The UK Border Agency has today published a statement of intent setting out its changes to tier 2 of the points based system. This follows on from the Government's announcement in November 2010 that it intended to redesign the way in which both tiers 1 and 2 operate, in order to meet its annual limit on non-EU workers which is due to come into effect on 6 April 2011. The annual limit will mean 20,700 visas will be made available to skilled workers applying through tier 2 of the points based system, as well as 1,000 visas under a new exceptional talent route.

Under new changes published today, employers wishing to bring someone to the UK, will have to apply for a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from the UKBA for a specific post. This is a significant departure from the current system where businesses are given an annual allocation. Employees filling vacancies with a salary of £150,000 or more will not be subject to the allocated limit on CoS however. Nor will they have to satisfy the Resident Labour Market test for these high-earners. The annual amount of 20,700 CoS, will be divided into 12 monthly allocations, with 1,500 CoS available each month. In April 2011 however, when the new changes come into force and demand is likely to be high, the monthly limit will be set at 4,200. Any places that remain unused will simply be rolled over to the proceeding month.

In cases where the monthly allocation is over-subscribed, CoS applications will be subject to a ranking system, with scientific researchers, those on a higher salary and occupations on the shortage occupation list, being moved to the front of the queue.

The Government has also announced its plans to raise the minimum skill level of those individuals wishing to enter the UK from outside the EU. It will now be necessary for them to have a graduate level job, have an intermediate level of English as well as filling a number of salary and employment specific conditions.

Regarding the Intra Company Transfer route (ICT), which will not be included in the annual limit, the occupation will, from 6 April 2011, have to be classed as 'skilled' and therefore appear on the Graduate Occupation List. Furthermore, only those individuals earning more than £40,000 on a yearly basis will be eligible to remain in the UK for more than 12 months. They will be granted leave for up to three years, with the option of extending their stay for a further two but will then have to leave the UK and stay away for 12 months before becoming eligible to come back.

Settlement rules will also be tightened from 6 April 2011. Applicants who are already in the UK or who apply to switch into an alternative route on or after 6 April 2011 are also warned that the settlement requirements may change and applicants will need to meet the rules in place at the time of their application for settlement. The changes to the settlement rules include an income requirement, English language and criminality test:

  • some applicants will need to score points against the same criteria as their last application and others will need to be paid the appropriate salary for their specified occupation;
  • applicants will no longer be able to rely on the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) with citizenship course. Applicants can only meet the English criteria by completing the Life in the UK test; and
  • the criminality threshold for settlement will be brought in line with that for naturalisation applications - they must be free of any unspent convictions.

The UKBA has stressed that today's statement outlines the Government's current intentions but the definitive changes will not be set out until March in the Immigration Rules and Formal Guidance.

To read the full statement of Intent, please click here