compliance and how it may affect your establishment, contact our team of UK immigration experts for advice.

How will the Conservatives’ election win affect the UK immigration system?

Conservative

As we reach the end of 2019, we approach not only a new year and a new decade, but also a new era for the United Kingdom’s international status. Now that Boris Johnson has firmly established his government’s control, we can expect Brexit negotiations to be finalised soon, with the Prime Minister targeting withdrawal from the EU on January 31st 2020.

What does this mean for the future of the country’s immigration system? As part of their election manifesto, the Conservatives laid out plans for what they claimed were revolutionary changes to the current system, including a new NHS visa and an Australian points-based process. But how much of this was really new, and how much was just electioneering? Let’s take a look at what we know so far.

 

NHS visa

 

During her speech in the House of Commons, which signalled the start of the Parliamentary year, the Queen revealed part of her government’s immigration plans to support the NHS: “A new visa will ensure qualified doctors, nurses and health professionals have fast-track entry to the United Kingdom.”

Boris Johnson went into more detail on these plans back on the campaign trail in November. The changes he mentioned included:

  • The application cost of a visa for medical professionals would be reduced from £928 to £464
  • A decision on the application would be guaranteed within two weeks
  • The minimum salary requirement of £30,000 for skilled migrants seeking five-year visas will be scrapped

However, dig deeper and these plans start to look less like a radical overhaul of the current system and more like tinkering around the edges.

For one thing, NHS doctors and nurses are already on the shortage occupation list and pay £464 for their visas, so this is misleading information unless Johnson meant it will be a £464 fixed fee for both a three-year and a five-year visa (a five-year visa is currently £928).

For another, visas on standard service are decided within 15 working days, and for an extra £220 overseas applicants will get the decision in five working days. Therefore, the Conservatives’ target of a two-week delivery is only five working days less than the current timeframe, which, as this article mentions, isn’t guaranteed as it is.

Therefore, in terms of real change, this really just leaves the scrapping of the £30,000 salary threshold for health professionals applying for a five-year visa.

This is certainly a welcome change. With an ongoing skills shortage continuing to impact the NHS, reducing the threshold will make it easier to recruit nurses and other health professionals on lower wages from outside the UK. And with their stated intention to also remove the cap on the number of migrant health professionals allowed into the country each year, it should help health services to recruit for much-needed positions.

 

Australian points-based system

 

“A modern, fair, points-based immigration system will welcome skilled workers from across the world to contribute to the United Kingdom’s economy, communities and public services.”

This statement of intent, also from the Queen’s Speech, is another part of the government’s claims to initiate radical reform of the UK’s immigration system, but, as with those made around the NHS visa, there is little new here to impress the well-informed.

We already have a points-based system for non-EU nationals. This was introduced in 2008 and was itself based on the Australian points-based system but has, over the past decade, become frustrated by complexity and increasingly stringent rules.

As visa and immigration advisors working with UK immigration policy on a daily basis, we’re the first to welcome change if it addresses the difficulties inherent in the current system. The UK needs a points-based model that meets our industry needs. However, while it is early days for this government, so far the changes to the UK immigration system they’ve set out seem to be focused more on satisfying their voter base rather than bringing about the changes necessary for industry.

As ever, we will be keeping a close eye on events and ensuring that we remain up-to-date and compliant with any changes to UK immigration policy. As this article shows, it’s a complicated business fraught with pitfalls, which is why we always recommend soliciting the support of an expert. Our team is available to provide advice and assistance to businesses and individuals – contact us now to arrange a free consultation.

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).

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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.