To live and work in the UK, everyone needs a work permit and an employment visa, unless they are a permanent resident, an Irish national or a British national. There are many types of work visas, depending on the length of your stay and the type of work you want to do. Some visas, such as student visas, permit working under certain conditions. The seven main categories of non-UK citizens who may be allowed to work in the UK are the following:
1. Points-Based System workers
2. Temporary Workers
3. Students and Graduates
4. Innovators and Start-ups
5. Global Talent
7. Ancestry visas
8. Representative of an Overseas Business:
Workers who are going through the points-based system, whom we focus on in this post, will require a visa sponsorship. So, employers wanting to hire migrant workers have to apply for a migrant sponsor licence. An employer needs a sponsor licence to employ anyone from outside the UK, even if it is for unpaid work, unless they are Irish citizens, have settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, or have indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
Being a sponsor does not mean that the employer has to pay for your employee’s visa application. It simply means that as a UK company wanting to hire overseas workers, they need to apply to the Home Office to obtain a licence first. There are also sponsorship licences for temporary jobs, such as for seasonal workers, but we focus on general workers in this briefing. In order to apply for a sponsorship licence, be it a temporary or permanent one, the potential employer must fulfil a few requirements, including choosing representatives of the company to manage the sponsorship application.
The most common type of visa sponsorship is for what we call a “general worker.” These include skilled workers, sportspeople, ministers of religion and intracompany visas. Skilled workers are the most common; they are workers of a certain skill level with a permanent, long-term job offer.
Most importantly, under the point-based system, workers must have a job offer of a certain skill level set out in government guidelines, and be making a certain amount of money. The general minimum salary is £25,600 per year or £10.10 per hour, whichever is higher, but there are some exceptions when workers can make less, such as if the worker has a PhD, or the worker is under 26, or the job is in healthcare, or the job is in a shortage occupation. There is even a separate guidance on the ins and outs of which jobs in healthcare and education qualify for a skilled worker visa. In 2020, in the context of significant staff shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Home Office introduced a relaxed visa process for Health and Care workers. This allows medical professionals to come and stay in the UK to do an eligible job with the NHS, an NHS supplier or in adult social care.
Skilled workers can apply for dependants such as wives or children to come to the UK with them. They will have to pay separate application fees, and adhere to certain additional requirements. The skilled worker visa can last for up to 5 years before the worker has to extend it. Workers need to apply to extend or update their visa when it expires or if they change jobs or employer; they can apply to extend the visa as many times as they like as long as they still meet the eligibility requirements. After five years, the worker may be able to apply to settle permanently in the UK (also known as ‘indefinite leave to remain’). This gives them the right to live, work and study here for as long as they like, and apply for benefits if they are eligible.
Skilled workers have to pay significant application fees. If you are applying for a Skilled Worker visa to stay in the UK for up to three years from outside the UK, the basic cost will be £625. If you are applying to switch into the Skilled Worker category from inside the UK, the price is £719. If you are applying to stay in the UK for longer than three years, the price goes up to £1235 if you apply from outside the UK, and £1423 from inside the UK, though the fees are heavily reduced for shortage occupations (to £479 if the applicant is staying up to three years, and £943 if staying longer). For Health and Care Workers, there are further reductions still: if they are to remain in the UK for up to three years, the fee will be £247, and if they stay for more than three years, the fee is set at £479 per person. All workers and their dependents will also have to pay the healthcare surcharge as part of their application, which is currently set at £624 per year – the only exception are those workers on the Health and Care Worker visa, who don’t need to pay the surcharge as they work in the industry.
All potential workers will also have to prove their knowledge of English and demonstrate that they are able to support themselves in the UK. Usually, they will have to show that they have at least £1,270 in their bank account, and that they have had the money available for at least 28 days in a row. Day 28 must be within 31 days of applying for this visa.
If you would like more information follow us on social media. If you need legal assistance with the EU Settlement Scheme, or have any other questions, you can contact us here, call us on 020 8142 8211, or send us a question on WhatsApp.
Notice: we do not help non-EU / overseas / foreign workers find jobs in the UK. Our service is available only to established national businesses that are looking to hire foreign workers, or for foreign workers with job offers in the UK.
Under the new immigration system, set to come into force on 1 January 2021, freedom of movement for EU/EEA/Swiss ('EU') citizens will end. Just like non-EU nationals, EU citizens who are not settled in the UK will have to apply for working visas if they wish to come work in the UK. Conversely, employers wanting to hire EU workers will have to apply for a migrant sponsor licence, just like they have to do now for third-party nationals.
Being a sponsor does not mean that the employer has to pay for the migrant worker’s visa application. It simply means that as a UK company wanting to hire overseas workers, the Home Office will do a check on the company’s organisation and trustworthiness in dealing with migrant workers, and assess whether the company is able to monitor and follow that their migrant employees comply with their visa conditions.
There are two types of working visas, and similarly, companies can get a licence to hire either type of worker. The first one is the Tier 2 worker visa, tailored towards non-British nationals coming to the UK as skilled workers with permanent, long-term job offers. This post will focus on how to apply for sponsorship to sponsor those Tier 2 workers. The second type is the Tier 5 worker, who comes to the UK temporarily. Good examples are seasonal workers (e.g. in agriculture) or charity workers.
For both types of sponsorship licence, the Home Office announced in February 2020 that “Employers not currently approved by the Home Office to be a sponsor should consider doing so now if they think they will want to sponsor skilled migrants, including from the EU, from early 2021." If you are an employer who intends to hire non-British workers from January 2020 onwards, it is now beyond time to apply for your sponsor licence, especially since the government has announced multiple changes to the sponsorship system which will make it easier for businesses to obtain a licence.
To facilitate the transition from free movement laws to the new points-based system, the government has proposed to lift the “cap” on numbers of migrant workers, meaning there is no longer a limit on how many companies can obtain such a licence every year. The government has also announced that the required skill level for sponsored job role will be reduced from January onwards, and roles requiring a skill level equivalent (roughly) to A-levels will be eligible for sponsorship, instead of the higher requirement of bachelor’s degree that is in place today. This, again, is to smoothen the transition from EU free movement to the stricter migration rules of the points-based system. Additionally, from January onwards, the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) will no longer apply, meaning that you will be able to hire foreign workers even if there are suitably qualified resident workers able to fill the role for which you are recruiting. This was previously not the case.
For all of these reasons, now seems like the perfect time to apply for a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence. So how should a business go about the application? Applications are made to a specific Tier 2 Sponsor Licence applications team at the Home Office. The process involves two different steps: an initial online form, and then a file of hard copy supporting documents which are due to be submitted within 5 working days of the online form.
The basic criteria that a company needs to meet to receive a sponsorship licence are numerous. Firstly, the business must be based in the UK. Secondly, the business must be “genuine,” and trading lawfully in the UK, meaning that the business will have to provide details of their organisational and sectoral structure. Supporting documents will need to include, for example, an up to date hierarchy chart detailing any owner, director and board members.
Thirdly, the business must be “honest, dependable and reliable,” a subjective and relatively vague requirement which is usually proven by submitting previous projects, reviews and contracts that show that the company lives up to its promises. Broadly, the supporting documents serve to show the Home Office that the sponsor company is capable of complying with sponsor duties and responsibilities and does not pose a threat to immigration control. The more details the sponsor provides, the better. That is why the business owner will also have to include details about the role(s) they are looking to fill, to ensure that these roles meet the skill, salary and qualification requirements for eligibility for foreign workers.
As such, to hold a Tier 2 Sponsor licence, the applicant organisation must have Human Resources systems in place to ensure that they are able to meet the various sponsor's duties and responsibilities as set out in the guidance. No details are provided as to what such a system entails, but broadly, the company must use this system to ensure accurate monitoring of employees’ immigration status, track and record their work attendance, and keeping copies of relevant documents for each employee.
As reiterated in the guidance, sponsorship is a privilege, not a right. That is why the process is not as straightforward as it could be – the applicant company has to earn the privilege of being a sponsor, and the burden of proof lies on them to demonstrate that they have done so. If you are looking to hire overseas workers, do not hesitate to contact us to help you with your Tier 2 Sponsor Licence application.
If you have any questions regarding absences or the EU settlement scheme, please do not hesitate to contact us here or send us a question on WhatsApp.
Last Monday, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced more details on the new points-based immigration system, which is set to come into force under six months from now on 1 January 2021. The new system is designed to compensate for the end of free movement of people with the European Union (EU), a system which allowed EU citizens to work in the UK (and UK citizens in the EU) without having to apply for immigration status.
The 130-page document published by the Home Office last week gives more guidance on how this Points-Based System, which in reality is not new, but a rebranding of the system currently in force, might work.
From the outset, the document states it sets out the main “economic migration” routes for post-Brexit Britain. Indeed, the document solely addresses immigration issues which bring some type of direct economic gain to the UK – from high-skilled workers and investor visas to student and seasonal visas. It does not deal with other (problematic) aspects of the immigration system, be it the insanity of indefinite detention, the abysmal amount of asylum support for asylum seekers during the pandemic, the cruelty of the hostile environment or the many faults of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). There is no mention of the stringent family requirements, or extortionate visa fees, except to say that the Immigration Health Surcharge is here to stay. It may be refunded or cancelled for NHS and social care workers, and wider health workers.
As known from previously released guidance, the points-based visa system takes different factors like skills and language into account when awarding visas which allow foreign nationals to work in the UK.
As such, workers need to score 50 points from the general requirements (meaning they need to have a job offer for a job at the “appropriate” skill level from an approved employer). In addition, they need to speak English, and then score an additional 20 points based on the salary level, job type or, alternatively, by possessing a PhD. The general minimum starting salary for a job offer is £25,600, unless it is a job on the shortage occupation list, or if the applicant has a PhD relevant to the job. In those cases, the salary threshold may be lowered to £20,480.
Hoping to live up to their promise to take back control, the government has previously said it hoped Britons would fill a shortfall of around 120,000 workers, equating to 10% of all vacancies. In addition, the cap on the amount of migrant workers allowed to come to the UK is removed to allow employers to recruit more from overseas.
Initiatives like the much-awaited NHS visa, are also supposed to plug one of the main gaps in the labour market. Branded the new “Health and Care visa,” NHS clinical staff applicants will enjoy reduced visa fees and fast-track processes. Despite the name, however, the visa does not actually extend to care workers, as salaries and/or skill-levels for care jobs are often below the required threshold. Considering 17% of care jobs are currently filled by foreign citizens, there would still be a shortfall of at least 7% even if the ambitious Home Office goal of 10% is met. A solution to this shortfall could be to put these carer jobs on the shortage occupation list – but, in Home Office organisational tradition, that list has not been published yet.
So, not only is it unknown which jobs will qualify as shortage occupations, leaving people guessing at which jobs they may apply for and at which rate, but the logic of such a lowered threshold also seems flawed – if these positions are hard to fill, then how would offering lower salaries help attract more applicants?
A similar problem arises when it comes to seasonal (agricultural) workers. Whilst the government has made arrangements for seasonal harvest workers, the cap et on foreign harvesters falls below what the National Farmers’ Union recommended. The updated guidance fails to address this, instead stating that the farming sector will be reassessed at the end of this year after the end of a pilot scheme. In the meantime, crops are left to wither as the looming end of free movement is compounded by pandemic-related border closures, and seasonal harvesters fail to make it in time.
For businesses, the Immigration Skill Charge levied on employers remains unchanged, meaning that in addition to third-party nationals, ‘new’ EU/EEA/Swiss citizens from 1 January 2021 will cost businesses £1,000 per employee, per year. There is a reduced charge of £364 per employee, per year for small or charitable organisations. There will also not be a charge levied on EU citizens with status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
For students, the old ‘Graduate Route’ reopens in summer 2021, allowing students to stay in the UK for two years after their graduation to work or look for work. If they want to stay beyond those two years, they will have to switch into another visa category. The updated guidance focuses on working visas, rather than other options such as spousal or family visas.
As promised, the new guidance focuses on economic migration, wilfully overlooking other, more humane visa routes such as family or asylum. The focus of the guidance is on jobs, economic worth and border security. Yet, even for workers and economic supply chains, it fails to deliver, as it lacks overall detail on who will and won't be able to work in the UK once the points-based system actually takes effect.
If you need assistance you can contact us here, call us on 020 8142 8211 or send us a question on WhatsApp.
Every day, at 8PM, millions of people across the country clap for our healthcare workers, an initiative which has been encouraged by the government. Meanwhile, as coronavirus numbers soar to almost a thousand deaths a day in the UK, the Home Office published updated guidance for employers on navigating working visas once the new points-based immigration system comes into force on 1 January 2021. Whilst encouraging signs of solidarity, the government is thus detailing the ins and outs of an immigration system which will likely stop many of the people we clap for from coming to work in the UK once it becomes law.
The new guidance lays out that all workers will have to be sufficiently qualified (at the minimum, they must have A-level equivalence) and speak sufficient English in order to get a visa. Highly skilled workers are the only ones who can come to the UK without a job offer. In order to do so, they need to get an endorsement from a relevant competent body in order to obtain a Global Talent Visa.
Any other individual who wants to come work in the UK will need to have a job offer from an approved sponsor. To become an approved sponsor, employers who want to recruit migrant workers will need to take active steps. They will have to check that their business is eligible, and choose which type of workers they are looking to hire: skilled workers with long-term job offers, or temporary workers. Employers will then have to put in place a framework within their business to deal with the sponsorship process, apply online and pay an application fee ranging from £536 to £1,476, depending on the type of business. The whole process usually takes about 8 weeks. Once they become an approved sponsor, they can recruit people without UK residency to fill their job openings.
If an individual, then, receives a job offer from an approved sponsor, they will need to meet a minimum income threshold on top of the language and skill requirements. The general minimum salary threshold is set at £25,600. For some jobs, the threshold may be higher, if the Home Office estimates that it is a higher paid occupation.
If an individual does not meet the income threshold, they may still be eligible for a visa if they can demonstrate that they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation or a PhD relevant to the job. For these occupations, the income threshold is lowered to £20,480. The list of shortage occupations, which includes doctors and nurses, is published by the Migrant Advisory Committee.
Concerning lower-skilled workers, the guidance explicitly reiterates that “there will NOT be an immigration route specifically for those who do not meet the skills or salary threshold for the skilled worker route.” The skill level for different jobs can be found in Appendix J of the Immigration Rules.
Considering that the average health care worker in the UK makes £19,080 a year, the timing of this publication seems peculiar to say the least. As our Director suggests, how does it make sense for the Home Office state that care workers, nurses, hospital porters, cleaners, logistics personnel, postal workers, etc. will not be able to apply for visa under the new immigration system in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis? It is hard to imagine that the Home Office has a valid reason for needlessly doubling down on an immigration policy which fails to take care of the workers who, in times of crisis, put everything at risk to take care of us.
Just a month ago, when the government introduced its new points-based immigration system, a lot of workers in the health, food production, and transport industries were considered unskilled workers, and unwelcome in post-Brexit Britain.
The basics of the proposed points-based system are clear. If a worker does not have a secondary school diploma, does not speak English, or their salary falls below £25,600, the door to the UK is closed for them. As it turns out, a lot of these “low-skilled” workers are now considered essential in the fight to manage, control and survive the coronavirus crisis. In the current circumstances, they have been put under additional strain.
The trend to bulk buy has put staff in supermarkets and grocery stores under significant pressure, with one employee writing that him and his co-workers have been working long days on their feet, anticipating the next few weeks to be “a nightmare,” and advising against panic buying. There is no reason to bulk buy: there are no food shortages anywhere in Europe, and supermarkets are staying open throughout nation-wide lockdowns as they are part of a (small) group of essential businesses which are exempt from the new rules.
But this may soon change. Agricultural workers from eastern Europe usually fill the majority of jobs on farms. The combination of Brexit caps on seasonal workers with strict coronavirus travel restrictions has slowed recruitment in agriculture, and the EU labour force is simply not coming through. UK farmers find themselves in a crisis and could face a shortage of 80,000 labourers this summer if the Government fails to intervene. These spots as fruit pickers need to be filled by British workers or fruit and vegetables will be left unpicked, and stocks could be put in danger.
Jobs now classified as “key workers” include NHS staff, social workers, the police and military, and those working in food distribution, energy, utilities and transportation. In other words, the people sustaining essential businesses are, by extent, deemed essential workers, as they help feed and care for a country in standstill.
Only a few weeks ago, Johnson’s government described these people and the jobs they filled as “low skilled”, stating that the government “intends to create a high wage, high-skill, high productivity economy.” If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the stark dissonance between this government’s policy on who is key in keeping the economy running and the truth on who is actually keeping the country together. It proves that “low-skilled” labour does not equate low-value labour. Recognising these workers as “key” or “essential” is a step towards recognising that they form the backbone of our society and without them, British civilisation would have already collapsed. The question remains whether this will be reflected in immigration policy when all of this blows over, and the pandemic finally dies down.
The United Kingdom (UK) left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020. Since then, the government has been rolling out changes to the immigration system, adapting it to a world without free movement to and from Europe. Today, the government finally revealed its plan for post-Brexit economic migration in Britain. At its core is the idea of “taking back control,” a slogan which won the 2016 Brexit referendum, implemented through the end of free movement, a new visa system for EU and third-party nationals alike and a focus on “skilled migrants” to reduce overall immigration.
Under the current immigration rules, EU citizens do not need a visa to work and live in the UK because they benefit from freedom of movement. Those from outside the EU have to meet certain requirements such as English language skills, sponsorship by a company and a salary threshold in order to apply for a visa. There is a cap of 21,000 on the number of visas awarded per year.
Following the new plan, freedom of movement with the EU will end, and EU nationals will be subject to the same exact rules as non-EU nationals. As such, people coming to the UK from any country in the world for the purpose of work or study, other than some short-term business visitors and short-term students, will have to obtain a visa for which they will pay a fee. In addition, employers will have to pay an Immigration Skills surcharge on their migrant employees, and migrants from in and outside of the EU will have to pay an Immigration Health Surcharge. The only group unaffected by the new rules are Irish nationals, which the government states will be able to enter and exit the UK the same way they always have.
… to an Australian points-based system?
Freedom of movement will be replaced by with what the government calls a points-based system, supposedly modelled after the Australian immigration system which allows economic migrants to settle if they can demonstrate that they have a blend of skills and qualifications adding up to enough points. The selling point of a true points-based system is its flexibility, as it allows migrants to mix and match from a list of characteristics to reach the necessary threshold, and then settle in the host country without having to meet any mandatory requirements, such as an employment sponsorship as one needs in the US for example.
The government proposals released today, however, fail to offer that flexibility and probably explains the complete absence of the term ‘Australia-style’ system. The plan requires all economic migrants wanting to come to the UK to fulfil three essential requirements, which are worth 50 points all together. In addition to that, individuals will have to score another 20 points based on their salary expectations to reach 70 points overall, and be eligible to apply for a visa. The minimum salary threshold to reach 70 points automatically is set at £25,600. If the applicant earns less than that required minimum salary threshold, but no less than £20,480, they may still be able to reach 70 points by demonstrating that they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation such as nursing, or that they have a PhD relevant to the job. The policy paper specifically states that there will be no regional concessions to different parts of the UK, nor will there be a dedicated route for self-employed people.
The three essential requirements are knowledge of the English language, a job offer from an approved sponsor, and a job at the appropriate skill level. These mandatory requirements differentiate the system from its Australian counterpart, and therefore, the plan is not a true points-based system. Especially the job offer requirement flies in the face of the Australian analogy, where every year, the largest percentage of new economic permanent resident visas are awarded to individuals without a job offer, but who make up for it with other skills or abilities from the list.
For highly-skilled workers, the government laid out its extended Global Talent visa route on the day Britain left the EU. Through this scheme, the most highly skilled, who can achieve the required level of points, will be able to enter the UK without a job offer if they are endorsed by a relevant and competent body. For now, this forms the only exception to the job offer requirement, although the policy plan promises to roll out a broader unsponsored route within the points-based system to run alongside the employer-led system in the future.
The appropriate skill level under the points-based system is set at the equivalent to A-levels. Anyone who does not meet that level will not be able to apply, as it is one of the mandatory requirements. Additionally, the plan explicitly states that there will be no general low-skilled or temporary work route ‘…shifting the focus of [the UK] economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe…’, leaving immense labour shortages in specific industries. The list of low-skilled workers industries includes waiters, waitresses, elementary agriculture workers and fishery workers. The report unhelpfully states ‘Employers will need to adjust.’
Special arrangements are put in place for certain sectors such as scientists, graduates, NHS workers, to fill the gap, but these arrangements are unlikely to resolve the immense labour shortage created. The cap for the agricultural sector, for example, is increasing to 10,000 places per year for seasonal workers who harvest the fields, but remains far below the National Farmers’ Union’s (NFU) demands for 70,000 temporary visas in 2021. Nothing is mentioned of other groups likely to get caught up in the low-skilled workers group such as care home workers, waiters, cleaners or domestic workers. This drew immediate criticism from people in the sector, as the hospitality sector, for instance, famously relies on an EU national workforce, with Pret A Manger reporting that only one in 50 job applicants was a British national in 2018.
The newly released plan indicates a major overhaul in the UK’s approach to economic migration. It does not, however, affect students, family migration, or asylum law. Notably, none of these changes will take effect immediately. The transitional period, in which EU nationals are still free to exercise their free movement rights in the same way they were when the UK was still a part of the EU, is set to end on 31 December 2020. On 1 January 2021, then, is when the proposed changes will come into force. Even then, they will not take effect retroactively. As such, they will not affect the millions of EU citizens already living in the UK, and the job market is not going to change overnight. They will, however, change the composition of who comes and stays in the UK in the future. But for the 2016 Brexit voters, that future may be too far away to offer satisfaction.
On 29 March 2017, the United Kingdom notified the European Council of its intention to leave the European Union, in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. After almost three years of delay, powerplay and disarray, the day has finally come. Yesterday, the European Parliament officially approved the Withdrawal Agreement. Emotional but sober images of Remain MEPs singing Auld Lang Syne as MEPs signed the Agreement. At 23:00 tonight the British Union flag will be removed from the European institutions in Brussels, and the EU flag lowered from City Hall in London. The UK will officially no longer be a part of the European Union. In anticipation of this, steps have been taken to prepare the country for a complete upheaval of the legal and political framework in the UK.
In an act of defiance, the Scottish government narrowly won a vote to keep the EU flag flying over the Edinburgh parliament building after Brexit. Because, as Fiona Hyslop, cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs, stated, “at times of uncertainty and disruption, symbols matter.”
And symbols do matter. They do not, however, define what will happen to EU citizens living in the UK in practice – not in the short term. What will change, here and now, for EU citizens coming to the UK and the other way around? Obviously, a lot. Today the government published a Statement of changes to the Immigration Rules, officialising the first immediate change in the law of the UK in practice.
It introduces a new visa category called “Global Talent.” This will replace the existing Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) category. The Global Talent visa is branded as a new type of visa for talented and promising individuals in the fields of science, digital technology, arts and culture wanting to work and research in the UK.
The process to receive this visa is not dissimilar from the old Exceptional Talent route: Global Talent applicants must hold an endorsement from an organisation engaged by the Home office to develop sector-specific criteria, just like before. The main difference is that the new Global Talent category will not be subject to a cap on the number of applicants, whereas the ole Exceptional Talent category was capped at 2000 places per year. The removal of the cap is supposed to ensure that migrants who can meet the qualifying criteria will be able to secure entry to the UK. Applicants will be able to choose how much leave, in whole years, up to a maximum of 5 years they wish to be granted in a single application, and pay their immigration health surcharge accordingly.
The new category will take effect on 20 February 2020 – real and tangible changes to many other areas of the law will follow until the end of the transition period in June 2021. Incremental change as well as major overhauls will transform the UK after Brexit, including Scotland, and no flag waving above Holyrood will change that.
Last week’s general election means the Conservative Party now has a clear majority in government to fulfil the many promises they made in their manifesto, including major overhauls to immigration policy. Not only did Boris Johnson vow to get Brexit done by the New Year, but his party also plans to put EU nationals on the same level as third party nationals once free movement law ends. This in and of itself is a radical approach to immigration law, and will have major consequences for EU citizens in the UK.
After Brexit, once EU nationals are levelled with third party nationals, the conservatives want to introduce what they call a points-based immigration system, which they proclaim to base on the Australian visa system. The plan, broadly, is to introduce three visa categories after Brexit, for which anyone who moves to the UK will have to apply, and which replace existing categories.
The first is the “Exceptional Talent/Contribution” category, and includes the entrepreneur and investor visa. These visas are geared towards “highly educated migrants who have received world-leading awards or otherwise demonstrated exceptional talent, sponsored entrepreneurs setting up a new business or investors.” These people will not require a job offer and will receive fast-track entry to the UK. This category is not dissimilar from the current Tier 1 visa category, albeit with some minor changes.
The second category is for skilled workers, and to some extent, is a rebrand of the current Tier 2 category. The vast majority of these visas would require a job offer, in line with how work visas are allocated to third party nationals now. The skilled workers category is the only way for workers who meet the criteria of the points-based system and have a confirmed job offer to get limited leave to remain. It will effectively require all non-British nationals to prove that they have a job offer as well as reach the amount of points required under the points-based system. Needless to say, implementing this will constitute the most significant change compared to free movement law, which is currently in force, as it requires EU national to comply with visa requirements. This will have a massive impact on fields such as hospitality, where EU nationals make up more than half of the workforce, and the NHS. The Conservative party propose to make up for that potential labour shortage by introducing fast-track entry and reduced fees for certain special types of work, such as a NHS specific visa.
The general idea behind a points-based system is that people are scored on their personal attributes such as language skills, education, age and work experience. If their score hits the minimum required, they can acquire a visa. Crucially, there is no one fixed way to score enough points; a plethora of work experience can make up for older age and excellent language skills might make up for lack of formal education. As long as an individual’s different attributes add up to enough points, they will be granted a visa. The key point about points-based systems is not that they are inherently liberal or progressive; whether it is a liberal system will depend on how points are awarded. Rather, the key feature is their flexibility and the ability to get enough points by making any combination of characteristics. That is how the Australian points-based system works.
Contrastingly, the UK immigration system today is based on mandatory requirements. This is a system where applicants need to tick all the boxes in order to be granted a visa. For example, an applicant will need to prove his language skills, have a certain amount in savings, show that they have a job offer AND show that they will be making a minimum salary. If the individual lacks one of those requirements the visa will be refused, that is how simple it is.
The issues with the Tories’ proposals is that they want the best of both worlds. They want to introduce point-based characteristics, but keep the mandatory requirement of a job offer, combining mandatory requirements with points-based elements. Essentially, they want a points-based system where, after making the points-based selection, they can cherry pick who is granted a visa and who is not. As such, although they like to call it a points-based system, it not really points-based, and it is certainly not as simple or easy to navigate as portrayed by the Party.
The third category is the “sector-specific rules-based” category, which will be made up of specific temporary schemes such as for low-skilled labour, youth mobility or short-term visits. These visas will be time-limited and will not provide a path to settlement. They are how the government will attempt to match the demand for workers in specific sectors with enough visas to supply that demand. Supposedly, these visas will replace the free movement of labour with state planning. Deciding which markets need workers will be outsourced from the Home Office to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC). This means that the MAC would react to gaps in the economy, flag them up, and the government will then create a temporary visa category to fill the gap. These will be revised on an ongoing basis based on expert advice from the MAC. In other words, the temporary visas will be reactionary in nature. They will be time-limited and will not provide a path to settlement. If this sounds difficult, that’s because it is. The economy adapts to reality more quickly than the law, and new policy takes months, if not years, to come into force. By the time a new visa category actually opens, the gap in the job market it was trying to fill may well have been resolved by market forces.
As an attentive reader may notice, the only migrants mentioned in the Conservative policy proposals are economic immigrants. The manifesto does not mention changes to other areas of the current immigration regime. It retains the status quo of Theresa May’s controversial hostile environment policies, fails to tackle legal aid cuts, and does not propose any change to the clear human rights violation of indefinite detention, for example. Additionally, the manifesto indicates an attack on judicial review. Since the removal and erosion of appeal rights in the 2014 Immigration Act, judicial review is now often the only recourse to justice for many people who have been wronged by the immigration system. Reforming judicial review, and limiting its scope, removes another layer of checks and balances on Home Office powers, suggesting that not only labour rights, but also human rights, are set to be qualified and watered down after Brexit and once this government starts rolling out policy.