Immigration remains a hot topic in the UK. In 2010 David Cameron committed to reduce the level of net migration – the number of migrants coming to the UK less those emigrating overseas – to ‘tens of thousands’.

Below we summarise some recent immigration developments as well as some upcoming changes of which you should be aware of if you currently employ, or are considering employing, overseas workers.

Tier 2 General – Restricted Certificates of Sponsorship (RCoS) Cap exceeded

In 2011 the UKVI set an annual cap of 20,700 visas under Tier 2 General for each allocation year running from April to April. The cap is split into a monthly allocation, with 1,650 certificates of sponsorship available in most months. The cap applies to overseas applicants for roles requiring the resident labour market test to be conducted with a salary under £155,300 per year and also to UK applicants who are currently on Tier 4 dependant visas.

The skilled migrant cap in the Tier 2 General category was reached in June, July and August 2015. This resulted in many UK employers being unable to hire the skilled non-European workers they need to plug the skills gap, to train their UK workforce and to expand to overseas markets.

For further information about the impact of the cap please see our e-alert.

RCoS – Introduction of new points scoring table in October 2015

To determine which applications to refuse and which to grant, the UKVI applies a points system. Priority is granted to applications from those who score the highest. The current salary bands are wide e.g. roles paying £32,000 to £45,999.99 score 15 points. This increases the chances of refusal for anyone applying in that bracket under the current system – under the current rules applications for roles paying under £46,000 were refused in June 2015.

In an effort to ease disruption and increase the number of RCoS which can be issued in each month, the UKVI intends to introduce a new points table in October 2015 with more salary bands under which points will be allocated. This means, for example, that in June 2015 roles paying over £34,000 would have been approved.

European Court of Justice – Recent judgement about European Benefit Tourists

On 14 September the ECJ ruled against David Cameron’s demand to limit how long EU jobseekers can stay in Britain.

The ECJ largely upheld Britain and Germany’s efforts to clamp down on so-called “benefit tourism”, including the restriction of certain benefits to unemployed EU migrants. However, it warned that it would be illegal for governments to automatically expel legitimate jobseekers after a set period if those individuals could show that they were continuing to seek work and had a genuine chance of being employed.

While the UK government will be pleased the judges make it easier to restrict benefits to jobseekers, their ruling against expulsions undercuts one of Mr Cameron’s key demands to overhaul EU migration rules; a reform he aims to secure ahead of a referendum on British membership by 2017. It remains to be seen how the government respond to this judgement and the impact on its highly publicised policy.

Crack down on illegal working

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire announced on 10 August 2015 that businesses employing illegal workers will be hit with “the full force of government machinery”. This hard hitting message is reinforced by an increasing number of unannounced raids by the Home Office’s expanded enforcement team, not just on perceived higher risk industries such as restaurants, building sites and care homes but also factories and offices. Vikki Wiberg has explored this area in further detail.

Drop in number of Tier 1 Investor Visa Applications

There has been a significant fall in the number of individuals applying for UK Tier 1 Investor visas in 2015. Home Office figures shows a fall in applications of around 82% in the second quarter of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014 – 44 people applied for the Tier 1 Investor visa between April and June 2015, compared to 251 in the same period in 2014. The first quarter of 2015 shows a similar drop in the number of applications with just 58 applications between made January and March.

The fall in applications is likely to be due to a number of factors:

  • A spike in applications just before the increase in required investment from £1 million to £2 million in November 2014.
  • Concerns about changes in taxation surrounding the General Election in May.
  • Increased competition from Investor programmes offered by other European counties, particularly Malta and Cyprus
  • A slowdown in the Chinese market (which accounts for a significant proportion of applications).

The Home Office is consulting through the Migration Advisory Committee on wide ranging changes to Tier 2. These include rolling out the Immigration Health Surcharge to Tier 2 Intra Company Transfer visa holders, stopping dependants from working in the UK and further restricting the roles for which Tier 2 visas are awarded to skilled roles only. If you are contemplating transferring staff to the UK we advise applying before the changes.

The MAC’s findings will be announced in December 2015 with any changes likely to be rolled out from April 2016. Our e-alert on this topic can be found here.