Since January 2009, the UK has operated a “points system” in respect of highly skilled migrants and skilled non European workers. An applicant is awarded a specific number of points which are scored in respect of set categories / qualifying conditions. Depending on the number of points attained and the Tier within which they correspond, the applicant will be granted a visa.

The UK Border Agency has made significant changes to the requirements for Tier 1 and Tier 2 visas. The changes, which came into effect on 6 April 2010, follow recommendations by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) in December 2009.

The UK Government is also currently reviewing the overseas earnings multipliers used by migrants applying from abroad. This is used to calculate the equivalent salary in the UK for the purpose of calculating points. It is expected that the effect of this will be to make it more difficult to gain points for previous earnings, for migrants applying from countries such as India (where earnings are traditionally lower than other developed countries).

A new simpler route for "Very Highly Skilled Workers" under the Tier 1 scheme has also been introduced along with greater flexibility for short-term transfers by multinational companies under Tier 2. However, the changes mean that it will be more difficult for those on transfers to remain on a long term basis. Tier 2 intra-company transfers will also no longer lead to permanent residence status being granted.

Tier 1 - General Visa

An applicant now gains 30 points if they have a Bachelors degree. This was not the case before April 2010 and brings the position into line with previous recommendations from MAC. However the number of points awarded for possessing a PhD has been reduced from 50 to 45 points.

The minimum previous earnings under which points can be awarded has increased to £25,000. Earnings between £25,000 and £29,999 bring only 5 points whereas under the pre April 2010 rules, applicants would gain between 15 and 20 points for a salary of £20,000 to £25,999. The rise in the threshold will make it more difficult for migrants with lower salaries to qualify under the new Tier 1 visa criteria. Under the new criteria earnings of £150,000 or more gain 75 points. In practice almost anyone earning this level of salary will qualify for a Tier 1 visa.

The total points that must be scored (before a visa is granted) has also risen to 95 points. This increase (from the previous threshold of 75 points) again raises the hurdle to be overcome.

The initial grant of leave to remain has been reduced from three to two years. An extension of a further three years can thereafter be sought providing the applicant has been in highly skilled employment.

Migrants under the age of 40 can now claim the points under the age category. Previously the age limit for this was 32.

Due to the changes in the Tier 1 system, certain categories have been abolished but transitional provisions have been put in place to make sure such groups are not disadvantaged by the stricter system which now exists.

Tier 2 Visa - (Work Permit Scheme)

The criteria for Tier 2 has been altered, with Intra Company Transfer (“ICT”) no longer leading to permanent residence. The ICT has also now been split into 3 categories: (i) Established Staff; (ii) Graduate Trainee; and (iii) Skilled Transfer. Applicants, who come within the Tier 2 ICT category as a Graduate Trainee and Skilled Transfer, will only be permitted to remain for a limited period only. Such people are also not permitted to switch into a different immigration category.

It is now more difficult to gain points under “prospective earnings”. For example the minimum salary to gain points has risen from £17,000 to £20,000. More points are however now gained for an applicant with a salary above £32,000. Some multinational companies pay allowances to workers as well. At the present time there will be no changes to the rules on allowances for migrant workers.

Migrants currently in a non shortage occupation in the Tier 2 General category can now gain 5 more points than those in the Tier 2 Intra Company Transfer (ICT). They will also need prospective earnings of at least £20,000 to qualify under Tier 2.

Applicants applying for a Tier 2 extension will automatically be granted 50 points without having to meet the previous earnings test. This is to make sure those migrants already on Tier 2 visas or on work permits will be assessed under criteria similar to the criteria in place when they made their original applications. If an applicant applies for a change of employment, this will be considered under the same criteria as the initial application. If relevant, a resident labour market test will have to be undertaken.

Other changes to the Immigration Rules

The UKBA has also implemented changes to marriage visa requirements for those in the armed forces along with revisals to the way in which asylum cases are dealt with. The English language requirements for non-native English speakers who wish to apply for indefinite leave to remain, has also been altered.

There has also been a new category introduced of the 'Highly Trusted Sponsor' under the Tier 4 student visa system. This will be extended to businesses later in the year.

Conclusion

The changes will inevitably make it more difficult for skilled migrants to come / remain in the UK where as for high earners it will be the opposite.