The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its report on the UK’s Intra Company Transfer route.
The MAC is an independent body that was commissioned by the UK Government in September 2020 to undertake a review of the ICT. The scope of the review was to assess:
- Whether the route complies with the UK’s commitments under free trade agreements,
- Existing ICT eligibility criteria for workers being transferred to the UK and the companies transferring them and
- Explore requirements for future immigration routes to allow multinational companies to deploy teams to the UK to set up and run a UK-based subsidiary.
The MAC has now concluded its review and made a number of recommendations with a view to making the ICT relevant for multinational employers with global workforces.
Why is the ICT route being reviewed?
The ICT visa is the immigration category for established skilled employees of non-UK companies to work temporarily for a linked entity in the UK.
In its present form, the ICT route does not offer a direct route to UK settlements, although it is now possible for ICT visa holders to apply to switch into the Skilled Worker route, which does then offer a path to indefinite leave to remain.
The role of the ICT route has been brought into question in light of the new UK points-based system and new routes such as the Skilled Worker route. Applications for the ICT visa have been falling since the new rules were introduced, due to the Skilled Worker visa proving an easier immigration route than its predecessor, the Tier 2 General visa, and since there is no more resident labour market test, or skilled worker cap or relevant cooling off period, the ICT is at risk of becoming redundant.
Yet through the ICT route, the UK is meeting its commitment under its membership of free trade agreements such as the World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement on Trade in Service (GATS), to provide immigration routes for senior managers or specialists and graduates.
What does the MAC report say?
The MAC concluded that the ICT for the most part is fit for purpose and the majority of elements should remain the same. In particular, the higher skill level (retain RQF6+), the English language exemption and visa eligibility rules should remain unchanged.
It also found that ICT workers are typically net contributors to the UK economy, given the high salary threshold requirement, and that there was no evidence in any sector of the economy that ICT workers are having a detrimental impact on UK wages or employment opportunities for UK resident workers.
However, the MAC did put forward the following recommendations:
ICT to ILR
The MAC suggested that while ICT workers may not be certain of their longer term intention to stay in the UK or return home, this should be given as an option, not least since employers expressed their concerns at losing sponsorship investment if workers switch from ICT to Skilled Worker to set on the ILR path.
ICT salary threshold
The recommendation was to increase the ICT from £41,500 to £42,400, or the going rate for the role if higher, while for new entrants (graduate trainees) the threshold should be lowered to £20,480 or the going rate with a 30% reduction if higher, to ensure consistency with the Skilled Worker thresholds. It also advised that salary thresholds be reviewed and updated on an annual basis.
Allowances & salary threshold
The MAC raised a query with the use of guaranteed allowances for ICT workers being used to count towards the salary threshold. In the absence of data to make a conclusion, the MAC advised increased monitoring and enforcement to tackle instances of abuse.
Immigration Skills Charge
Under the terms of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the EU, the UK has committed to exempt EU national ICT workers from the ISC by 1 January 2023. Employers are awaiting whether this will be extended to non-EU nationals as well.
Transferring non-UK teams to set up UK operations
Under current UK immigration rules, multinationals can transfer a single employee under the Sole Representative route to set up and run a UK subsidiary or branch, but this visa has limitations. For example, it is not straightforward for overseas companies to send a team of non-UK nationals to set up and run the UK operation; a single employee could be deployed as a Sole Representative, but the UK-based entity would then need to apply for a sponsor licence to employ more migrant workers in the UK.
To address this challenge, the UK Government has proposed a new Global Business Mobility visa route from Spring 2022 to help multinational companies transfer workers to the UK to set up and expand UK-based operations. In addition, the MAC has recommended changes to the ICT route which would also help to support the transfer of skilled migrant teams to the UK.
This includes retaining the sole representative route but lowering the visa period to only two years and removing the option to extend the visa, and also trialling a new ‘Team Subsidiary’ route for two years. The Team Subsidiary route would be for up to five workers, with at least one meeting the current sole representative eligibility requirements and the remainder satisfying the Skilled Worker eligibility criteria.
The Home Office has yet to share its response to the ICT recommendations, so it remains to be seen if any of the changes will be accepted and acted on. Should a new Team Subsidiary route be introduced, moving forward we may well see the ICT visa lose any relevance and effectively become redundant.
In the meantime, the ICT route continues to play a role for multinationals transferring existing skilled workers to the UK.
We are on hand to advise on UK immigration routes and visa options for multinational companies managing globally mobile workforces and supporting with applications to transfer workers to the UK.
For specialist UK immigration advice for businesses, contact us.
Last updated: 14 October 2021