On 16 March 2017, the Home Office laid before Parliament a number of changes to the immigration rules. There are several changes to the Tier 2 route for skilled workers, the majority of which will impact migrant workers who are assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship on or after 6 April 2017. We set out a summary of some of the key changes.
Immigration Skills Charge
Back in March 2016, the Home Office announced an Immigration Skills Charge would be introduced which must be paid by employers of sponsored migrants. A charge of £1000 per skilled worker per year will apply in both the Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer (ICT)) routes. The charge is £364 for small and charitable sponsors. Those in PhD-level occupations, ICT graduate trainees and those switching from Tier 4 to Tier 2 in the UK will be exempt from this fee.
The Home Office has not yet released full details on the mechanism for paying this fee but has stated that it will be paid at the point of assigning the Certificate of Sponsorship and must be paid by debit or credit card. Further guidance on how this will be administered is due to be published on 6 April 2017. In readiness for this change, businesses would be well advised to check the limit on their company credit cards and extend their current credit limits if needs be as this could create substantial additional costs for employers who sponsor a significant volume of migrants each year.
Tier 2 – Intra company Transfer changes
The current ICT sub-categories will be simplified by requiring all ICT migrants to qualify under a single visa category, with a minimum salary threshold of £41,500.
Historically, Tier 2 migrants who earn in excess of £155,300 have been able to remain in the UK for a total period of nine years rather than the usual five years which applies to anyone else in this category. This high earner threshold has now been reduced for the ICT category and will apply to anyone earning £120,000 per annum or above.
Under the current rules, migrants must have worked for the overseas entity for at least the past 12 months in order to qualify under the Tier 2 ICT category. This requirement will no longer apply from 6 April for anyone paid £73,900 or above.
Tier 2 General Changes
The minimum salary threshold for Tier 2 General workers will increase from £25,000 to £30,000 per annum for experienced workers. Some jobs in the health and education sectors are exempt until 1 July 2019.
The Resident Labour Market Test requirement will be lifted for posts which support the relocation of a high value business to the UK or a significant new inward investment project. No further details have been provided on this yet but we suspect significant evidence of the project and its impact on the UK business would be required in such situations.
Further changes which will impact both the Tier 2 ICT and General sub-categories are that there will be updates to the salary thresholds on the Standard Occupational Codes which are again likely to be published on 6 April 2017. Clarity and consistency as to which types of allowance will be considered against the salary requirement will also be provided.
Immigration Health Surcharge
The Immigration Health Surcharge has only applied to Tier 2 General migrants since it was introduced in 2015. As of 6 April this fee will also be rolled out to Tier 2 ICT migrants and their dependants. The fee is £200 per year, per applicant and is paid at the point of making a visa application or an in-country application for further leave to remain.
Overseas criminal record certificates
Tier 2 General applicants coming to work in the education, health and social care sectors and their adult dependants will be required to gain overseas criminal record certificates before applying for their visas. Although this currently only applies to select areas of the Standard Occupation Classification codes it will be interesting to see if this is rolled out more widely in the future in line with processes in countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
Changes to visit visas, Tier 4 applications as well as minor changes and clarifications to the immigration rules relating to family and private life have also been announced.