New UK work visas set out in UK immigration White Paper

The Government’s much-anticipated UK immigration White Paper was published on Wednesday 19 December 2018. The document outlines proposals for a new UK immigration system.

In an overhaul of the current rules, there will be a new single, skills-based immigration system introduced, founded on:

  • Skills and experience over nationality
  • The end of freedom of movement
  • A single immigration system for all nationalities

 

 

The new system has taken many of its themes from the MAC Brexit report published earlier in the year, which highlighted deficiencies in the current system and made recommendations for reform in the shape of a skills-focused model.

Under the new rules, we will see:

  • Annual skilled visa cap to be abolished (Tier 2 (General) visa route)
  • Removal of the Resident Labour Market Test requirement on employers that sponsor skilled workers
  • Skills threshold to be widened to include individuals with qualifications equivalent of A levels and above
  • Consultation on a minimum salary requirement of £30,000 for skilled migrants seeking five-year visas
  • Tier 4 students to be able to remain in the UK after study for a longer period
  • “Low skilled” workers to rely on a new 12-month route for temporary workers of any skill level

The new immigration system will be implemented in a phased approach from 2021 following a 12-month programme of engagement with businesses, stakeholders and the public by the Home Office.

What does the new system mean for UK employers?

The Government states the reforms are aimed at alleviating skills shortages across the UK economy by lifting restriction on access to medium and highly skilled labour. But off concern to UK employers is any relaxation relating to skilled workers is playing out against reduced availability, and soon to be restricted access, to EEA workers.

The new short-term work visa 

The Government is introducing a new temporary visa route for low skilled workers, which would be in place until at least 2025. It is aimed at helping employers with the transition to the new system, in particular sectors reliant on lower skilled overseas labour, such as construction and health and social care.

It will be open to nationals from specified, ‘low-risk’ countries, regardless of skill level. They will not need to have a definite job offer, nor will they need to be ‘sponsored’.

Applicants would need to apply for a visa which would be limited to 12 months, at which point a “cooling-off” period will take effect, meaning they could not return under the same route for the next year.

While in the UK, they would not be entitled to access public funds or switch to other routes, bring dependant family members or seek permanent settlement.

But this new route is intentionally limiting in what it offers the visa holder:

  • Family members can not accompany the visa holder to the UK
  • Visa holders will not be able to ‘switch’ visa categories
  • There will be no access to benefits
  • There will be no path to settlement.
  • A 12-month cooling off period will also be imposed once the visa expires, meaning the visa holder has to leave the UK for a minimum period of 12 months before they can apply to return under a new visa.

A cap on this visa may be introduced, with the Government stressing it was a ‘transitory’ measure and subject to review by 2025.

The new-look skilled worker visa 

Skilled workers will be catered for under a reformed visa route, allowing visa holders to stay for longer, bring dependants and potentially to settle permanently.

The new route would apply to all nationalities – including EEA nationals – and require sponsorship by a qualifying employer. It will also be open to applicants offering high and intermediary-level skills.

The cap currently applicable to the Tier 2 skilled visa route is to be abolished.

Tier 4 international students 

The new system will extend the current permission for Tier 4 international students to stay in the UK after study for a longer period – up to six months for a bachelor’s or master’s degree and up to 12 months for those who have completed a PhD.

The new rule is hoped to enable Tier 4 graduates to find qualifying employment in Britain.

Do you have a question about the UK’s new immigration system and its impact on your business or your business?

Employers are advised to brace themselves for 2019. The White Paper and the Immigration Bill together will have a cataclysmic impact on migration to the UK, creating new risks for businesses and requiring new approaches to identify opportunities and ensure competitive advantage.

For employers, this will necessitate a review of HR strategies, policies, processes and budgets for recruitment and onboarding of non-UK resident workers.

DavidsonMorris is a law firm specialising in UK immigration. We help businesses and individuals understand their immigration options and rights. We are working with management boards and HR teams to support businesses through this period of immense and fundamental upheaval in how UK employers recruit and employ international talent.

If you have a question about the UK immigration White Paper and the proposed Bill, and the potential impact on your business or your rights, please contact us.