What can businesses expect from the immigration reforms?

Talitha Degwa explains the types of visas and the requirements employers should be aware of in the new system, set to be introduced in March next year

We had anticipated that the government would announce its plan to introduce a true points-based system visa, similar to Canada and Australia, as there had been previous talks about it. However, there was no mention of this on budget day – instead the focus was on a new ‘elite’ points-based system.

What does the new immigration system look like?  

The chancellor said the reforms to the immigration system was to help “ambitious UK businesses attract the brightest and best international talent” – something home secretary Priti Patel also said about the new system post Brexit.

The new immigration reforms, most of which are due to be introduced in March 2022, include the following:

  • Establish an elite points-based visa. Within this visa there will be a ’scale up’ stream, enabling those with a job offer from a recognised UK scale-up to qualify for a fast-track visa.
  • Reform the global talent visa to allow holders of international prizes and winners of scholarships and programmes for early promise to automatically qualify. 

  • Review the innovator visa to make it easier for those with the skills and experience to start an innovative business obtain a visa. 

  • Launch the new global business mobility visa by spring 2022 for overseas businesses to establish a presence or transfer staff to the UK.  

  • Provide practical support to small firms that are using the visa system for the first time. 

  • Modernise the immigration sponsorship system to make it easier to use. The government is looking to publish a delivery roadmap in the summer. 

  • Establish a global outreach strategy by expanding the Global Entrepreneur Programme, marketing the UK’s visa offering and exploring building an overseas talent network. 

What does this all mean? 

The suggested reforms have a particular focus on academia, science, research and technology. There also seems to be special treatment for fast-growing, scale-up organisations, which is particularly aimed at financial technology companies. 

It will be interesting to see how the new ‘elite’ points-based visa, which is an unsponsored route but still requires one to have a job offer, will actually work in practice. 

There will be further reforms to the global talent visa to make it more accessible, which is welcome. On 4 March 2020, the UK government already made a change to this visa route to allow applicants who have reached the pinnacle of their careers to bypass the endorsement requirement and instead qualify if they have received a prestigious prize. 

The review of the current innovator route is very welcome, as this has not been fit for purpose since it was introduced in 2019. This is a route for more experienced entrepreneurs who have £50,000 to invest in an innovative business. Challenges that applicants commonly face are struggling to find third-party endorsement by approved bodies. There is a suggestion that third-party endorsement will not be required for those in science, research and tech, so watch this space.  

The new global business mobility visa sounds like a rebrand of the current ‘representative of an overseas business’ visa route. This allows overseas entities to send a senior employee to the UK to incorporate a subsidiary or branch and start trading. It will be interesting to see how this new visa will differ from the one currently available under the immigration rules. There might be more flexibility for overseas entities in sending employees to the UK to work for the local entity. 

None of the above changes are imminent, but hopefully these reforms will improve the immigration routes we have left post Brexit and help the UK recover from the pandemic.  

Talitha Degwa is an associate partner at ‎Spencer West