As always, the beginning of April marks the introduction of a number of changes to the immigration rules.  A summary of the changes which are of most note to employers are set out below:

Biometric Residence Permits (“BRP”)

In March, the Home Office implemented changes to the visa process for applicants in Pakistan.  From mid-April, these changes will be rolled out to 31 other countries.  Under the new system, overseas applicants still have to enrol their biometric details but those who successfully apply for leave to enter the UK for more than six months will receive only a decision letter and a temporary 30 day vignette in their passport which will enable them to travel to the UK.  The letter will confirm the details of the designated post office (based on the post code given in the application form) from which the applicant must collect their BRP once they arrive in the UK.  The BRP must be collected by the individual within 10 days of their arrival in the UK – if it is not collected then the individual may be subject to a financial penalty or even have their leave cancelled.

With an additional 35 countries adopting the new process at the end of May and the rest of the world following suit at the end of July, the new BRP process will be in force everywhere before the end of the summer.  Careful consideration will need to be given to the worker’s expected travel date when the visa application is made as they will only have a 30 day travel window – if they do not travel within the expected period they will need to apply for a new short term visa to enter the UK.  Similarly, it is crucial that the individual is able to collect their BRP within the days following their arrival in the UK and before they start work.

Tier 1 (General) - No further extensions permitted

The popular Tier 1 (General) category closed to new applicants in-country in 2011.  From 6 April, as part of the total phasing out of the category, the Home Office has announced that it will no longer grant extensions to those individuals who currently hold Tier 1 (General) visas, instead individuals will either have to apply for settlement or, if they are not eligible, switch to sponsorship under Tier 2 (General).  For those individuals who extended their leave to remain within Tier 1 (General) prior to the April deadline, it is important to note that any application for indefinite leave to remain on the basis of time spent in the UK within Tier 1 must be made before 5 April 2018.

Tier 2 changes

Increases to minimum salaries

There has been a small increase in the annual minimum salary thresholds for Tier 2 and the appropriate salary rates for individual occupations as set out in the Codes of Practice.  For Tier 2 General, the minimum salary requirement is now £20,800.

Tier 2 (ICT) Short Term Staff roles (ie Skills Transfer or Graduate Trainee roles) must now be paid at a rate of at least £24,800 whilst the minimum salary level for Tier 2 (ICT) Long Term Staff roles has increased to £41,500.

Salary Associated Exemptions

In order to qualify for exemption from advertising via Universal Jobmatch, a role must now have a salary of at least £72,500.

For a Tier 2 (General) role to be exempt from the annual limit and the resident labour market test, a role must now have a minimum salary of £155,300.  To qualify for up to nine years of leave within the Tier 2 (ICT) Long Term Staff category, the role must also now be paid at an annual rate of at least £155,300.

Other Tier 2 Changes

Where migrants have been granted less than 3 months leave in the UK under Tier 2, the 12 month cooling off period will no longer apply.  This is likely to be welcomed by employers who will now have the flexibility to transfer staff to the UK for very short periods.

The Tier 2 (General) annual limit of 20,700 remains unchanged.  However, the limit has been rebalanced to allow for more places to be available in April at the start of the “CoS year” which has been identified as the period when demand for certificates is higher.

Visitor Visas: Changes with effect from 24 April 2015

Existing visitor routes to the UK are to be streamlined.  From 24 April the number of different visitor routes will reduce from 15 to 4. The 4 categories will be:

  1. Visit (standard) – this will incorporate existing visitor routes including the previous tourist and business visitor categories;
  2. Marriage / Civil partnership visit;
  3. Permitted paid engagements visit;
  4. Transit visit.

It is important to note that the scope of permitted activities for a business visitor has not been extended and remains limited.

Further Changes

national health surcharge has now been introduced for nationals from outside the EEA coming to the UK for longer than 6 months (although some visa routes such as intra company transfers are exempt). The surcharge will be £200 per year and £150 per year for students.  All visa applicants need to register and, if appropriate, pay the surcharge following which they will receive a reference number to insert into their visa application form.  Payment must be made for the total period of the individual’s UK visa.  For individuals with a job offer who are travelling to the UK with their families this is going to be a considerable expense and employers will need to consider any assistance that they may wish to offer in this regard.

The UKVI have released the new approved list of English language test providers. Going forward, only Trinity College London and the IELTS SELT Consortium remain as approved providers.

The Home Office is expanding the instances where administrative review is available to correct case working errors in decisions where there is no right of appeal. Administrative review will be available for decisions on applications for leave to remain in all cases save for a couple of exceptions which should make the process more straightforward if things go wrong with an application.

Finally, employers should be mindful that the changes to the immigration rules mean that there will be updated application forms and policy guidance.  April also sees an increase in visa application fees and so employers should remind their workers and candidates to check that they are using the right version and have budgeted for the correct fee together with the NHS surcharge.