In April, the Home Office announced that Tier 1 General migrants will no longer be able to apply for an extension of their leave to remain in the UK under this category, beginning 6 April 2015. This will mean that migrants currently residing in the UK under this category will have to consider their options very carefully before this date.

If the migrant's Tier 1 General status will expire between now and this date, it is possible to extend the status. It is also possible to submit an early extension application before this date if the Tier 1 General status expires later. If Tier 1 General status was originally granted before 6 April 2010, then the extension will be granted for a period of two years from the date of the decision. If the Tier 1 General status was originally granted after 6 April 2010, then the extension would be granted for three years from the date of decision.

Tier 1 General migrants will qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) after five years of residence in the UK under this category, provided they continue to meet all of the criteria for Tier 1 General and the additional criteria for ILR. These additional criteria notably include that the migrant must not have been outside the UK for more than 180 days in any consecutive 12-month period in the five years preceding the ILR application, and that the applicant has no unspent criminal convictions.

Note that applications for ILR made under Tier 1 General will be closed from 6 April 2018. If the migrant does not qualify for ILR before 6 April 2018, or before the expiry of his extended Tier 1 General status if this is sooner, then he will have to look at switching into other immigration categories, including Tier 2 General, Tier 1 Exceptional Talent, Tier 1 Entrepreneur or Tier 1 Investor.

The challenge for many existing Tier 1 holders is that they may not meet the extension criteria or the current ILR criteria. Even if they wish to switch to one of the above immigration options, they can still be faced with hurdles. For instance, if they are working in the UK for an employer and the employer would like to support the switch to a Tier 2 General visa, the employer must have a sponsor licence, and the position will need to be advertised. The other Tier 1 categories come with stringent financial or skill set criteria.

Of course, the original flexibility of a Tier 1 General visa is that it allowed migrants to be self-employed and have their own business. Even these individuals will need to review the best way to structure their immigration status to ensure that they can effectively stay in the UK.

We strongly recommend that all employers do a stock take on their current migrant workforce. Identify all migrants who are currently employed on a Tier 1 General visa and start now to strategize the best way forward - ensuring they will qualify for the extension or ILR.