April 2017 will see a number of changes to UK immigration, marking the completion of the amendments originally laid out by the Minister of State for Immigration in March 2016.
Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (ICT)
Introduction of the Immigration Skills Charge
The Immigration Skills Charge ('ISC') will apply to applicants across both the Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (ICT) categories.
This new charge will apply to all Tier 2 employers at a standard rate of £1,000 per person per year, with a reduced rate of £364 for smaller businesses and charities.
The Government has offered exemptions to this charge in three categories: Tier 4 students switching into the Tier 2 category, occupations at PhD level, and for Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) Graduate Trainees.
The cost will attach to the £199 charged for the Certificate of Sponsorship, and will be payable online at the point of assigning the CoS.
The implementation of the ISC will significantly increase the costs of mobility into the UK where employers are not recruiting from any of the exempted categories. Exemptions are geared towards high-value migrations and the fostering of new talent in the UK.
Tier 2 (ICT)
Abolition of Tier 2 (ICT - Short Term Staff) route
April will see the closure of the ICT - Short Term Staff route to new applicants. This marks the streamlining of the Tier 2 ICT category, which will now have only two categories rather than four, the Tier 2 ICT - Long Term Staff and Tier 2 ICT - Graduate Trainee routes. It will require a minimum salary of £41,500 for those not applying through the Graduate Trainee route.
Those employers with significant output on short-term projects will be forced to consider the scope of projects and deployment of expatriate staff. Traditional sector users of the Short Term visa category, such as IT, Oil and Gas, and Engineering, will need to be mindful that expatriates working on shorter-term projects could be caught by the 12 month 'cooling off' period which follows the expiration of a standard Tier 2 visa. Any employees coming to the UK will have to apply under the ICT - Long Term Staff category with the higher minimum salary of £41,500, rather than the current £30,000.
Changes to the Tier 2 (ICT- Long Term Staff) route
The closure of the Short Term Staff route means that the Tier 2 ICT - Long Term Staff becomes the default ICT category for those not eligible for a Graduate Trainee visa.
Those earning over £73,900 annually will no longer be required to have 12 months' prior employment with their sponsor allowing for the rapid recruitment and deployment of senior staff into UK operations.
The high-earner threshold for extensions under Tier 2 ICT will be reduced from £155,300 to £120,000, allowing those who meet this criteria to remain in the UK for up to nine years.
The ICT category will now carry additional flexibility for senior staff and project managers deployed to the UK on expatriate assignments. The lowering of the threshold only affects the ability to extend the visa in-country up to nine years. It does not affect the avoidance of the 12 month cooling-off period or resident labour market test requirement which remains at £155,300.
Tier 2 (General)
Changes to salary threshold in Tier 2 (General)
Tier 2 (General) salary thresholds for experienced workers will be increased to £30,000 in April 2017, following on from the uplift to £25,000 already enacted in late November.
New Entrants will not be affected, and will have the minimum threshold of £20,800 maintained.
Certain health and education professionals will be exempt from the higher threshold until July 2019.
This increase in the minimum salary threshold is likely to impact sectors which have lower Experienced Worker SOC codes; traditionally from the IT, Education, and Financial Accounting sectors.
Waiving of the Resident Labour Market Test
The Resident Labour Market Test ('RLMT') is a core element of many Tier 2 (General) applications with significant time implications for Sponsors wishing to demonstrate to the UK Government that the recruitment of migrant labour is justified and does not displace the existing UK workforce.
In an attempt to foster inward investment, high-value business migration will see the requirement for RLMT waived.
While the Government is yet to clarify the exact scope and definition of this exemption, start-ups and investors can potentially benefit from a more streamlined route to recruiting global talent into their businesses.
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