UK labour: new Shortage Occupation List proposals

According to the Office for National Statistics, the first quarter of 2019 saw the number of EU nationals employed in Britain hit an all-time high of almost 2.4 million. Despite ongoing uncertainty surrounding Brexit, UK businesses have continued to invest in recruitment, creating 100,000 new jobs in the first three months of the year, and EU nationals have helped them to fill those positions. However, impending changes to immigration rules are almost certain to affect this trend and create challenges for UK recruiters.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, as of October 31st, EU nationals are likely to become subject to the same restrictions other overseas nationalities currently face when seeking employment in Britain. This means UK businesses who wish to continue employing EU workers post-Brexit are likely to need to hold a valid sponsor licence, and ensure sponsored applicants obtain a valid working visa.

The additional complexity of the recruitment process could lead to UK employers experiencing difficulties in filling vacancies. However, one measure that seeks to avoid this situation is the recent update to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL).

The list defines occupations that are especially under-recruited, and therefore subject to exceptions from immigration employment laws. In anticipation of the possible impact Brexit could have for UK recruiters, the government engaged the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to review the SOL for the first time since 2013. Published in May 2019, the proposed list includes the additions of such diverse occupations as veterinarians, web designers, and secondary school teachers.

Employers recruiting for roles on the SOL can benefit from the following advantages:

  • No need to pass the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT), which shows an attempt has been made to recruit domestically. This makes a saving for employers in terms of vacancy advertising and recruitment time
  • These jobs are automatically granted a high level of points in the visa system, so a migrant cannot be turned down for sponsorship, even if the annual cap on the Tier 2 scheme has been reached
  • The job does not need to meet the minimum salary threshold required for settlement after five years
  • Visa application fees are lower if the occupation is on the SOL, making it more attractive to foreign applicants and their dependants

If you are involved in recruitment and want to find out more about how Brexit and the changes to the SOL may affect the process, the team at UK Visas can help.

Contact us now to arrange a free consultation and find out how we can support your organisation in recruiting from outside the UK.

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.

How HR can prepare for changes to immigration post-Brexit

HR managers, is your company Brexit-ready?

As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, it’s important for UK companies employing EU workers to ensure they’re ready for the changes that will follow. Those responsible for recruitment should be aware of these changes and understand what they mean for both the company’s current EU employees and its future recruitment strategy. 

Some steps that can be taken to ensure a smooth transition for businesses and their employees include:

Keeping your current EU workers

Firstly, it’s important to ensure that any EU, EEA or Swiss nationals currently employed by your company can continue to stay in the UK after 30th June 2021 (if a deal is not agreed, the deadline will be 31st December 2020). The government’s EU Settlement Scheme gives these people the opportunity to apply to continue living in the UK following its exit from the European Union. Applicants who have been here for five years or more will receive ‘settled’ status, while those who have lived here for less than five years will get ‘pre-settled’ status.

The process is free, and the government has provided a step-by-step set of instructions on its website to guide applicants. HR officers should familiarise themselves with the process so that they can advise and support any of their company’s employees who need to apply. You can visit the site here.

Preparing to recruit from outside the EU

Once Brexit has taken place, the process of hiring workers from the EU will become more difficult. As a result, companies may choose to start recruiting people from further afield, although they will need to prepare for this shift in focus.

According to a recent survey, 76% of businesses have no contingency funds for future recruitment outside the EU. The cost, in terms of both money and time, of sponsorship licences and Tier 2 Visas means companies must determine whether they can afford to hire from abroad, as well as identify the resources necessary to carry out their recruitment plans.

What is a Tier 2 (General) Visa and why do workers need them?

Tier 2 (General) Visas are the most common type of visa. They apply to skilled workers earning £30,000 a year and upwards, and require sponsorship from the company offering employment. Proof of sponsorship comes in the form of a certificate of sponsorship (CoS).

Once Britain has left the EU, EU citizens without settled or pre-settled UK status may be subject to the same rules that apply to people from the rest of the world, meaning they will need to apply for a Tier 2 Visa if they intend to work in the UK.

How much does an overseas Tier 2 Visa application cost for a single applicant on a 3-year contract?

  • Application fee – £610
  • Immigration health charge – £1,200
  • Immigration skills charge (per year of contract) £1,092 to £3,000 (depending on whether your company is categorised as large or small)
  • Certificate of Sponsorship £199
  • Priority visa service £220

Due to the cost, complexity, and potential pitfalls of the visa application process, recruiters would be wise to work with an expert in the field. At UK Visas, our team guides companies through the hurdles of bringing staff into the UK, and facilitates the movement of employees globally.

Our experience allows us to assess eligibility quickly and to spot issues before they develop into problems, providing clients with practical and commercial solutions.

Our services include:

  • Advising on all aspects of the points-based system and assisting with the sponsor registration process
  • Work and business routes, including those for sponsored workers, business visitors, permitted paid engagement visitors, investors, entrepreneurs, high value migrants and representatives of overseas businesses
  • European applications such as family permits and permanent residence, and other applications including dependent family members and British nationality
  • Prevention of illegal working including audits of right to work documents, staff training, hotline services and objections to fines
  • Challenging decisions via administrative review

If you need help understanding how Brexit will affect your company’s EU nationals and overseas recruitment, our friendly and knowledgeable team is ready to answer your questions. Get in touch now to arrange a free consultation.

Renewing CoS allocations for next Financial Year

Sponsors that are not on automatic annual renewal will receive monthly e-mails asking them to submit their requests for a CoS allocation.

Annual CoS allocations are for unrestricted CoS only, so can only be issued to people already in the UK, i.e current employees requiring an extension to their visas or new recruits, who are either graduates switching from Tier 4 student visas or those already working for another sponsor on a Tier 2 General visa.

UK Visas will go through every client’s list of sponsored workers over the next few weeks and request CoS for any whose visas expire between April 2019 and April 2020.

Please note too that you can still ask for additional CoS after 6 April. We just need the name, nationality and DoB of each applicant and, if they are new recruits, full details of the role, salary and resident test details if relevant.

For those clients on Auto Renewal, we have to wait until 6 April and see what you have been allocated and then, if necessary, request extra CoS for you.

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.

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.

Time to put your thinking caps on….

Another subtle but big change introduced has been how continuous residence will be counted over the 5 years period when applying for Indefinite leave to remain (‘ILR’).

Before the changes, the 180-day absences were calculated in fixed blocks. However, absences are now to be counted on a rolling basis thus an application for ILR could be refused if at any point over the five years the 180-day limit is exceeded in any 12-month period.

Paragraph 245AAA(a) now states:

“(a) References to a “continuous period” “lawfully in the UK” means, subject to paragraph (e), residence in the UK for an unbroken period with valid leave, and for these purposes a period shall be considered unbroken where:

(i) the applicant has not been absent from the UK for more than 180 days during any 12-month period in the continuous period, except that any absence from the UK for the purpose of assisting with a national or international humanitarian or environmental crisis overseas shall not count towards the 180 days, if the applicant provides evidence that this was the purpose of the absence(s) and that their Sponsor, if there was one, agreed to the absence(s) for that purpose;”.

One is going to need more than just a simple table on Excel to tackle this change!

The curse of 180 days – PBS Dependants to face new requirements for ILR

11th January 2018, saw many changes introduced to the Immigration Rules.

A change which will have huge impact on future applications for entry clearance, as well as extension applications by those who are already in the UK and need to extend their leave after 11 January 2018 is that the PBS dependant cannot be absent from the UK for more than 180 days during any 12-month continuous period.

The following has been inserted into paragraph 319E of the Immigration Rules in relation to PBS dependants:

(d) not have been absent from the UK for more than 180 days during any 12-month period in the continuous period, except that:

(1) any absence from the UK for the purpose of assisting with a national or international humanitarian or environmental crisis overseas shall not count towards the 180 days, if the applicant provides evidence that this was the purpose of the absence(s), and

(2) any absence from the UK during periods of leave granted under the Rules in place before 11 January 2018 shall not count towards the 180 days.

The amendment will not impact residence for those who have already extended and can obtain ILR without extending again, and will not change things immediately for those who have already been granted entry clearance until they come to extend.

CHANGES TO TIER 2 PBS

Being a sponsor – A privilege that bites. High Court confirms companies to be held at strict compliance under Tier 2

In the recent case of R (Sri Prathinik Consulting Limited) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2017] EWHC 3204 (Admin), the Hight Court dismissed a company Judicial Review against revocation of licence reinforcing the principle that sponsor licences are a privilege, not be taken lightly.

The case involved a IT company that had failed to keep the required evidence relating to RMLT as specified and assigned the COS 6 months after the RMLT was concluded.

The Court stated that “[s]ponsors have advantages and cannot complain if they are required to comply with relevant Guidance”

It is all too easy to lose track of the mind field of duties one needs to adhere to. In the view of the above, it has become as important as ever to make sure you as a company are fulfilling these duties. In the view of the Home Office and High Court, you as a sponsor has opted into taking on this level of responsibility so should be held accountable. There will be no sympathy.

There are been some changes in the Tier 2 sponsor guidance from 11th January 2018, a summary of few listed below:

• B-rated sponsors can no longer add branches to their licences or if you are downgraded to a B- rated sponsor.
• Those directly employed by sponsors can no longer certify copies of documents.
• It is now a specific sponsor duty to report if the size of the business changes from small to large or vice versa.
• It is recommended that licences are renewed early, or at least one month before the expiry date. If applied in good time, there will chance to apply again if application is rejected. If licence has expired when decision to reject or refuse your application is made, there will not be a chance to make another application to renew a licence.
• The start date given on the CoS must be the date that the migrant is expected to start working for you at the time the CoS is assigned. If such start date for a Tier 2 (General) migrant is subsequently changed after leave has been granted, it must be within 28 days from the later of:
• the date on which their entry clearance or leave to remain is granted
• the start date on their CoS (taking into account any changes to start date properly reported before leave is granted)

• If a sponsor fails to provide any documents within a specified timeframe, action will be taken

Resident Labour Market Tests now more stringent

We have noticed recently that the UKVI are becoming increasingly vigilant and demanding when assessing resident tests.

UK Visas manage in excess of 100 resident labour market tests each year, both for changes of employment and out-of-country recruits. As part of these tests we have to provide reasons why any EEA applicants are not suitable for the role and clients need to keep records of these tests on file in readiness for a sponsor licence compliance visit.

Whilst Tier 2 guidance states sponsors should keep copies of CVs for any shortlisted applicants (along with interview notes etc) compliance officers are now demanding to see every CV, regardless of whether the candidate was shortlisted. We hold these in file here for every test conducted, so if required we can provide these to you, but in future we may decide to forward every applicant to clients on conclusion of every test – apologies for yet more filing!

We have also noticed for the first time that, when Tier 2 limits request additional information about restricted CoS requests, they are now asking to see every single application received as part of their consideration process.

In future, when running these tests, we may therefore have to ask clients to look at a few more cv’s than previously to help us check suitability prior to reaching out for further information from the applicants themselves.

UKVI have also slowed down their consideration process for restricted CoS in the last month or so. Whereas 80% of requests used to be allocated on the day the panel met (usually 11th of each month) we are now having to wait up to 10 days for the allocations to be approved. This December for example, the first one (of eight requests) was allocated two days late, on 13th, whilst we are still waiting at the time of writing for all the others. And no reasons are provided for the delay, and there is no way to expedite the requests so we just have to wait.

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

UK NARIC Proof of English assessments

UK Visas has set up a special arrangement with UK NARIC to ensure a speedy turnaround of the Statement of Comparability and English Language Assessment.

Nationals from non-English speaking countries can no longer use the Points Calculator to show they have a degree that was taught in English, Instead they must submit their degree certificate, Transcript and MOI letter from their University to UK NARIC who will examine these and, if acceptable, issue a Statement of Comparability and English Language Assessment.

Even those in English-speaking countries, other than the UK, must still provide a Statement of Comparability to show their degree is comparable to a UK degree.

Our fee of £175 + VAT includes the £125 NARIC fee and approximately £10 for the delivery charges. The whole process takes about 10 working days.
By comparison a typical English test, in India for example, costs about £170 and may take four weeks or more to book.

Keeping sponsor licence details up-to-date

It is essential that sponsors advise us if their circumstances change.

I know I sound like a broken recording, but it is incredible to me that some 20% of sponsors needing to renew their licence in the past six months have had major changes that the UKVI have not been informed about.

Some companies have been acquired, others changed their names and yet others have moved their offices or the Authorising Officers have left or gone on maternity leave without appointing a replacement.

Can all sponsors please note that, if the UKVI decide to make a compliance visit, they are not obliged to advise the sponsor of this in advance, so they may well turn up at the wrong address, or find that the AO is not present or the company name has changed, any one of which may be reason for the licence to be suspended or downgraded to a B rating.

Either of these would have huge implications on your organisation, so please, please, ensure we are advised if any of the above changes happen in your organisation (or indeed if you acquire a company) so we can ensure UKVI are kept informed.

Changes to those applying “out-of-time”

Out-of-time applicants can no longer apply up to 28 days after the expiry date on their visa.

Under current rules applicants who, for whatever reason such as an innocent mistake, find themselves applying after their current leave has expired, have had their cases considered as long as their applications were submitted within 28 days of the expiry date.

Now, however, the government believe this sends out a message which is “inconsistent with the need to ensure compliance with immigration rules”, and so this “allowance” has been abolished.

Instead, out-of-time applications will only be considered if the applicant can show a good reason, beyond their control, why an in time application could not be made AND the application is made within 14 days of the expiry of leave.

New fast-track trial for some Change of Circumstances requests

The UKVI have been taking an increasing length of time to allocate unrestricted CoS over the past few months – here’s why!

Since April 2016 getting an unrestricted CoS allocated to sponsors has become increasingly difficult, requiring a comprehensive representation as to why the CoS is required, but at least they were allocated within a few days.

However, as many sponsors will know to their fury and frustration, the UKVI have recently been taking 6-8 weeks, and sometimes longer, to deal with unrestricted CoS requests.

Now, out of the blue, they have announced a Tier 2 and 5 priority change of circumstance service which allows A rated sponsors to get their CoS allocated within five working days. This same service also applies to sponsors wishing to add a Level 1 user or replace an authoring officer.

However the service comes at a cost: £200 for each individual CofC request. And currently it is limited to 20 requests per day – for the whole country.
Our first experience was traumatic to say the least – We started dialling at 09.00 sharp but it took over three hours of non-stop dialling to get through to the premium service number in order to pay the £200. We were number 18!

But then, at least, the CoS was allocated within a couple of hours – so it can be done easily enough Yet another example of the system gathering extra revenue.

New changes to Tier 2 (ICT)

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

• The salary threshold for Tier 2 (ICT) short-term applicants has been increased to £30,000 p.a. Please note that this sub-category will close in April 2017.

• The salary threshold for Tier 2 (ICT) Graduate Trainee goes down to £23,000 p.a.

• The Tier 2 (ICT) Skills transfer sub-category has now closed.

In March 2016 the MAC Report recommended that the Immigration Health Surcharge should be rolled out to Tier 2 (ICT) applicants this autumn, but as far as we can see no actual change has been announced as yet, so we are hopeful that this recommendation has been withdrawn.

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.