News | Legal News

23 November 2016

UK immigration changes confirmed

Changes to immigration rules affecting Tier 2 migrant workers, who are skilled workers from outside the EEA/ Switzerland who have secured a job in the UK and will be sponsored by their UK employer,  will come into force tomorrow, on 24 November.

The changes have been made in response to a review into the Tier 2 route by the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), who were tasked with recommending proposals to reduce the number of Tier 2 migrants coming to the UK, while ensuring that the route remains open to the “brightest and best workers who will help Britain succeed.”  The recent changes reflect this objective.

Changes to Tier 2 (General) visa

The first significant change relates to the minimum salary threshold for migrant workers applying for a Tier 2 (General) visa.  Currently, such migrants must be able to show that they have a job in the UK with a salary of at least £20,800.

From 24 November, a minimum salary threshold of £25,000 for most “experienced workers” will be introduced.  The minimum salary threshold for “new entrants” will remain at £20,800.  Similarly, migrants who are already working in the UK under a Tier 2 (General) visa and who apply to extend their leave between 24 November and April 2017 will still only need to meet the £20,800 minimum salary threshold.

The government intends to increase the minimum salary threshold for “experienced workers” to £30,000 in April 2017.  This second increase will apply to all Tier 2 (General) workers, including those applying to extend their current leave to remain.

Changes to Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) (ICT)

The second significant change relates to the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) (ICT) route.  This allows international companies to hire staff from outside the UK for a limited period so that they can fill a vacancy or impart their skills or experience to UK-based employees. 

There are concerns that some companies are misusing this route to employ migrant workers for roles that could have been filled by UK or EU nationals and so this route has been limited.  From 24 November, the minimum salary threshold for short-term ICT applicants will increase from £24,800 to £30,000.

In addition, the skills transfer ICT route – which allows migrant workers to transfer to a UK branch of their employer so that they can gain skills or knowledge, or can pass on skills to UK colleagues – will no longer exist for new applicants wishing to come to the UK from this date. 

At the same time, the government is expanding the graduate trainee ICT route from 24 November – which allows migrants to come to their employer’s UK office to transfer into graduate trainee programmes for specialist roles. They will reduce the minimum salary threshold from £24,800 to £23,000 and increase the number of places a sponsor can use from 5 to 20.

Elisabeth Kynaston, a solicitor in the firm’s Business Immigration team, comments:

“The government has made it clear that it intends to reduce the number of Tier 2 migrants coming to the UK and to ensure that those that do come are not being used to displace local employees. 

“The changes will inevitably increase the (already high) cost of sponsoring migrants for many employers and will almost certainly lead to a reduction in the number of Tier 2 migrants coming to the UK. 

“In the short-term, employers who are planning to employ migrant workers, should be aware of the salary changes and adjust the salary that they offer to such workers as necessary.  If they fail to do so, they will find that new employees’ applications for leave to come to the UK are rejected and so they will have an unexpected gap in their workforce, which could cause operational issues for the  business. 

“Those currently employing migrant workers should also be alert to the changes to the salary requirements for existing Tier 2 migrants from February 2017 and start to plan their approach to these changes now.”

Further information

• A migrant worker will generally be “experienced” unless they are (1) either aged under 26 or applying for a graduate job and (2) applying for a visa for 3 years and 1 month or less (in which case they will be a “new entrant”).

• The government has also announced that Tier 2 (ICT) migrants will have to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (which costs £200 for every year of the migrant’s visa), like Tier 2 (General) migrants.  However, they have not announced when this change will come into force.

• Please also note that the Home Office introduced a priority change of circumstances service for A-rated sponsors on 7 November.  If this service is used, applications to (1) change a sponsor’s authorising officer, (2) add a new level one user and (3) add or renew the allocation of certificates of sponsorship will be considered by UKVI within 5 working days, rather than the usual 18 weeks.  The fee for this service is £200 per request.

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