Penningtons Solicitors LLP highlighted on 18 November 2010 that the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) had found that 'tier 1 and tier 2 migration clearly has a positive impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP)'. On 23 November, however, Theresa May, the Home Secretary announced that from April 2011 the Government would allow only 21,700 of the world’s most skilled non-EU migrants to enter the UK annually under tier 2 for work purposes and also through a new 'exceptional talent' route . Entry into the UK through tier 1 will be severely restricted.

In its report the MAC commented that it had been necessary for it to make a number of judgements and assumptions as to 'the precise nature of the Government's net migration objective’. Unfortunately the Home Secretary did not use the announcement to explain in more detail the Government's rationale for deciding to apply limits to skilled individuals who make a positive contribution to the UK's economy and culture.

The Home Secretary also confirmed that the Government has committed to:

  • allocating 20,700 of the available visas to tier 2 (general) and only 1,000 to a new 'exceptional talent' route;
  • raising to £40,000 the minimum salary for those coming under the tier 2 (intra company transfer) route for more than 12 months and setting a minimum salary for those coming for less than 12 months; and
  • restricting tier 1 to all but entrepreneurs, investors and the exceptionally talented.

Suggestions were also made regarding the introduction of a 'super-investor' category for those with substantially more than £1 million available to invest in the UK. These migrants would have an accelerated path to settlement; possibly during a period of only three years rather than the current period of five years. There is also talk of widening the entrepreneur category.

In relation to tier 2 (general), the Government has confirmed that 'applicants will have to be of graduate level and be sponsored by an employer’. These individuals will also be awarded points based on scarcity of skills and salary. However, they will be competing against other applicants for a visa to enter the UK and in months when the limit is oversubscribed, those with the most points will qualify for one of the certificates of sponsorship available each month.

The Government has stated that it will be seeking views on measures aimed at reducing the number of students that can come into the UK. As a result sponsors under tier 4 would be well advised to start preparing robust evidence to present to the Government when an eight week consultation commences before the end of the year. Measures aimed at cutting student levels include:

  • for adult students, focusing tier 4 on higher-level courses and those offered by highly trusted sponsors;
  • introducing tougher entry criteria such as English language competence;
  • ensuring that students wishing to extend their studies show evidence of academic progression;
  • limiting the student's entitlements to work and sponsor dependants; and
  • improving the accreditation process for education providers, alongside more rigorous inspections.

Regarding questions raised by MPs concerning tier 4 and primarily English language schools, the Home Secretary stated: 'We take the issue very seriously, and one aspect of the student visas consultation will be aimed specifically at such schools and how we can introduce to the system some changes that will benefit them. We are conscious of the economic benefits of English language schools and some of their very specific issues with particular students from particular countries.'