On 22 November and 12 December 2012, the Government laid before Parliament Statements of Changes to the Immigration Rules. Some of the changes are welcomed as they address concerns which the Penningtons immigration team had previously raised with the UKBA on behalf of clients. Following the introduction of the changes on 13 December, the UKBA has published new application forms and policy guidance to migrants and sponsors. For information on the application forms which have changed, please click here.

The main changes which came into force on 13 December can be summarised as follows:

Tier 2 skilled workers

  • Cooling off period – Tier 2 applicants who had previous leave under this category will now be able to rely on the date they left the UK or obtained leave under a different immigration category to start the calculation of the 12 months cooling off period;
  • Tier 2 (intra-company transfer) – the limit of stay of five years on those entering the UK under Tier 2 (ICT) long term staff category has now been extended to nine years for senior staff members with a salary package of at least £150,000; 
  • Tier 2 (ICT) long term staff minimum salary of £40,000 - the minimum salary threshold will not apply to those who are extending their stay in the UK and had previous leave as a work permit holder or as a Tier 2 (ICT) migrant granted under the rules prior to 6 April 2011. There are likely to be employment and sponsor licence implications if sponsors now seek to lower the salary raised back to its original level as a result of this change; and
  • Supplementary employment - Tier 2 migrants are now able to take on supplementary employment of up to 20 hours per week in a different capacity to that of their Tier 2 sponsorship, provided the job is on the shortage occupation list. To view the list, please click here.

Settlement and permissible absences from the UK

For settlement applications, the UKBA will now permit absences of up to 180 days per 12 calendar months. This means that applicants will now have to make sure that they limit their absences to no more than 180 days per 12 calendar months in the five years prior to the date they apply for settlement. This could be onerous and cumbersome to calculate for migrants required to travel on business as part of their role. Serious and compelling circumstances may be taken into account if migrants exceed the limit set by the UKBA. However, excess absences for employment or economic activity are not considered exceptional.

For guidance on how the UKBA will be calculating absences from the UK, please click here.

Tier 4 education

  • For the few sponsors who are yet to obtain Highly Trusted Sponsor Status and a satisfactory inspection, the UKBA will extend the interim limit of the number of migrant students that can be recruited to early 2013.
  • Tier 4 (general) students will now be able to commence work as a doctor or a dentist in training immediately following submission of an application for sponsorship in a recognised NHS foundation programme.
  • Migrant students, who are endorsed by their institution under the Tier 1 (graduate entrepreneur) scheme, may work in self-employment whilst awaiting a decision on their application. 
  • Botswana and Malaysia now join 14 other countries which the UKBA considers to be low-risk countries. Students from low-risk countries benefit from having to provide less documentation with their applications.
  • The UKBA will no longer accept loan letters, unless they come from an official Government source or other responsible lender. Therefore Tier 4 students wishing to rely on loan funds will need to have the funds in their account before making an application.

High value migrants

Tier 1 (entrepreneur)

  • Tier 4 migrants are no longer able to switch into this route unless they have £50,000 from specified sources (see below).
  • Specified sources for a reduced requirement of funding in the amount of £50,000 has expanded from registered venture capitalists, listed seed funding competitions, and the UK Government to now also include Devolved Government Departments in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
  • The English language requirement has been lowered from level C1 (advanced) to level B1 (intermediate).
  • To be awarded points for business funds in this category, the funds must be held in a financial institution with which the UKBA is able to make satisfactory verification checks. The UKBA publishes on its website a list of financial institutions which do not satisfactorily verify financial statements.

Tier 1 (investor)

  • Tier 1 (investor) migrants’ leave will now be curtailed if they fail to maintain the required level of investment for the duration of their leave.
  • Migrants under this category will no longer be able to work as professional sportspeople.
  • Tier 1 (investor) migrants can no longer rely on investments held in offshore custody and loan funds where the investments will be used as security against that loan. A transitional concession was obtained from the UKBA whereby these new restrictions will not apply to those who made their applications prior to 13 December 2012.
  • Tier 1 (investor) funds will now also face the same verification checks that apply to Tier 1 (entrepreneur) funds.

Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme and temporary workers

  • An increase in the annual allocation of places under the Youth Mobility Scheme will be granted to Australia (35,000) and Canada (5,000) from 2013. The rest of the participating countries' allocation will remain the same, Japan (1,000), Monaco (1,000), New Zealand (10,000), South Korea (1,000, previously 500 due to the time it joined) and Taiwan (1,000).
  • The UKBA will now include training by HM Armed Forces or UK emergency services in its definition of training programmes in the Government Authorised Exchange (GAE) schemes.
  •  A 12-month work-experience/professional teacher training scheme between the University of Chichester and South Korea is to be added as an approved GAE scheme.
  • Specific provisions have been introduced to cover contractual service suppliers seeking admission under the relevant commitments in certain international trade agreements to which the UK is a party.