• Tier 1: The (General) category closes as the UK opens its doors to (Exceptional talent)
  • Tier 2: Cap placed on (General) category whilst (Intra-company transfer) category undergoes a makeover
  • Settlement: Government commences consultation on limiting individuals’ right to remain in the UK

Changes to Tier 1

Tier 1 of the points-based system is for high-value migrants, and currently contains 5 subcategories:

  • (Exceptional talent)
  • (Entrepreneur)
  • (Investor)
  • (Post-study work)
  • (General)

The Tier 1 (General) category allowed highly skilled migrants to look for work or self-employment opportunities in the UK. Successful applicants under Tier 1 (General) were entitled to seek employment in the UK without a sponsor, and could take up self-employment and business opportunities here. However, as part of its drive to reduce new migration, the Government has now shut down this route to applicants who are outside the UK, and to individuals who are already within the UK under most other immigration categories.

Where one door opens another (albeit rather more limited) door opens. On 9 August 2011 the Tier 1 (Exceptional talent) category went operational allowing migrants who are internationally recognised as world-leading or potentially world-leading talent in the fields of science and the arts to ply their trade in the UK. Not satisfied with setting the bar at the level of “world-leading”, the Government have signalled their intention to further curtail the scope of this category by limiting the number of applications that can be made.

To police this limitation, every initial application must include an endorsement from a ‘designated competent body’; the Royal Society, the Arts Council of England, the British Academy and the Royal Academy of Engineering. There will be a limit of 1,000 endorsements between 9 August 2011 and 5 April 2012.

Changes to Tier 2

Tier 2 of the points-based system is intended to be utilised by skilled workers who have a job offer from an employer who is willing to sponsor them. Tier 2 comprises four categories:

  • (General)
  • (Intra-company transfer)
  • (Minister of religion)
  • (Sportsperson)

Effective from 6 April 2011, there will be a new immigration cap limiting entry clearances issued to Tier 2 (General) migrants.  The cap will be implemented by restricting the number of Certificates of Sponsorship that are issued to 20,700 in the year from 6 April 2011 to 5 April 2012. The cap does not apply to migrants earning £150,000 or more, or to those who are applying under the Tier 2 (General) category from within the UK.

The Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer) category allows skilled workers to move from an overseas branch of their employer to a UK-based office. There is currently no cap in place to restrict the amount of Certificates of Sponsorship that are issued under this category.

Recent changes mean that the Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer) is further broken down into the following brackets:

  • Short-term staff
  • Long-term staff
  • Skills transfer
  • Graduate trainee

Those entering the UK as short-term staff may be granted permission to stay for a maximum of 12 months following which they will be expected to return home. Such individuals will not be able to apply to re-enter the UK under Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer) until a further 12 months have elapsed from the expiry of their previous leave to remain.

Long-term staff may be granted an initial period of stay of up to 3 years and 1 month. This period can be extended up to a maximum of 5 years, after which the migrant will be required to leave the UK. Again, once a long-term staff migrant’s leave to remain has expired, they will not be able to re-apply in the Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer) category for at least 12 months.

Business and individuals need to be aware that since 6 April 2010 it has not been possible for migrants entering the UK under Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer) to qualify for settlement (otherwise known as indefinite leave to remain).

Changes to Settlement

Under proposals announced by the Government in June 2011, the automatic right for migrants coming to work in the UK on a temporary basis to claim settlement will cease. Damian Green, the Immigration Minister, explained that the proposals were: ‘aimed at breaking the link between temporary and permanent migration.’ Mr Green added: ‘a small number of exceptional migrants will be able to stay permanently but for the majority, coming here to work will not lead automatically to settlement in the UK.’

Under the present settlement regime, many workers are allowed to apply to stay here permanently. In 2010, 84,000 people who entered the UK for employment were granted settlement. This compares to less than 10,000 who qualified for employment related settlement in 1997. The Government believes that their proposed changes are necessary to bring immigration down to “sustainable” levels.

The key proposals under consideration during the consultation period are as follows:

  • re-branding Tier 2 as temporary, ending the assumption that settlement will be available for those who enter on this route;
  • allowing certain categories of Tier 2 migrant, for example those earning over £150,000 or occupations of a specific economic or social value to the UK, to retain an automatic route to settlement;
  • creating a new category into which, after three years in the UK, the most exceptional Tier 2 migrants may switch and go on to apply for settlement;
  • allowing Tier 2 migrants who do not switch into a settlement route to stay for a maximum of five years with the expectation that they and any dependants will leave at the end of that time; 
  • introducing an English language requirement for adult dependants of Tier 2 migrants applying to switch into a route to settlement;
  • restricting the maximum period of leave for Tier 5 Temporary Workers to 12 months; and
  • closing or reforming routes for overseas domestic workers.

The Government has publicly committed itself to reforming all routes of entry to the UK in order to bring immigration levels under control and we anticipate that the changes outlined above are just the start of the impending overhaul of the immigration system.