Each year the Government introduces new changes to the UK immigration system. Earlier this year we saw the introduction of:

  • the Immigration Health Surcharge
  • a new list of approved secure English Language tests
  • streamlining of the visitor visa routes from 15 down to four
  • salary thresholds being increased and many more.

On 29th October 2015, the new Statement of Changes in the Immigration Rules was released and highlighted a number of new changes which will come in to effect as of 12th November 2015 and 6th April 2016.

The question on most organisations’ minds is whether these changes will make things easier or more difficult for employers. We have reviewed the main changes which businesses will be affected by and highlighted the implications that they may have on business and their employees.

Changes coming in to effect as of 12th November 2015

English Language Tests

English language tests which have already been taken but are not on the Secure English Language Test list cannot be used for Indefinite Leave to Remain and Naturalisation applications (including registration) submitted on or after 12th November 2015.

A list of acceptable tests can now be found here and instead of hundreds of tests to choose from, they have been consolidated down to just five.

The tests on the Secure English Language Test List have a validity of 2 years. It is therefore important to bear in mind that anyone using these tests for their settlement or naturalisation application does not take them too far in advance.

Obtaining a document certifying Permanent Residence for EEA nationals and their family members

An EEA national or their family member wanting to apply for Naturalisation will need to apply for a document certifying their permanent residence before they can naturalise. Previously EEA nationals automatically acquired Permanent Residence status in the UK after exercising their treaty rights in the UK for 5 continuous years.

Anyone affected by this change will feel this is an additional and lengthy step in their process; previously a person was able to apply for Naturalisation after holding permanent residence status for one year which was acquired automatically.

Why is the Home Office requesting this now? The change will mean that consideration of permanent residence will be completed prior to the citizenship process, thus reducing the complexities and any additional time needed to currently consider a citizenship application from an EEA national or family member.

Not only is this an additional step, but it also comes at the cost of £65 to obtain a document certifying permanent residence. However, process is cumbersome, document intensive and the form confusing. There is one particular page of the application form which asks you to go to a specific section and should a person move straight to that section without turning the page then they will find they have failed to complete an entire part the completion of which is mandatory.

Needless to say the introduction of obtaining a document certifying permanent residence will be a burden for most EEA nationals and their family members, and they can expect to be without their passport for a while whilst the application is being considered.

Changes coming in to effect as of 6th April 2016

Salary threshold for Indefinite Leave to Remain applications will be increased to £35,000 – Tier 2 migrants who wish to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK after completing 5 years of continued employment will need to be paid a salary of at least £35,000 per annum.

The salary paid to the person applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain must be at least equal to the appropriate rate for the job as stated in the Codes of Practice in Appendix J and be at least £35,000 on the date of application.

Most organisations wonder how they know if this change applies to anyone employed by them; the good news is that there are exceptions; the £35,000 salary threshold does not apply if:

  • The 5 year continuous period includes period of leave as Qualifying Work Permit Holder, or
  • A Tier 2 Migrant, where the Certificate of Sponsorship which led to that grant of leave was assigned to the applicant by his Sponsor before 6 April 2011.

Nor does the threshold apply if the Certificate of Sponsorship which led to the applicant’s most recent grant of leave was for a job which:

  • Appears on the list of PhD-level occupation codes as stated in the codes of practice in Appendix J;
  • Appears on the Shortage Occupation List in Appendix K;
  • Previously appeared on the Shortage Occupation List, in Appendix K, at any time when the applicant:
  1. had leave as a Tier 2 (General) Migrant, in which he was sponsored for the applicable job, either with the same or a different employer, during the continuous 6-year period ending on the date of application for Indefinite Leave to Remain, or
  2. was assigned a Certificate of Sponsorship for that job, either with the same or a different employer, which led to a grant of leave as a Tier 2 (General) Migrant during the continuous 6-year period ending on the date of application for indefinite leave to remain.

The government have also confirmed that the thresholds will be increased each year in-line with wage inflation. The planned increases are:

  1. £35,000 if the date of application is on or after 6 April 2016
  2. £35,500 if the date of application is on or after 6 April 2018
  3. £35,800 if the date of application is on or after 6 April 2019
  4. £36,200 if the date of application is on or after 6 April 2020

Online verification system for English language tests

Additional changes have been made to the evidence requirements for English language to reflect the online verification system introduced as part of the additional security features for Secure English Language Tests. Applicants are given a unique identifier number when taking the test and must include that number in their application for leave. Caseworkers use that number to verify the test result directly with the test provider. Individuals are no longer required to submit a test certificate. Without this reference caseworkers will not be able to verify the results even if a certificate is submitted. As such, it is essential to follow this instruction carefully.

Will nurses remain on the Shortage Occupation List

The review of the Shortage Occupation List was due in April 2016, but was brought forward and encompassed changes, including nurses in view of the potential risks associated with high nursing vacancy rates while the NHS is experiencing winter pressures. If the Migration Advisory Committee concludes that there is insufficient evidence to justify the continued inclusion of nurses, they will be removed from the Shortage Occupation List in a future Statement of Changes.

The addition of the nurses to the Shortage Occupation List means that nursing jobs will not be subject to the Resident Labour Market Test and will be given higher priority when allocating places in the Tier 2 limit. They will also be exempt from the earnings threshold when they apply for settlement. This will apply to nurses who are currently sponsored under Tier 2 who will continue to be exempt from this threshold, even if nurses are removed from the Shortage Occupation List in future.

Four roles in the digital technology sector have also been added to the Shortage Occupation List. The additions relates to jobs based in small and medium-sized qualifying companies, requiring five or more years’ relevant experience and demonstrable experience of having led a team.

Entry clearance grants are to be post dated for up to 14 days after the start date

This change is being introduced to enable making collecting Biometric Residence Permit cards easier and providing flexibility. Currently we are noticing that there can be slight changes in migrants’ travel plans and given the dates they need to collect their BRP cards by preventing them from being flexible which sometimes has an impact on the business as they do require some level of flexibility.

Amendments to Tier 2 and Tier 5

Following numerous requests from businesses for clarification, there is an amended being made to policy that Tier 2 and 5 migrants cannot be absent from work without pay for 30 days or more in total during any calendar year. This is being amended to four weeks per year, according to the migrants work pattern.

Another change which is being made is to clarify the 12 months’ previous experience requirement for Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) applicants to reflect that the category is for internationally established companies, and the experience overseas may have been with an established business, which is linked by common ownership or control to the sponsor, rather than the sponsor itself. 

Maintenance for Tier 2 dependants – under the current immigration rules family members of Tier 2 migrants who apply to extend their stay in the UK after the main applicant have to meet the maintenance requirement. This rule is being changed so that dependants extending their leave in the UK will also be exempt from meeting the maintenance requirement.

This change is one that needed to be implemented a long time ago, as the dependants are also applying to extend their leave from within the UK and have no valid reason to have to meet the maintenance requirement again.

There are changes which have not been referred to here as these changes are the main ones affecting most businesses.  The above summarises the main changes which will affect business operations, this is the opportunity to prepare your Management and Staff in advance for the impending, significant changes to the Immigration Rules.