Changes to UK based Tier 2 visa applications

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

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

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

 

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and they have enrolled their biometrics but before a decision has been made, their application would be deemed to be withdrawn.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Renewing CoS allocations for this Financial Year

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

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

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

New charges for 2018-19

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

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

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

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

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

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

High Skilled Workers to trump EU workers

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

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

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

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

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

2. No preference for EU citizens

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

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

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

6. Retain but review the Immigration Skills Charge.

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

 

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

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

Croatians to be granted same rights as EU citizens

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

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

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

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

Shortage of restricted CoS (Change Of Status)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is always light at the end of the tunnel!

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

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

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

This will definitely bring a sigh of relief to many.

Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) refunds – an update

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

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

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

New changes to Tier 2 to be introduced this autumn

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

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

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

New changes to Tier 2 (General)

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLOSE X

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.