UNITED KINGDOM – Changes to the Immigration Rules from April 2015
The UK Home Office recently issued a Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules, including a number of changes to Tier 2 and Tier 1 of the points-based system, which are due to take effect from 6 April 2015.
Main Changes to Tier 2
Minimum Salary Thresholds
The minimum salary thresholds and SOC code salary rates have been amended in line with changes to the average weekly earnings of settled workers, which have risen by 1.2% in the 12 months up to November 2014.
The Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (ICT – Short Term) minimum salary thresholds will increase by £300 per annum to £20,800 and £24,800 respectively, whilst Tier 2 (ICT – Long Term) will rise to £41,500, up £500 from the current minimum threshold.
Cooling Off Period
The 12 month “cooling-off period”, which restricts applicants from obtaining a new Tier 2 visa if they have been in the UK as a Tier 2 migrant within the previous 12 months, will no longer apply to applicants who have held a previous grant of Tier 2 leave for 3 months or less, within the previous 12 months.
Following the partial review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), a small number of senior jobs in digital technology (limited to people with at least five years experience) will be added to the shortage occupation lists of England and Scotland, including product manager, data scientist, senior developer and cyber security specialist.
Main Changes to Tier 1
Tier 1 (General) Extensions to Close Imminently
The Tier 1 (General) category will close to extension applications from 6 April 2015. After that time, no further leave to remain in the Tier 1 (General) route will be granted.
Migrants with a Tier 1 (General) visa who wish to remain in the UK may apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) until 6 April 2018. Anyone who does not qualify for ILR will need to apply for further leave to remain before 5 April 2015, or apply for a different immigration category.
Due to the imminent closure of Tier 1 (General) extensions, however, the Home Office is no longer restricting extension applications to those with less than 3 months leave remaining.
Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)
Effective from 6 April 2015, a change is being made to give applicants the option of the length of visa they wish to apply for (up to the current maximum of five years, or five years and four months in the case of entry clearance applications).
This change is being made alongside the introduction of NHS surcharge payments, due to be implemented from Spring 2015, and means that Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) applicants who only wish to come to the UK for a short time in this category will not need to pay the maximum leave period surcharge payments.
Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)
The Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) category caters for applicants coming to the UK to set up, take over, or be involved in the running of a business in the UK as directors.
The following major changes are being made from 6 April 2015:
- Clarification that government funding by way of an intermediary public body may be accepted, providing that the body confirms the funds were made available by a UK or Devolved Government Department for the specific purpose of establishing or expanding a UK business;
- Use of the “genuineness” tests for extension and Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) applications;
- Migrants in the Tier 1 (General) category will be restricted from switching into Tier 1 (Entrepreneur), unless they have already established a UK business before 6 April 2015, or they have funding from a government department or endorsed seed funding competition;
- Clarification regarding how investment funds may be spent, and the restriction on engaging in businesses principally concerned with property development or property management;
- Applicants relying on funds they hold themselves must provide evidence of the third party source of those funds, if they have held the funds for less than 90 days before making an initial application;
- All initial Tier (1) Entrepreneur applicants will need to submit a business plan as part of their application. Previously this was not a mandatory document, but is often requested by caseworkers to help applicants demonstrate a genuine intention to set-up a UK business.
Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
The Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) category caters for graduates who have been endorsed by UK Higher Education Institutions or by UK Trade and Investment to establish one or more businesses in the UK.
Effective 6 April 2015, a change is being made to restrict applicants in this category from engaging in businesses principally concerned with property development or property management, for consistency with the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) category.
Tier 1 (Investor)
The Tier 1 (Investor) category caters for high net worth individuals making a substantial financial investment to the UK.
Effective 6 April 2015, the following major changes are being made:
- Prospective investors will now be required to open a bank account regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) before making their initial application;
- The minimum age of applicants in this category is being increased from 16 to 18;
- Changes are being made to the requirement for applicants to maintain their investments. The changes will mean applicants will no longer need to invest additional capital if they sell part of their investments at a loss, but they will be required to maintain all their capital within their investment portfolios. Buying and selling investments will continue to be permitted, providing the investor does not withdraw any capital.
The Home Office has announced changes to the Visitor visa category which will affect those wishing to visit the UK from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) from 24 April 2015. The category will be consolidated into just four routes - visit (standard); marriage/civil partnership visit; Permitted Paid Engagements (PPE) visit; and Transit visit - in the anticipation that the new streamlined system will be easier to navigate than the current 15 routes available under the Visitor category. Visitor visas will still only be valid for a period of no more than six months, and visitors will still be prohibited from taking employment in the UK.
Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR)
Effective from 6 April 2015, Tier 1 and Tier 2 migrants who apply for ILR must not have had more than 180 days absence from the UK per year during the qualifying period (usually five years). A change is also being made to discount any absences from the UK from counting towards the 180 day limit, where the absence was due to the applicant assisting with the Ebola crisis which began in West Africa in 2014.
Changes to English Language Test
The list of Approved Secure English Language Tests and Test Centres has been updated. Many of the previously accepted tests have been removed, and some new providers added to the list.
The introduction of a list of approved test centres is to ensure appropriate security features in the booking, administration and invigilation procedures. Other changes will allow results to be rejected if the test was not taken at an approved centre. A transitional period of seven months has been introduced to help migrants who have taken their test ahead of these changes as part of their forthcoming immigration application. Providing that the test was passed before 6 April 2015, the test results may be used as part of immigration applications until 6 November 2015.
- Tier 1 (General) visa holders who do not qualify for Indefinite Leave to Remain will need to apply for further leave to remain before 6 April 2015, or apply for a different immigration category.