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Potential, Pitfalls and (ultimately) Patience

UK Immigration


Headlines are dangerous and patience is lacking. We have learnt that more than ever over the past few years.

The same is true when applied to the most recent Home Office proposals for a future UK immigration system. Research of 380 businesses currently employing non-UK nationals conducted by the British Chamber of Commerce & Indeed concluded that:

  • 53% would be negatively impacted if the £30,000 salary threshold remains;
  • 57% would be adversely affected by an increase in the immigration skills charge;
  • ⅓ would be negatively impacted by the 12-month work and residency limit on lower skilled migrants.

With an estimated 1.29 million non-EU nationals working in the UK as of September 2018, it would be fair to say that the responses of 380 businesses whilst illustrative, are by no means definitive.

There is no doubt that there are myriad inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the UK immigration rules and not least in the Tier 2 visa system that is the main route for skilled workers to come to the UK, and these are touched on below.

But between now, the end of the Brexit Circus and the introduction of a reformed UK immigration system pencilled for some time in 2021 – how do you continue to operate your business efficiently and ensure you have access to the talent you need?

It’s not £30,000 or bust

Yes, the proposal is for a minimum annual salary threshold of £30,000 and the rationale is simple: maintaining upward pressure on earnings.

In 2018, however, 25% of non-EU citizens receiving their first Tier 2 (General) visa were to earn less than £30,000.

Migrant workers in “public service occupations” have to meet the standard rates of pay in their industry so long as this is at least £20,800. These include nurses, medical radiographers, paramedics and secondary school teachers in certain subjects.

People under the age of 26 at the date of application for a visa and those currently studying in the UK on a Tier 4 visa are eligible under Tier 2 for the lower “new entrant” salary, which varies by role.

Going Forward:Proposals are currently being considered that would introduce an expanded shortage occupation list meaning a greater number of occupations are eligible to meet a lower salary threshold. The introduction of region-specific salary thresholds is also under consideration.

There is another way – or at least there might be

Always keep in mind that the individual you wish to hire in the UK may qualify for an alternative immigration route.

Age and nationality are the key clues to consider.

For citizens of certain countries under the age of 30, the Tier 5 Youth Mobility visa offers the option of living and working in the UK for up to 2 years. The caveat being that dependants cannot be included and so this is one for the currently unattached.

Ancestry is another option that is often overlooked. Commonwealth citizens who can prove one of their grandparents was born in the UK are eligible and are free to live and work in the UK for up to 5 years. Family members can join and there is no age limit.

Both these options are cheaper alternatives to the Tier 2 route and are administratively less-burdensome.

Going Forward: There is potential that the Tier 5 Youth Mobility route will be expanded in order to facilitate temporary work by lower skilled workers from the EU and other non-EU countries.

With the changing immigration landscape and ever more prescriptive immigration rules, having an immigration strategy is indispensable.

By assessing your future immigration needs over a 6 – 12 month period, you can avoid the frustration and additional cost of applying for visas after fee increase or changes in the rules have been implemented.

The hoops you need to jump through in terms of process and documentation, the personal needs of the individual who is relocating and the cash flow considerations (particularly for small businesses) can mean the process of employing a migrant worker can take more time and resource than initially envisaged.

Going Forward: It is the stated intention of the UK Government to review the administrative burden on employers sponsoring migrant workers to ensure it is proportionate to the aims of minimising immigration abuse. The proposals put forward include scrapping the much maligned Resident Labour Market Test which is both time-consuming and ineffectual in assessing the suitability of, and need for, non-EU workers.

What now for the SME Community?

If Britain is to continue to forge a reputation as a hub of entrepreneurship and be as open to business as it claims to be, it must win (or at least be in the mix for) the battle for talent.

The SME community have legitimate and well-founded concerns about the UK’s immigration policies that cannot be overlooked. There is currently too much friction in the UK immigration system and this results in frustration, delay and loss of opportunity.

Until we have certainty (which still feels a long way off across the political spectrum) SMEs must work within the current rules, keep its eye on published changes that are published and continue to consider all immigration options available.

Simon Walsh, Partner, and Phil Leonard, Trainee Solicitor, in the Employment and Business Immigration team of OC Solicitors.

Photo by Ali Yaqub on Unsplash



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