For some years now UK immigration policy has been at the top of the political agenda, resulting in a fast changing area of law. As the UK draws closer to the next General Election and the UK Independence Party gains voters from its own immigration policies, immigration will remain a crucial voter issue. However, it can be difficult to decipher what changes are occurring on the ground and the impact they have on UK employers with a global workforce. Yet another change to the structure and ownership of the UK immigration system (with the UK Border Agency being disbanded and absorbed back into the Home Office) does nothing to assist in stabilising this volatile area.

The Government has arguably tried to attract headlines for being tough on immigration with a view to reducing net migration to less than 100,000 by the next General Election. However, there have also been many, perhaps less publicised, rule changes that show there is still a deep appreciation that a flexible mobile international workforce is vital for UK employers.

Set out below is a summary of recent changes affecting UK employers.

Recent changes showing an ongoing tightening of the system:

  • The monthly quota system for Tier 2 applications submitted from outside the UK where the salary for the role is less than GBP 152,100 remains unchanged
  • Minimum salary thresholds for the various subcategories of Tier 2 Intra Company Transfer and Tier 2 General applications have increased
  • Tier 2 minimum salary thresholds for each job type or so called Codes of Practice, including for Indefinite Leave to Remain applications, have increased
  • New Entrant and Experienced Worker minimum salary thresholds for each job type under a Tier 2 application have been introduced
  • Whereas previously a Tier 2 role with a salary of over GBP 71,000 only needed to be advertised in one location, it must now be advertised in two (albeit one of those does not need to be JobCentre Plus/Universal JobMatch)
  • The list of shortage occupations for Tier 2 applications has narrowed
  • On-site Audits by the Home Office are increasing, especially following renewal of an employer’s Tier 2 Sponsor Licence

Recent changes showing increased flexibility:

  • Same day completion of business visitor applications in India have been introduced, signalling the UK’s desire to keep pace with one of the world’s fastest growing economies
  • The monthly quota system for certain Tier 2 applications is approximately 50% undersubscribed every month and so is of no material hindrance to UK employers. The quota system does not apply to Tier 2 Intra Company Transfer applications
  • Whereas most Tier 2 Intra Company Transfer workers can only stay in the UK for a maximum of five years, those earning over GBP 152,100 can now stay for up to nine years
  • There has been a more consistent approach to calculation of absences for Indefinite Leave to Remain applications in the main work based categories, with a limit of 180 days in each 12 month period
  • Those seeking to invest in the UK economy or a business using the Tier 1 Investor and Tier 1 Entrepreneur categories have been actively encouraged with the reward of a fast-track to Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK
  • The 12 months ‘cooling off’ period at the end of a Tier 2 visa no longer applies to those earning over GBP 152,100 ––No advertisements need to be placed where the salary in a Tier 2 application is over GBP 152,100