Back in December 2018, the government published a white paper on the future of the immigration system, envisaged to be phased in by 2021. This, along with the most recent update to immigration rules published in March, will see a number of changes coming into effect. Most notably, the review of Tier 2 visas and more recently the addition of new routes in which potential employees from overseas can take when looking to work in the UK.
Tier 2 visas
Since 2016, there has been a £30,000 salary threshold for Tier 2 visas. However, the growing concern over skills shortages meant exemptions were introduced for certain professions including nurses, medical radiographers, paramedics and some secondary school teachers. While this exemption was due to end in July 2019, it has been extended and is currently under review as part of the new immigration system expected to be implemented in 2021.
As it currently stands, the Tier 2 (General) category is only open to those who have been offered a job at Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) level 6. This skill threshold was often criticised for being too restrictive, so in 2021 a new skilled workers route will open up opportunities for businesses and potential employees from a broader skill level. Significantly, the new route will include workers with intermediate level skills at RQF level 3-5 (A-level or equivalent), as well as those who hold graduate and postgraduate degrees.
The Migrant Advisory Committee’s (MAC) report published earlier in 2018 recommended the current salary threshold of £30,000 be retained (in line with wage inflation); however, the recent white paper did leave scope for government to engage with businesses and employers about what salary threshold should be set.
The government also introduced two new categories in the recent immigration rule update, which will radically change the way in which businesses recruit overseas talent.
One of the new categories, known as the ‘Innovator’ visa route, will replace the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa. The old route ended on 29 March, following recommendations from the MAC that the route needed substantial reform.
Previously, Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) applications were subject to the “genuine entrepreneur” test, in which Home Office officials would scrutinise the applicant’s business plan for viability and genuineness. This will change, with applicants going through the new route now needing prior endorsement from a designated endorsing body approved by the UK government. These bodies will assume a similar function and assess whether the proposed business is innovative, viable and scalable.
As well as an endorsement, applicants will need £50,000 to invest in their business from any legitimate source. This is a reduction from the previous required investment of £200,000 for most applicants. The funding requirement will be waived for those switching from the start-up category who have made significant achievements against their business plans.
Oversea graduates and start-ups
The Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) route will officially close to new applicants from 6 July 2019 and is being expanded and rebranded as the ‘start up’ visa category. The new category will be open to applicants who have recently graduated, as well as those looking to start a new business for the first time in the UK.
The route will differ from the previous incarnation in that applicants will no longer be required to have secured initial funding for their proposed business but will have to be endorsed by an independent endorsing body similar to the ‘innovator’ route. This category will not automatically lead to settlement and would be only be for an initial two-year period, after which applicants could switch over into the new innovator route.
In the coming months, the way in which overseas talent enters the UK will change significantly. Even with continued Brexit uncertainty, the need for businesses to have access to and attract employees from overseas will not change, particularly in the creative and tech industries. It is imperative that employers stay ahead of these immigration changes, to effectively build robust recruitment plans to protect their staff and businesses.
Hesham Shoeb is an immigration lawyer at Barlow Robbins LLP