With UK Tier 2 visa changes imminent, organisations are advised to start planning now and ensure the survival of their business.
Responding to criticism of increased salary thresholds, a spokesperson from the Home Office recently said: “This shouldn’t be catching employers by surprise; after all, they’ve had since 2011 – when the new rules were first announced – to prepare for the possibility that their non-EEA personnel may not be earning enough to meet the income threshold.”
With further increases just around the corner, business relying on Tier 2 (General) visas, must start preparing now for the impact this will have in their staffing.
- Be aware of the upcoming Tier 2 visa changes and how they will affect your business
Tier 2 (General) visas are utilised by businesses that sponsor people from outside the EEA to perform sufficiently skilled roles, with sufficiently high salaries.
At present, there is a minimum salary threshold of £20,800, which applies to all occupations. Some occupations have higher salary thresholds.
Last March, the Government announced the baseline minimum threshold would soon be raised from £20,800 to £30,000. This will have an enormous impact on many industries.
- Make your Tier 2 sponsorship applications now
The changes are being implemented gradually, to allow businesses to adjust.
In autumn this year the threshold will be raised to £25,000. Then in April 2017, there will be a further £5000 increase.
Last year, when the Government asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to consider the impact of these proposals, their ultimate aspiration was to raise the threshold to £41,500. Further increases are likely to follow.
The good news is that organisations can secure their short-term future by making applications now, before the changes take effect.
Businesses that apply before autumn can sponsor staff at the old salary rate on a visa that will last five years.
- There is temporary reprieve for some industries
Before introducing this policy, MAC warned that the increases were likely to have a range of detrimental economic impacts, including constraint of individual firm growth and overall UK productivity growth.
The vocations most likely to be affected were secondary education teachers, chefs, nurses and other medical officers and design and development engineers.
Some of these professions are on the Home Office’s ‘shortage occupation list’ but oddly this does not automatically mean they are exempt from the salary threshold requirements. For new Tier 2 (General) visa applicants, it merely means that a business does not have to advertise a position locally before employing a person outside of the EEA.
When introducing these Tier 2 visa changes the Government granted a temporary reprieve to nurses, paramedics, radiographers and secondary teachers in mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science and Mandarin. These professions will be exempt from the new salary threshold until July 2019.
Considering how difficult it is to fill these roles within the UK, organisations should take advantage of the three-year amnesty and start preparing for the increases now.
- Settlement is not the answer
Immigrants with current Tier 2 (General) visas cannot sidestep the process by making a settlement application. Their plight is even worse.
From 6 April 2016, Tier 2 immigrants who have been in England for more than five years can only apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK (permanent residence) if they have an annual salary of £35,000.
When these changes were announced in mid 2015, Theresa May said that the number of non-EEA nationals granted permanent residency would be reduced by two thirds.
Teachers are amongst those hit hardest by the changes.
Russel Hobby, General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers responded by saying: “Head teachers across the UK are struggling to recruit. Pupil numbers are on the rise and budgets are being cut all the time. In light of these challenges, it certainly seems counterproductive to force out valued personnel just to meet an unrealistic migration target.”
- Consider taking on ‘new entrants’
UK graduates, international graduates employed as part of a university ‘milk round’ and people aged 25 or under are, for the time being, exempt from the new salary increases. Their threshold salary will remain at £20,800 (more for some occupations).
Organisations may seek to recruit these ‘new entrant’ employees to fill their employment gaps.
- Consider alternative visa and immigrations options
The solution for some organisations to the Tier 2 visa changes may be to consider alternative visas. Depending on the industry and the skills required, there might be other immigration solutions to your staffing problems. Seeking advice from an experienced immigration solicitor should reveal options that you were previously unaware of.
Don’t wait until the changes are upon us. By then it will be too late. If your business is likely to be affected by the Tier 2 salary hike, the time to act is now.