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]

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]

Checking Right to Work During the Covid-19 Crisis

Every employer has a duty to ensure that all its employees have the right to work in the UK, either by virtue of their British Citizenship, or as a term of their right to remain. It is a criminal offence to knowingly employ someone who has no right to work in the UK, so it is important that checks are carried out in line with government guidelines. This would normally involve meeting the employee and checking their original documents, however in light of the logistical difficulties involved in this arising from the Covid-19 crisis the Home Office has made some adjustments to make carrying out these checks easier. In order to carry out checks safely during the Covid-19 crisis the following adjustments have been made:

  • You can ask the worker to submit scanned copies of their original documents by email instead of checking in person.
  • You can arrange a video chat over Skype, Zoom or a similar app in which the worker can hold their documents up to the camera for you to check.
  • If the worker has a BRP, Biometric Residence Card or status under the EU settlement scheme you can use the online right to work checking service while doing a video call with the applicant. The applicant will need to give their permission for you to view their details.
  • You should record the date you carried out one of the above checks and mark it as ‘adjusted check undertaken on [insert date] due to Covid-19.

If the worker cannot show their documents you must contact the Home Office Employer Checking Service which will provide you with a ‘Positive Verification Notice’, giving you a 6 month statutory excuse if the person is found to have the right to work.

 

When the Covid-19 measures end you will have to follow the checking process set out in the government’s right to work checks: an employer’s guide. You will have to perform retrospective checks on employees who started working for you or required a follow-up check during these measures unless you did the check in the manner prescribed in the employers guide with no adjustments. This check must be performed within 8 weeks of the Covid-19 measures ending. If you find during a retrospective check that your employee does not have the right to work you must then end their employment.

Furloughed Tier 2 Workers

Many employers and employees were left in the dark over the impact of furlough and Employer Retention Scheme and how it applies to Tier 2 works as the immigration status of Tier 2 workers is tied to employment at a minimum salary.

 

On Friday, the UKVI finally confirmed the below:

 

  1. As a business, if you are unable to pay the salaries of your sponsored employees because as a company you have temporarily reduced or ceased trading, then you can temporarily reduce the pay of your sponsored employees to 80% of their salary or £2,500 per month, whichever is lower.

 

  1. The reduction in salary will only be justified if it is a part of a company-wide policy to avoid redundancies and to enable the equal treatment of all workers.

 

  1. The reductions must be temporary and therefore the salary level must return to at least previous levels once these arrangements come to an end.

 

It seems that the UKVI are indicating that the salary can fall below the relevant SOC code salary threshold minimum while the Tier 2 worker is furloughed, without this negatively impacting the sponsorship as long as the salary level returns to at least the previous level once the arrangement comes to an end. This will be comforting news for many employers and employees in this uncertain time.

The UKVI guidance is mute on the point of whether the salary changes need to be reported.  Our expert advice is that all sponsors continue to report this via the SMS and provide an explanation for the change in salary and also report once the salary returns to its normal level. All changes are to reported within 10 working days. Further to this, they should retain evidence of their firm-wide policy on the same as justification. This will also safeguard the sponsor’s position in the event of a UKVI audit in the future.

If you have any coronavirus related visa concerns please do get in touch at [email protected] or on 01403 801 801 for consultation.

Free One Year Visa Extension for NHS Workers and their Families

 

Good news for those on the front line of the Coronavirus battle as the Home Office announces a free, automatic one year extension to all NHS workers and their family who have visas expiring before 01/10/2020.

The scheme will apply to doctors, nurses and paramedics and will affect around 2,800 NHS workers. The extension will also apply to their family members as a gesture of goodwill and to demonstrate ‘how valued overseas NHS staff are to the UK’. This means NHS workers will not have to endure the added stress and uncertainty of a visa application on top of the incredible amount of pressure they are already enduring on the front line and will allow them to focus fully on combating Covid-19, without the distraction of uncertainty about theirs or their families’ visa statuses.

There will be no fee attached to the extension, and it will also be exempt from the Immigration Health Surcharge, which is normally charged to all migrants in the UK on a temporary visa to allow them to access the NHS. Given that these migrants are risking their safety and working around the clock to support the NHS it seems only fair that this fee has been waived for them, and it would be nice to see more recognition of their contributions in the future given that the Home Office raised the fee these workers would have to pay to use the NHS by nearly double just a few weeks ago.

In addition to the extension, the Home Office has made several other changes with the hope of improving NHS capacity. These include lifting restrictions on the amount of hours student nurses and doctors can work in the NHS as well as giving more time to pre-registered overseas nurses to pass their exams so they can spend their immediate time working to combat Covid-19.

While this is a big relief for NHS key workers, there are still many other people who’s visas will be impacted by Covid-19. If you have any coronavirus related visa concerns please do get in touch at [email protected] or on 01403 801 801 for a video consultation.

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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] 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 [email protected] for a consultation.

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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.