In November 2010, new limits on Tier 1 and 2 (work-related) visas were introduced and in December the UK Border Agency issued a consultation on proposals to reform Tier 4 (student) visas.
From 6 April 2011, there is now an annual limit of 20,700 for Tier 2 visas. Employers filling a vacancy that attracts a salary of £150,000 or more will not be subject to this limit. In order to be eligible for a Tier 2 visa, non-EU workers will now need to be working in a graduate level job in the UK, speak English at intermediate level, and meet certain salary and employment requirements.
The UKBA will not place a cap on the Tier 2 intra-company transfer (ICT) route - although there will be some changes introduced. In order to stay in the UK for more than one year the applicant must have a salary of over £40,000. ICT Migrants earning more than £40,000 a year will be permitted to stay for three years with the possibility of extending the visa for another two. ICT Migrants with a salary between £24,000 and £40,000 will be permitted to stay in the UK for one year. At the end of the first year they must leave the UK and wait for at least 12 months before applying again for a Tier 2 ICT visa.
The exceptional talent visa will replace the Tier 1 (General) highly skilled route. It will allow entry to entrepreneurs, investors and small numbers of exceptionally talented people. The number of people allowed under the Tier 1 (General) scheme will be reduced from 13,000 to 1000.
An unlimited number of visas will still be available under the Tier 1 entrepreneur and investor scheme - but these schemes are only relevant for a very small number of people.
Around May/June a consultation on changes to the settlement rules will be launched, looking at who should be allowed to settle in the UK. The Government will also be reviewing the rules for migrants coming in for marriage and family purposes (this excludes Points Based System dependants) - this will be later in the year. The Government has also repealed the Workers Registration Scheme.
Many of these changes are controversial and we are yet to see their final impact both in terms of the economy and higher education institutions.