Back to the future? UK Immigration changes in 2021

By Immigration Adviser Alexandra MacMahon and Senior Counsel Vikki Wiberg, Taylor Wessing.

With the launch of the New Points Based System on 1 December 2020, employers could assume that UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) had taken the opportunity to clarify any areas of confusion. Not so! In the last four months, more seemingly small changes have been announced which could have a big impact on unsuspecting sponsors.

  • The removal of the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT)?

When the Skilled Worker visa route replaced Tier 2 General on 1 December 2020, one particularly welcome change was the removal of the prescriptive RLMT. This was thrown into confusion when, three weeks later, UKVI re-inserted a requirement to retain RLMT documents (even for roles that previously didn’t require advertising). It was unclear whether employers sponsoring a Skilled Worker needed to undertake an RLMT or not.

After lobbying, UKVI has again revised its Appendix D guidance to confirm that sponsors are not required to undertake a “formal” RLMT before sponsoring Skilled Workers. If a vacancy has been advertised and is later offered to a Skilled Worker, UKVI will expect to see evidence of the recruitment activity, for example with an advert copy and interview notes for the successful candidate for example. If sponsors do not advertise roles, they must evidence how they recruited the Skilled Worker (e.g. they are already employed on a different visa route). In all cases, sponsors must ensure they can demonstrate the roles are genuine.

  • International Graduate visa

Employers will be pleased to see the resurrection of a post study worker visa from 1 July 2021. International students can switch to this visa if they have completed an eligible course. Unlike the Post Study Work route (which ended in 2012), there is no financial maintenance test. This visa does not require a sponsor and allows holders to reside and work (including self-employment) or study in the UK for two years after their studies (three years for Doctoral students). In the future, holders will be able to switch to a Skilled Worker visa under the new entrant route, with a lower minimum salary.

A key advantage for graduate employers is that they don’t need a sponsor licence for these visa holders or pay the Immigration Skills Charge of up to £1,000 a year. As time on a Graduate visa doesn’t count towards Settlement, some graduates may prefer to move straight to Skilled Worker visas to work towards Settlement sooner.

  • UKVI to resume sponsor audits – 17 March 2021

UKVI announced it will resume audits as Lockdown restrictions ease (audits were paused during Lockdown One). UKVI assures sponsors it will comply with Public Health England advice and the measures the sponsor has in place to protect its workforce. With most companies allowing people to work from home, we will see if audits will be pre-arranged.

This is a good time to conduct an internal audit. Have you downsized to new premises or surrendered your office lease whilst employees work from home? If so, you must update the UKVI to remain compliant with your sponsor duties. Non-compliance could result in your licence being downgraded or revoked. UKVI’s Covid-19 guidance still confirms you do not need to update where a sponsored migrant is working from home due to Covid-19 arrangements.

  • Rishi Sunak’s proposed additional changes to the Immigration System

In his March 2021 budget, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak announced plans to modernise the immigration system to make the UK more attractive to those in academia, science, research, and technology. Proposed changes include:

  • Introducing an ‘elite points based’ visa by March 2022. Applicants with job offers will qualify for ‘fast-track’ visas.
  • Expanding the Global Talent scheme to include holders of international prizes and winners of scholarships and programmes for early promise.
  • Updating the ill-used Innovator visa to be more accessible to those looking to start UK businesses.
  • A Global Business Mobility visa introduced in March 2022 to allow overseas businesses to establish a presence and transfer staff to the UK. Will this be a rebrand of the current Representative of an Overseas Business visa or more fundamental? 

The changes reflect the ongoing push to attract the brightest and the best to the UK especially in these shortage occupation areas. The proof of the routes is in the pudding though.

  • Don’t forget the deadline for EU Settlement Scheme applications30 June 2021

Applications must be made by 30 June 2021 for EEA nationals resident in the UK, by 31 December 2020 to protect their immigration status and ability to live and work in the UK. UKVI will accept later applications if there are ‘reasonable grounds’ but haven’t explained what this means. We recommend a final review of your people to encourage applications before 30 June 2021.

Author: Editorial Team

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