2014, A Year in Immigration

With a General election in May 2015 just around the corner, immigration once again has become the focal point of party debate. David Cameron is undoubtedly under pressure from both a wide number of British voters, as well as the European Union. Attempts to curb EU migration will require a change of stance by the continent’s governing body, and only time will tell whether Jean Claude-Juncker will compromise with the UK and its desire to lower net migration.

Nonetheless, with the Introduction of the Immigration Act, 2014 has been both a significant and eventful year in UK immigration.

The Immigration Act 2014 introduced various changes to the field of immigration, these include:

  • Migrants who do not have settled status being required to make a financial contribution to the NHS even if they do not make national insurance contributions;
  • Regardless of nationality, landlords must now carry out immigration status checks on their tenants, to ensure that they have a right to be in the UK;
  • Those who are in the UK illegally will now be prevented from obtaining a UK driving licence or opening a bank account;
  • The right of appeal has now been removed for certain immigration decisions, this has been as a result of the Home Secretary’s plan to reduce decisions that can be appealed, arguably limiting people’s rights. The number of ways in which an individual can appeal has been reduced from 17 to just 4.

Changes were also made to Tier 1 Investor applications, where the minimum investment requirement doubled from £1 million to £2 million.

The Tier 1 (General) route will close to those wishing to extend their stay in in this category as of 6 April 2015. From 6 April 2018, the Tier 1 (General) category will be closed to all migrants who wish to settle under this visa route.

Such changes highlight the continual push by the government to curb net migration, however, these changes have not been implemented without controversy, and they fail to illustrate the positive impact that the majority of migrants have in the UK.

Latest UK Immigration Figures: July – September 2014

Latest UK Immigration Figures: July – September 2014

The latest immigration figures highlight interesting trends that have taken place throughout July- September 2014. These include, an increase in work, student and visitor visas being granted. Here are some of the current trends:

Work Visas

6% more work visas were granted between July and September, with high numbers of skilled workers making up this figure. There was a 13% increase in applications from sponsored workers. Most skilled workers were sponsored under the scientific, ICT and financial/ insurance sectors. Scientific, Professional and Technical Activities alone saw an increase of 19% in sponsorship applications. These figures show that there is an increasing demand for overseas labour

Student Visas  

Student visas which were granted, rose a total of 3%, however, the number of students sponsored by the further education sector fell by 13%. More students of Chinese, Brazilian, Saudi Arabian and Libyan citizenship were granted student visas.

Visitor Visas

From July to September 2014, a total of 1.9 million individuals were granted a visitor visa, up 1% from the previous statistics. As of 1st January 2014, United Arab Emirates, Omani and Qatari nationals have been able to visit the UK visa-free, following the introduction of a new Electronic Visa Waiver scheme. Chinese, Philippine and Saudi Arabian nationals saw the largest increase in visitor visa grants.

Home Office looks to tackle sham marriage and civil partnership issues

In a written statement delivered to the House of Commons yesterday, Immigration Minister James Brokenshire announced new measures designed to counter sham marriages and unlawful civil partnerships. Although the plans will be incorporated into the Immigration Act 2014 subject to parliamentary approval, the new legislation won’t be implemented until 2nd March 2015.

Part 4 of the Act will be strengthened, entailing the extension of marriage and civil partnership notice periods from 15 to 28 days for all couples living in England and Wales. The notice period will be even longer for couples who are citizens of countries outside the European Economic Area, where at least 70 days’ notice will be required – giving the Home Office plenty of time to investigate whether relationships are genuine and subsisting.

Moreover, in an attempt to counter non-EEA nationals marrying EU citizens solely to enter or remain in the UK, a new referral and investigation scheme will be introduced. This will lead to non-EEA nationals being referred to the Home Office if they do not provide evidence that they are exempt from the scheme. Consequently, the Home Office will have much more time to identify and nullify sham marriages and civil partnerships before they occur.

In 2010, registrars notified the Home Office that there were roughly 934 potential sham marriages, a number which has risen to 2,135 in 2013. Whether the government is aware of the severity of the problem remains unclear, however the Home Office has left us in little doubt regarding their intentions.

Statement of Changes under Tier 1 Investor Route

Tier 1 Investor Route Changes 

An anticipated ministerial statement was laid before Parliament on the 16th October 2014, highlighting key changes to the current Immigration Rules.

On the 6th November 2014 significant changes to the Immigration Rules will be implemented in the Tier 1 (Investor) category, which is being transformed following recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee.  The new amendments, announced in the Statement of Changes, will double minimum investment requirements, remove the ‘topping-up’ provision and not accept loaned funds.

Highlights of the Statement of Changes:

  • From 6th November 2014, Individuals wishing to enter the UK with a Tier 1 (Investor) visa, will be faced with a minimum £2 million GBP investment requirement, double the current minimum prerequisites. This is a significant increase upon the current £1 million investment requirement. The Home Office will also have more power over application decisions, as revealed below;
  • As of the 6th November, applicants will no longer be able to rely on loaned funds, the investment sum needs to be owned by the individual.
  • With reasonable grounds, the Home Office will have the power to refuse applications (even if all criteria has been met). This could be on cases where the applicant has obtained funds unlawfully or from 3rd parties.
  • Investors will no longer be able to ‘top-up’ their investment if it drops in value due to market fluctuations. The UK Government is, thus, encouraging investors to invest in higher risk investments which could potentially benefit the United Kingdom.
  • The Government will shortly consult on specific types of investment that this route should encourage to deliver financial benefits to the UK.
  • 100% of funds need to be invested into main investment funds as opposed to the current 75%. This could have an impact on the investor’s funds depending on how much is invested.

The above points highlight some of the key alterations outlined in the Statement of Changes for the Tier 1 (Investor) route.

For more information on how these changes could affect you, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Is UK Immigration Policy Restraining the Technology Boom?

In recent years, the UK’s technology sector has grown rapidly with the creation of ‘silicon roundabout’ and the numerous tech firms located nearby. There have been $30bn technology start-ups produced since the early 2000s in Europe alone. With many originating from the United Kingdom.

The UK is perhaps leading the way in terms of technology sector growth and its economic implications. However, recent reports show that the technology sector could be faced with a skills shortage, a position feared by many employers. This shortage of qualified, highly skilled migrants in the technology sector may be down to the UK’s ‘stringent’ immigration policy according to critics.

Reports show that the Points Based System has proven to be complex for many firms in terms of compliance, with smaller companies struggling to meet various immigration requirements. Thus, putting employers off from hiring abroad altogether.

If the technology sector is to continue booming in the UK, it seems that the immigration rules will need to be relaxed, with highly skilled migrants along with students being prioritised.

Lord Heseltine recently stated that students should also be exempt from immigration cuts, this could also have a profound effect on the technology boom because graduates play a huge role in the technology sector.

 

Leading Professors show disdain towards immigration policies

Professor Andrew Hamilton, vice-chancellor of Oxford University and Professor John O’Keefe, recent Nobel Prize Winner for his research into the brain’s ability to create a map of its surroundings and navigate it, have vehemently criticised the UK’s immigration policy. Both are of the opinion that its stringent nature is restricting our acquisition of the top talent from overseas.

The Financial Times reports that Professor Hamilton, speaking at his annual oration to the university, said that when he travelled abroad, “one question persists – why has the UK adopted a visa system so hostile to student entry?” It has become a well versed belief that the government’s desire to tighten the student visa system is detrimental to most universities’ ability to recruit gifted and economically valuable students.

He also goes on to add, “there are few votes in restricting overseas student numbers”, and that this realisation needs to be, “welcomed and encouraged ahead of the election.”

Nobel Prize Winner Professor John O’Keefe holds a similar opinion on UK immigration. Quoted in an article on the BBC, he suggests that, “we should be thinking hard about making Britain a more welcoming place.” He believes that the immigration rules are a genuine hindrance when it comes to hiring the best scientists worldwide.

“Science is international, the best scientists can come from anywhere, they can come from next door or they can come from a small village in a country anywhere in the world – we need to make it easier.”

The Home Office have suggested that the introduction of a new “exceptional talent” visa would facilitate the migration of “world leaders” in science to the UK. However, and similarly with the student visa route, the UK needs to become more welcoming and less hostile to the best overseas talent. There is little doubt that the immigration debate in the run up to next year’s election has begun….

Tory migrant cap detrimental to UK economy

Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has written to Home Secretary Theresa May warning that the restrictions on non-EU migrant workers are damaging the UK’s economic recovery. The Financial Times reports that for the first time since the introduction in 2011 of restrictions on workers from outside the EU, the 20,700 annual limit is set to be exceeded.

Last year, 6,780 visas remained unallocated and Cable has suggested that if ministers decide not to scrap the restrictions altogether, the Home Office ought to allow the allocations from previous years to be rolled over to 2014. According to official figures, in June, July and August the monthly allocation of 1,725 visas was exceeded.

In attempting to meet the Conservative Party’s target of curbing net migration by next year’s election, Ms May could be hampering businesses hiring the most suitable talent they require to fill important vacancies when the UK economy needs it most. As well as removing the cap, lowering the £153,500 salary threshold would allow more jobs to become available to talented migrants who could possess skills lacking in a number of sectors in the UK.

Skills shortages in the UK are not a new phenomenon and it is crucial to the UK’s economic prospects that the immigration legislation creates avenues for skillful migrants to contribute to growth in the UK.

Tier 1 General: an important reminder

The Tier 1 (General) category visa was closed to new applicants outside the UK on 6th April 2010 and as of 6th April 2015, will close to applicants who wish to extend their visa. If you applied for a Tier 1 (General) visa on or after 6th April 2010, you can extend your visa for a maximum of 3 years.  Those who applied for either a writer, composer or artist visa, a self-employed lawyer visa, applied under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme or for Tier 1 (General) before 6th April 2010, may extend or switch to Tier 1 (General) for a maximum of 2 years. Dependants can still apply to join applicants who have obtained prior entry clearance for Tier 1 (General).

In addition to this, as of 6th April 2018, applications for indefinite leave to remain will no longer be accepted under the Tier 1 (General) category. Therefore, those currently in the UK under Tier 1 (General) must submit an application for indefinite leave to remain on or before 5th April 2018. You can qualify for settlement once you have been in the UK for a consecutive 5 year period. Should you require any advice regarding your Tier 1 (General) extension or indefinite leave to remain application, do not hesitate to get in touch

Landlords beware…hefty fines introduced in order to prevent housing of illegal immigrants

From 1st December 2014, landlords in Birmingham, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and Wolverhampton will be required to check that that any adult aged over 18 has the right to live in the UK before letting a property to them. If after this date a property is let to someone who doesn’t hold the right to rent, landlords could face fines of up to £3,000.

Under section 22 of the 2014 Immigration Act, unless the person is a British citizen, EEA or Swiss national or someone with the “right to rent”, which entails being lawfully compliant with current immigration legislation, a landlord should not permit anyone to rent property under a residential tenancy agreement starting on or after 1st December. The restriction and civil penalty provisions referred to as “the Scheme”, aim to make certain that immigrants who are present in the UK illegally are unable to establish a settled life in the UK.

Landlords can carry out, without needing to contact the Home Office, basic document checks in order to avoid a civil penalty; suitable identity includes passports or biometric residence permits. Landlords letting property to people with a time-limited right to rent will need to conduct follow up checks in order to remain compliant and avoid a potential fine. If these reveal that an individual no longer has the “right to rent”, landlords will have to not only keep detailed records of their checks, but must report to the Home Office within a certain timeframe.

If you think this legislative change might affect you, the Codes of Practice gives an in depth explanation; including whether you are affected and if any exemptions apply.

Alarming Statistics

Sponsorship Transparency Statistics Show why Sponsor Compliance is Crucial…

With the lead up to the general election in 2015 and the rising anti-immigration rhetoric from Eurosceptics, the government in Westminster have been under constant pressure to act on growing migration statistics from both EEA and non EEA citizens. Immigration enforcement has been catapulted to the forefront of the government’s plans and it appears that this will not be changing any time soon.

On the 28th August 2014, fresh sponsorship transparency data surfaced, revealing several immigration enforcement figures during the second quarter of 2014.

The data shows that a high number of sponsors were either suspended or had their licences revoked throughout the second quarter of 2014, for failing to comply with the immigration rules or their sponsor obligations.

Most notably, the data illustrates that within Tier 2 (employee sponsorship), a total of 197 sponsors had their Licences suspended and 118 licences were revoked for misconduct.

The recent statistics highlight that no individual, firm or education authority is immune from immigration enforcement and it reiterates the significance of compliance and the serious nature of misconduct.

In addition, 2014 saw the strict enforcement of Secure English Language testing. Over 1,800 cases were faced with refusal or removal decisions in respect of the ETS-linked English language tests. Almost 800 enforcement visits were made, with over 90 individuals being removed from the United Kingdom.