Immigration – Update

Tier 2 Immigration Route

On 24 March 2016 the government announced that it would be making wide-ranging changes to the Tier 2 immigration route, which is the part of the points-based system under which foreign (non-European) migrants must apply to come to undertake skilled work in the UK. This article looks at these developments, focusing only on the Tier 2 (General) route, as well as some of the other changes that have taken place in immigration law in the last year.

Under the Tier 2 route, sponsoring organisations must offer a minimum salary to a foreign migrant in order for the sponsorship to be valid. The rate for ‘new entrants’ (certain graduates and individuals aged 25 or under) has been maintained at £20,800. However, the rate for ‘experienced workers’ (all other Tier 2 applicants) was increased to £25,000 in November 2016 and will increase again from 6 April 2017 to £30,000.

Certain workers in healthcare and education will be exempt from the increase until July 2019, but all other roles will now have to be advertised at the minimum rate before the employer could consider a foreign migrant for the role. In addition, as new entrants are considered experienced workers if their sponsorship exceeds three years and one month, employers could face having to offer a large increase in salary if it wishes to retain migrants in the longer term.

Immigration Skills Charge

Another change that could significantly increase the cost of sponsorship is the introduction of the Immigration Skills Charge. This is essentially a new levy applied to each year of sponsorship and must be paid at the time of applying for sponsorship to make the application valid, with limited exceptions.

Small businesses, of 50 employees or fewer and whose turnover is £10.2m or less, will have to pay £364 per year. For medium and large organisations the charge is £1000 per year. As a migrant generally must be sponsored for five years before they can apply for indefinite leave to remain, the cost of sponsoring a migrant could be prohibitive in some cases.

Other changes

Tier 2 applicants seeking a role in education, health and social care will now also be required to provide a criminal record certificate as part of their application. The government has stated that this will help its aims of safeguarding against migrants with a criminal history from coming to the UK.

The government is also cracking down on migrants overstaying. Whereas until now a migrant has had a 90 day ‘grace’ period after their leave to remain has expired to leave the UK, they will now have only 30 days. If a migrant overstays by more than 30 days they will be banned from re-entering the UK for 12 months.

As well as the changes to the points-based rules outlined above, 2016 also saw amendments to other immigration legislation. In particular, whereas previously it was an offence to ‘knowingly employ’ an illegal worker, since July 2016 the threshold has been lowered to having ‘reasonable cause to believe’ that a person is an illegal worker.

As well as making it easier to commit an offence, the penalties for doing so were also increased last year. An employer can now face a fine of up to £20,000 per illegal worker, and the potential prison sentence has been increased from two to five years.

If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, or need help with any immigration advice, please contact Seanpaul McCahill.

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