The Home Office has announced the overall objective of the reforms to the Tier 2 visa category, following the recommendations presented by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) in January 2016. They are to significantly reduce the reliance on foreign workers and to protect UK job opportunities for those not subject to immigration control in the UK.
MAC was asked to advise on methods by which the Tier 2 Sponsored Skilled Worker category could be restricted to areas of genuine skills shortage and highly specialised experts, yet retain sufficient flexibility to include high value roles and key public service workers such as teachers and nurses.
The government’s aim is to fill recognised skill gaps in the labour market whilst “up-skilling” the resident labour market. Clearly, as training resident workers to mieet existing shortages will take several years, longer in the case of highly skilled or technical roles, so businesses’ access to the international work force remains a priority. The changes will come into effect in two stages (autumn 2016 and April 2017) to ensure that businesses have time to prepare.
Changes to the Tier 2 fall into 2 categories, namely General and Intra-Company Transfers (ICTs) although one change, in particular, affects all Tier 2 employers. The new Immigration Skills Charge will be levied on Tier 2 employers at a rate of £1,000 per person per year from April 2017. A reduced rate of £364 per person per year will apply to small and charitable sponsors. PhD roles, Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) Graduate Trainees. Where an individual switches immigration category within the UK from Tier 4 to Tier 2 a total exemption will be applied.
Announcing that the Immigration Rules for work categories will be simplified to “make them easier for sponsors and applicants to understand”, the transitional arrangements for workers sponsored at NQF levels 3 and 4 will end in the next two years.
The changes to the Tier 2 (General) category include:
- An increase of the Tier 2 (General) minimum salary threshold for experienced workers from the current £20,800 to £25,000 in autumn 2016, rising to £30,000 in April 2017. • Weight will be given to overseas graduates in the monthly Tier 2 (General) limit. Further, graduates will be able to switch roles within a company once they have secured a permanent role at the end of their training programme.
- The Resident Labour Market Test will be waived and extra weighting given during the restricted Certificate of Sponsorship monthly allocation in instances where there is the relocation of a high-value business to the UK or where doing so might support inward investment.
- Nurses, medical radiographers, paramedics and mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science and Mandarin teachers will be exempt from the new experienced hire salary threshold until 2019.
- In a strange departure from the principles underpinning the Shortage Occupation List, nurses will remain on the list but employers must carry out a Resident Labour Market Test before recruiting a non-EEA nurse. Normally the Shortage Occupation List operates to negate the need for. Resident Labour Market Test. The government rejected MAC’s recommendation that students switching from Tier 4 to Tier 2 should be included in the annual limit and be subject to the Resident Labour Market Test. Although the ability to switch is not as generous as the previous Tier 1 Post Study Work category, it nonetheless acknowledges the importance of providing post study career opportunities to overseas students as an incentive to study in the UK.
The following changes to the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) were announced:
- The exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) presently in place for Tier 2 ICTs will end in the Autumn of 2016.
- A simplification of the ICT system with the closure of the Skills Transfer and Short Term categories to new applicants by April 2017. All intra-company transferees (except graduate trainees) will qualify under a single route with a minimum salary threshold of £41,500.
- There will continue to be a separate ICT category for graduate trainees, with a lower salary threshold of £23,000 and an increased limit of 20 places per company per year, rather than 5 places as at present.
- For Tier 2 ICT workers looking to stay beyond the permitted maximum 5 years, the high earners’ threshold will be reduced from £155,300 to £120,000. Any Tier 2 ICT employee earning above this amount will be permitted t stay for up to 9 years.
- Tier 2 ICT employees will no longer need to prove they have worked for the overseas entity if they are to be paid over £73,900 per annum in the UK.
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Further detail is available in the written ministerial statement.