What do businesses need to know about the new global mobility visa?

Laura Darnley assesses the scheme designed to help overseas employers establish a footprint in the UK and attract highly skilled workers

In recent months, the chancellor has shared the government’s plan to attract global talent with a focus on ‘high-skilled migration’. Part of this pledge is the newly unveiled plan to introduce a Global Business Mobility (GBM) visa, to help overseas businesses establish a presence in the UK or transfer staff here.

But, despite a commitment to launch it in the spring, key features of the new visa are only just starting to emerge, giving businesses a particularly short timescale to prepare. So, what do employers need to know?

Requirements remain unclear

The Home Office has indicated it will use these reforms to modernise the current business immigration routes, to provide a more cohesive system. 

Based on what we know, there will be some overarching requirements under the GBM visa route, namely, all roles will need to be sponsored, and jobs will need to be at an appropriate skill level.

What’s not yet clear is whether this threshold will be maintained at RQF Level 6 – the current requirement for ‘Intra Company Transfer’ (ICT) routes, which relates to jobs that typically require a degree level of education – or if it will be reduced to match the ‘Skilled Worker’ threshold of RQF Level 3, i.e. jobs requiring an A-Level standard of education. 

The pay for the role must also reach a salary threshold, but again, there’s no indication whether this figure will be kept to the current level. 

There will be no requirement for applicants to demonstrate a particular level of English language ability. Applicants will also need to be existing employees with a minimum length of employment overseas. Assignments will be temporary, but workers will be able to switch to permanent routes.

Introducing five new tiers

In an effort to provide a broader range of possible routes for global talent, we understand that the GBM visa will provide five new subcategories:

  • Senior or specialist worker – this category is designed for workers with expert skills or senior executives that are required in the UK branch of an overseas business. However, it remains to be seen whether the eligibility criteria will remain the same as current ICT visas, or whether additional stricter requirements will be introduced to ensure that applicants are truly ‘specialists’.
  • Graduate trainee - the employee will be on a placement in the UK branch of the business as part of a structured training programme. This appears to be a rebranding of the current ICT Graduate Trainee route, though the eligibility criteria could still change.
  • UK expansion worker – available to any business without a UK presence, this will allow them to send specialist workers on assignment to drive expansion into the UK. Should this ultimately replace the ‘sole representative’ visa route, it would be a seismic change for overseas businesses, not least because it will rely on employer sponsorship. Crucially, it would also allow businesses to send a team over, instead of one individual. The Home Office is considering how this route might work in practice, including what footprint will be required from a business before they can use it, and the evidence it will require that the business is genuinely seeking to expand into the UK.
  • Service suppliers – designed to allow workers travelling to the UK to deliver a service in line with a UK trade commitment.
  • Secondment – workers will be on secondment for specific purposes, such as to transfer knowledge related to a high-value import or export, or to oversee a substantial investment. This interesting proposal reflects arrangements that are not currently easy to facilitate under the existing visa rules.

With a spring 2022 launch date proposed, the clock is ticking to finalise the plans and communicate them to businesses effectively. Multinational businesses that transfer staff to the UK, or businesses looking to expand into the UK market, should monitor developments so that they are ready to take action as soon as the new rules become effective.

Laura Darnley is a legal director in the employment team at Brabners