New English Language Requirement for non-EU Partners and Parents

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Being able to speak the English language has long been a requirement for non-EU individuals wishing to join or extend their stay with their settled partner or parent in the UK. As of now, meeting the English language requirement has been straightforward and set at level A1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) for both entry clearance and extension applications.

In January 2016, David Cameron announced that there was an intention to introduce a revised English language requirement, set at level A2 of the CEFR, for both partners and parents wishing to extend their leave under the Family Life Immigration Rules.

The exact date of the new English language requirement had not been set, however, ex UK Prime Minister, Cameron, stated that this requirement would not be implemented prior to October 2016.

Fast-forward to 3 November 2016 (when the A2 English language requirement statement of intent was announced by the Home Office) and it is now certain that the new level A2 requirement for parents and partners extending their existing leave in the UK will be introduced from 1 May 2017.

This will mean that for those individuals who were previously on the cusp of failing their entry clearance English language test, the new requirement may prove too challenging, unless they have since brushed up on their English language skills.

Anticipated Autumn Statement of Changes Announced

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After weeks of waiting for the expected Autumn Immigration Rule changes, many will have been left wondering whether the proposed changes were ever going to take place. However, yesterday, the Home Office  announced that the long-awaited changes would come into power on the 24th November 2016.

Some key changes to note include:

  • Increases to the Tier 2 (General) salary threshold to £25,000 for experienced staff. Some exemptions apply.
  • Increases to the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) salary threshold to £30,000 for short-term staff.
  • Removing the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) skills transfer sub-category.
  • The Graduate Trainee sub-category will face changes too. There will be a reduction to the salary threshold from £24,800 to £23,000. The number of places a sponsor can use will be increased from 5 to 20 per annum.

The Home Office are yet to confirm a date for the introduction of an Immigration Health Surcharge for the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) category.

A surprising announcement came in the form of changes for out of time applications. Historically, applications submitted within 28 days of leave expiring, have been accepted by the Home Office. Once the new rules are implemented, out of time applications will fall for refusal unless submitted within 14 days and the reason for overstaying is both strong and out of the applicant’s control.

Illegal working closure notices

As of the 1 December 2016, employers must note that further provisions of the Immigration Act 2016 are due to take place. Should the proposed changes take effect in December, employers must beware that Immigration Officers will have the power to close business premises for a maximum of 48 hours for employers who have committed offences related to immigration. The Home Office will also be able to apply to the court for a compliance order to enforce special measures on the employer to avert illegal working.

The above changes highlight the government’s ever-increasing hardline approach towards immigration and there is no doubt that future amendments will take a similar line.

 

‘Brexit’ – what does this mean for EU citizens?

Current political uncertainties will be a cause for concern for many individualsBrexit...

With political activity in Britain over the last few days resembling a typhoon, you would be mistaken for thinking that the UK voted to leave the EU over a year ago. Only two weeks back, this pivotal vote was announced.

Since the EU referendum we have seen a Prime Minister resign, MPs furiously racing to become candidates for the top job and EU leaders hastily running to emergency meetings. If that wasn’t enough, the top two candidates for the role of PM, Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom, are promising different things when it comes to protecting the right to remain of EU nationals in the UK.

Home Secretary, Theresa May, has refused to publically state whether EU nationals may be asked to leave the UK, whereas Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom, has vowed to protect the rights of EU nationals in the UK.

In reality, there is no certainty as to whether protecting the rights of EU nationals is something that can be achieved for definite without Article 50 and, therefore, negotiations being triggered beforehand.

At the moment, everything that politicians, journalists and the general public have been talking about regarding ‘Brexit’ is speculative.

In the meantime, here are a few scenarios that may unfold in the coming years:

A right to remain for qualified persons  

It is likely that those EU nationals currently residing in the UK as qualified persons (workers, job-seekers, students, self-employed and self-sufficient individuals) will have an automatic right to remain provided that they apply for some sort of residency document proving their right to live and work in the United Kingdom. The main concern would be those individuals that are not seen as qualified persons and whether their immigration status would be safe.

An ‘Australian style’ points based system

Whilst we already have a British points based system in place for non-EU citizens, it is likely that a similar, ‘Australian style’ points based system would be applicable to all EU and non-EU citizens wanting to live and work in the UK. If the current points based system is anything to go by, industries such as construction and catering would likely to be hit hardest.

Restrictions for new EU citizen arrivals post official Brexit

As it stands, most EU citizens already in the UK should (in theory) have a safe immigration status, however, it is highly likely that post the UK officially leaving the European Union, which is not likely to happen until at least the 1st January 2019, new EU citizens would be faced with restrictions on living and working in the UK.

What we recommend for EU citizens

From now on, we recommend that all EU citizens thinking of living in the UK post-Brexit, hold paper based evidence of their immigration status in the UK. At the moment, EU nationals can work in the UK by showing evidence of their original passport or EU identity card. Depending on how long EU nationals have resided in the UK, it is now highly recommended that they either apply for a permanent residency document (if they have been a qualified person for at least 5 continuous years in the UK), or a residency certificate.

Numerous EU citizens will be caught out with the fact that they did not take out comprehensive sickness insurance at a time when they were either a self-sufficient person, a work-seeker or student.

In a nutshell, we advise individuals to keep up to speed with current affairs, UK/EU negotiations and not to panic. In effect, changes will only take place after negotiations have concluded.

Good news for Tier 4 Students

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On the 24th March, the Home Office responded to the Migration Advisory Committee recommendations and it’s good news for students.

Tier 4 students switching into Tier 2 (General) will not be faced with a Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) or subject to a cap on numbers. There is no doubt that we will not only see universities breathe a sigh of relief, but also the students themselves who already pay thousands of pounds per annum to study in the United Kingdom. The government also aims to keep the minimum threshold for new entrants to £20,800.

If many people awaiting the Home Office response to the MAC recommendations were not surprised enough, Tier 2 (General) applicants will not face immediate hikes in salary thresholds with minimum thresholds being phased in slowly between autumn of this year and April 2017. In autumn 2016, the minimum salary threshold will be £25,000, increasing to £30,000 in April 2017.

According to the Home Office, various education and health professionals will even be exempt from the higher threshold altogether until July 2019, a welcome break for numerous employers and applicants.

It is clear that the government is placing emphasis on the need for healthcare professionals who there is currently a shortage of. Nurses will continue to be on the Shortage Occupation List, however, employers will need to ensure that a RLMT is carried out prior to recruiting non-EEA nurses once the rules are implemented.

Tier 2 (ICT) will also face some changes in an attempt to streamline the process into a single visa category, requiring a minimum salary threshold of £41,500 – excluding graduate trainees.

Whilst it was predicted that an Immigration Skills Charge of £1,000 per applicant per annum would take effect as of the 6th April 2016, the Home Office have announced that this will be introduced in April 2017. There will also be a lower rate for small sponsors, at £364 per annum and an exemption for Tier 2 (ICT) Graduate Trainees, PhD occupations, and Tier 4 students switching into Tier 2.

Migrate UK Managing Director, Jonathan Beech, says that “I’m sure that many people (including myself) have been taken by surprise to see that the Home Office will only implement a few of the MAC recommendations, giving sponsors and applicants a grace period to submit prior to April 2017, when we will see some of the largest changes introduced.”

ONS Release of Migration Statistics, February 2016

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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) have just released their quarterly report of migration statistics. Here is a summary of our findings.

  • From the year ending September 2014, Immigration increased by 2000.
  • From the year ending September 2014, emigration was down 29,000.
  • In the year ending September 2015, net migration saw a decrease of 13,000, as opposed to the greatest level of 336,000 (released year ending June 2015).
  • Immigration of EU citizens in year ending September 2015 was 257,000, in comparison to 246,000 in year ending September 2014. This was not statistically significant, however, it is too early to tell whether there will be a flood of EU immigration closer to the time of the referendum in June. These next few months will become a very important watching period now that ‘BREXIT’ is very much on the agenda. We could see an increase in EEA nationals entering the UK as a result.
  • Despite the steady, statistically insignificant increase of EEA immigration, there has been a statistically significant increase in EU2 (Bulgaria and Romania) immigration, which was up 15,000 in year ending September 2015 compared to the previous year.
  • In year ending September 2015, out of the 45,000 EU2 citizens coming to the UK, roughly two thirds entered the UK with a certain job offer, which is reassuring from a point of view that the UK economy appears to be in good health. This may have been a concern for anti-EU supporters if the majority were job seekers.
  • Nonetheless, non-EU immigration saw a decrease from 289,000 to 273,000 between Septembers 2014-15.
  • Work visas granted to skilled non-EU (main applicants) only increased by 4% to 54,383. It is important that the government is still valuing shortage-skill non-EU immigration which is vital for many companies, particularly within sciences and technology.

Due to the rapidly changing landscape of current affairs, it would be interesting to see what the statistics are now since the release of the Migration Advisory Committee recommendations and announcement of an early referendum.

Australians and New Zealanders to be faced with Immigration Health Surcharge

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Today, the Home Office unexpectedly announced that the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS), a mandatory payment for most non-EEA applicants entering the UK for more than 6 months, will also be extended to citizens of Australia and New Zealand as of April 6th 2016.

Nationals from Australia and New Zealand will be required to pay a surcharge of £200 per annum regardless of whether they are fresh applicants or extending their stay from within the UK.

With the introduction of the IHS in April 2015, the government declared that citizens of both Australia and New Zealand would be exempt from paying towards the NHS but in a turn of tides, this will no longer be the case.

The IHS has already raked in over £100 million, which the UK government says will contribute to public services.

Managing Director, Jonathan Beech says that “The government’s recent announcement hasn’t stated whether Tier 2 (ICT) applicants will be exempt from paying the IHS. This points towards the fact that the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations to introduce the IHS for Tier 2 (ICT) applicants seems to be likely.”

Applicants under the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme, will face a £50 reduction in IHS payments, bringing their contribution down to the same total paid by students.

MAC Recommendations 2016

MACThe long-awaited Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommendations on the review of Tier 2 applications has just been released and here are some crucial changes that are likely to take place.

The MAC have advised that a limit is placed on all Tier 2 employment by introducing a ‘price’ model. This means minimum salaries for Tier 2 ICT and Tier 2 General applications are increasing but specific job category pricing are not recommended for change just yet. Other ‘price’ introductions include:

    1. An Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) the level of which needs to be determined by the Government but is recommended to be in the region of an extra £1000 per Tier 2 migrant per year to impact employer behaviour and encourage upskilling / recruitment from the local labour market; and
    2. Introducing the NHS Surcharge for ICT’s;
    3. Investigating whether current NI contributions and tax on migrant worker allowances are working in the interest of the UK.

Another suggested change includes Tier 2 ICT’s, who under the proposals, will need to have at least 2 years of company experience overseas before qualifying for this route (up from one year currently).

The MAC have recommended that a much more detailed job description is included for Tier 2 ICT applications including skill requirements, thus, having the potential to affect thousands of employers.

The MAC have suggested that a new Tier 2 ICT route is introduced for third-party contracting (this will affect the IT industry). Minimum earnings threshold will be raised to £41,500 for all ICT routes under this new category, which is seen as an effective proxy for specialist and senior managers.

The MAC wishes to recommend a more in-depth review of skills shortages within the IT industry going forwards and may recommend the use of the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) to the third-party contacting route and limiting the proportion of Tier 2 migrants to each organisation. This is a longer term view.

Tier 2 General route changes:

  1. The MAC have recommend temporary priority to lower paid public sector workers when current monthly quotas for Tier 2 General Restricted requests are hit;
  2. The MAC also recommend a Resident Labour Market Test – RLMT (advertising the vacancy for 28 days) for in-country switchers from other routes together with including them in an extended quota covering the whole of Tier 2 (General). Currently Tier 4 students switching to Tier 2 General in country are not subject to the RLMT.

For dependants of Tier 2 workers, there is no change recommended to current practice. They can continue to work.

Migrate UK comments that “businesses will now need to rethink their strategy for hiring Tier 2 employees beyond April 6th. We therefore recommend that any applications are submitted prior to April 6th, when the proposed changes are likely to take place. This could potentially save employers many thousands of pounds.”

New UK Immigration Fee Changes Announced

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Yesterday, on 11 January 2016, proposed changes to fees for UK visas, nationality, immigration and Premium Service applications, were announced by the government. The proposed changes will take place throughout 2016-17, with the majority of changes being fee increases rather than reductions.

Such fee changes will apply only after additional legislation is laid before Parliament, which is due to take place by April 2016.

The proposed changes will see visitor, settlement and nationality visa fee increases, however, Tier 2 Sponsor Licences and Certificates of Sponsorship remain unchanged. This aligns with the government’s targets to cut immigration figures without impacting the valuable, Tier 2 skilled workforce. Premium Services will also see increases, with applicants possibly having to decide whether they want to wait for a postal application.

Maximum levels will be set on fee upsurges for categories that the Home Office are able to charge over the coming 4 years, yet, it seems that there will be no increases to the maximum levels themselves.

Migrate UK comment that “the government wants UK Visas and Immigration to become a self-sufficient, self-funded service by 2020 in an attempt to decrease taxpayer contributions.”

2015, A Year In Immigration

CXZ1CeuUEAACnQZWhilst 2015 now feels like a distant memory and the majority of individuals are anticipating the major updates on the 6th April, we mustn’t forget some important announcements that took place in the latter half of 2015.

From the 19th November 2015 sponsors must keep references as evidence of an employee’s previous experience if they are appointed on the basis of this experience.

Another update to the Immigration rules in November requires Tier 2 and 5 authorising officers to be responsible for the activities of all SMS users, thus, they must have a system in place to check such activities.

Managing Director, Jonathan Beech, says that “I would recommend that as a minimum the authorising officer checks the certificates of sponsorship assigned to migrants on a monthly basis, to ensure that they are fulfilling their sponsorship duties”.

Employers must review the current version of the sponsor guidance to ensure that they are aware of any changes that may affect them, for example, they must have an employee who is a level 1 user, in order to ensure that they will be able to fulfil their sponsor duties. Employers must make sure that they are compliant with any requirements that have been introduced since their first licence approval.

ILR Residency Requirements Reshuffle for Tier 2

The latest Tier 2 policy guidance released this month makes it clear that an applicant’s time being spent between their visa being issued and entry into the UK will be counted as an absence, potentially affecting thousands of applicants who have been waiting for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) for 5 years.

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Applicants who do not check their absences thoroughly could be ‘caught out’ by the new rule which will be implemented on the 6th April 2016, possibly resulting in the need for a further extension which could cost hundreds of pounds and delay the ILR process.

Currently, individuals are entitled to 180 days of absence from the UK for each of the last 5 years to qualify for ILR. The 180 days is counted back from the date an application is made. The date an applicant’s visa was issued can be used as the start of the 5 years if that person entered the UK within 90 days of the visa issue date.

Managing Director, Jonathan Beech says that “Tier 2 applicants applying for ILR after the 6th April 2016 will need to exercise caution with their absences. It is advisable that anyone applying for ILR on or after this date, should count their absences before making any further travel plans”.