UK immigration changes to significantly affect foreign nationals and employers

The United Kingdom (UK) authorities have announced a number of immigration changes to take place through April 2017.

UK immigration enforcement, London
While the first round of amendments are fairly minor in nature, the changes scheduled for late 2016 and early 2017 will significantly affect foreign nationals and their employers.

Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) Review of Tier 2 Immigration Stream

As reported in our recent Global Brief on this subject, the UK authorities recently commissioned a review of the popular Tier 2 Immigration Route in response to fear of significant program overuse. The changes scheduled for later this year and early 2017 directly stem from this Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) review and report. After further deliberation, it appears as though the UK government has moved forward with most of the recommended changes from the MAC.

What's changed?

In order to provide both affected foreign nationals and their sponsoring companies sufficient time to prepare for these changes, the UK authorities will roll out the amendments in three separate phases through April 2017.

April 6, 2016

The changes coming on April 6, 2016 are independent of the February MAC report and include:
  • Tier 1 – the changes to the Tier 1 Immigration Stream during this phase are fairly minor; generally, there will be an increase in document requirements for most applicants.
  • Tier 2 – the changes to Tier 2 Immigration Stream during this phase will affect the allocation procedures for Tier 2 Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS).
Following a challenging 2016, the UK authorities hope these modifications will help avoid further oversubscription to the Restricted CoS allocations this year.While the annual number of Restricted CoS will remain at its current limit of 27,000, the monthly allocation levels will be amended to fit seasonal demand. In other words, higher numbers of Restricted CoS will be made available during the busiest application months from April – September; consequentially, this means that fewer Restricted CoS will be released from October – March.

Autumn 2016

Some of the changes recommended in the MAC review are scheduled to be rolled out in Autumn of 2016. These changes affect the Tier 2 Immigration Stream and include:
Tier 2 (General)
  • The minimum salary threshold for Tier 2 (General) applicants will be increased in two stages, the first being in Autumn 2016. This first stage will raise the minimum salary to GBP £25,100. Certain public sector occupations such as nurses, paramedics, and teachers will be exempt from these changes until July 2019.
  • Nurses will remain on the Shortage Occupation List, but non-EU/EEA nursing applicants will require a Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) to qualify for a Tier 2 (General) visa.
  • As a point of clarification, there will be no changes for Tier 4 (Student) visa holders applying for a change of status to a Tier 2 (General) visa. Employers can continue to recruit these students exempt from any quotas and RLMT requirements.
Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer)
  • In order to simplify the Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) route, the UK authorities will close two of the current subcategories and merge them under the umbrella Tier 2 (ICT) visa with a minimum annual salary requirement of £41,500.
  • Beginning Autumn 2016, the Tier 2 (ICT – Skills Transfer) visa will be closed to new applicants.
  • The minimum annual salary threshold for Tier 2 (ICT – Short Term Staff) will be amended to £30,000.

Several changes will be implemented for the Tier 2 (ICT – Graduate Trainee) subcategory:

  • The minimum annual salary threshold will be reduced from £24,800 to £23,000.
  • Employers will be able to sponsor up to 20 Tier 2 (ICT – Graduate Trainee) holders (increased from the current limitation of 5).
  • Should a Tier 2 (ICT – Graduate Trainee) visa holder be offered a permanent job after their training period, the applicant will be permitted to switch roles within the company and their applications will be granted additional weight during adjudication.
  • All Tier 2 ICT migrants will be subject to the Immigration Health Surcharge. This one-time government fee is payable upfront at the time of the application.

April 2017

Finally, the most significant changes recommended in the MAC report are tentatively scheduled for implementation in April 2017. This will allow employers and foreign nationals time to plan for the possible impact that the changes may have on their immigration procedures and global mobility programs alike. These changes also affect the Tier 2 Immigration Stream and include:
  • Immigration Skills Charge – one of the most significant changes for companies sponsoring Tier 2 migrants will be the introduction of the Immigration Skills Charge. As recommended in the MAC report, this new fee will be levied as an upfront charge of GBP £1,000 per holder per year. It remains to be seen exactly when the fee will be collected, but many anticipate it will be due at the time of the CoS assignment.
  • Foreign nationals holding PhD occupations, Tier 2 (ICT – Graduate Trainee) holders, and applicants changing status from a Tier 4 (Student) to a Tier 2 (General) visa will be exempt from the Immigration Skills Charge.
  • Small businesses and charities will be granted a reduced Immigration Skills Charge rate of £364 per holder per year.

Tier 2 (General)

  • The second stage of minimum annual salary increases will be implemented, raising the threshold from £25,100 to £30,000.
  • "High Value" businesses relocating to the UK will be granted exemption from labour market testing requirements and given priority in Tier 2 (General) monthly quota limitations.

Tier 2 (ICT)

  • As part of the simplification of the ICT Immigration Stream, the Tier 2 (ICT – Short Term Staff) will be closed to new applications.
  • The minimum annual salary threshold for Tier 2 (ICT) applicants to be eligible for work authorizations of 5-9 years (aka "high earners") will be decreased from £155,300 to £120,000.
  • The minimum annual salary threshold for Tier 2 (ICT) applicants to be exempt from the one (1) year prior experience requirement will be decreased to £73,900.

How these changes affect you

Both sponsoring companies and foreign nationals in the UK alike should take close note of these upcoming changes. While there may be future amendments to the final implementation of the Autumn 2016 and April 2017 changes, it is unlikely that the modifications would be significant.Global Mobility teams overseeing UK immigration programs will be affected by most, if not all, of the above-listed changes. Most significant will be the April 2017 implementation of the Immigration Skills Charge, which can add several thousand pounds to the cost of each application. Other significant changes for employers to note include amendments to the Restricted CoS allocation program, changes to minimum annual salary thresholds for several visa categories, and the simplification of the Tier 2 (ICT) Immigration Stream through April 2017.Pro-Link GLOBAL will continue to monitor the status of these upcoming changes and report on any developments as they are made public by the UK authorities.

For more Relocate news and features about Tier 2 changes in the UK and immigration around the world, go to our immigration section

Caveat Lector | Warning to Reader
This is provided as informational only and does not substitute for actual legal advice based on the specific circumstances of a matter. We would like to remind you that Immigration laws are fluid and can change at a moment's notice without any warning. Please contact an immigration specialist or your client relations manager at Pro-Link GLOBAL should you require any additional clarification. This alert was prepared by your Pro-Link GLOBAL Knowledge Management team.Information contained in this Global Brief is prepared using information obtained from various media outlets, government publications and our KGNM immigration professionals. Written permission from the copyright owner and any other rights holders must be obtained for any reuse of any content posted or published by Pro-Link GLOBAL that extends beyond fair use or other statutory exemptions. Furthermore, responsibility for the determination of the copyright status and securing permission rests with those persons wishing to reuse the materials. Interested parties are welcome to contact the Knowledge Management Department (km@pro-linkglobal.com) with any additional requests for information or to request reproduction of this material.
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