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Important changes to Immigration Rules

04 November 2019

In this article, we will discuss the most important changes to the UK Immigration Rules implemented in October and the background behind the changes.

The Migration Advisory Committee, which advises the Government in respect of Immigration policy, conducted a review of the Shortage Occupation List in May 2019 making recommendations as how things can be improved to cater for the UK labour market. It followed the Immigration White Paper on Immigration 2018 and we are now awaiting a new review into the merits of the UK adopting an “Australian style immigration system”, due in January 2020.

Some of the MAC’s proposals have now started to be implemented as part of the Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules effective from October 2019.

Following the MAC’s recommendation, the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) has been expanded and now covers approximately 10% of UK jobs, equating to about 2.5 million workers. The SOL is a way of prioritising some jobs over others, based on where the shortages are most severe and where the consequences of those shortages are most serious. There is also the Scotland-only SOL, in addition to the UK-wide list.

Being on the SOL is advantageous as the employer does not have to conduct a Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). These jobs are also exempt from the £35,000 minimum income threshold for settlement, have lower visa fees and priority in the event the annual 20,700 cap binds. This was most keenly felt in 2018 when the cap was hit for several consecutive months.

The 2018 White Paper had proposed the complete removal of the RLMT and cap on skilled workers, and the Government accepted this recommendation, but this is not likely to happen until after 2021.

The roles added to the SOL include biological scientists, psychologists, civil engineers, mechanical engineers, web designers, paramedics, graphic designers, vets and architects. In addition, a significant number of Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes already on the list but only for limited types of jobs, have been extended to cover all jobs in that occupation code.

PhD level occupations are now exempt from the Tier 2 (General) limit. Announced in the Chancellor’s 2019 Spring Statement, this is to signal that the UK welcome researchers and other highly skilled individuals and will free up places in that tier for other key roles that contribute to the UK economy.

Tier 4 students studying at degree level or above are now permitted to apply to switch into the Tier 2 route within 3 months of the expected end date of their course, to enable them to take up skilled work in the UK following the successful completion of their studies. Students at Masters and PhD level can now commence a different course of study with their current sponsor on the same visa without having to leave to the UK.

Enabling international students to transition easily into skilled jobs in the UK is a recurring theme, and the Government has announced a new two-year post-study work visa to enable this. Due to launch for the 2020/21 intake of students, the proposed visa will allow graduates 2 years to find skilled work. After the two years, they will be able to switch onto the skilled work visa if they find a job which meets the skill requirement of the route.

Similar visa routes have previously been implemented before, most notably the Tier 1 (Post Study Work) visa, and it is understood that it will enable such students to take employment without needing to be sponsored and without restriction on the type of work they can do.

By Hesham Shoeb

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