New Policy in UK since 1 January 2021: Some minor changes to the visitor rules
New immigration system in UK will come force from January, 2021 - Photo: Marsans Law

New immigration system in UK will come force from January, 2021

From 1 January 2021, the UK will introduce a new system of immigration control. For the first time in decades, EEA and Swiss nationals (EEA nationals) will be subject to the same immigration controls as non-EEA nationals.

In October 2020, the Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules were laid before parliament and the new system will come into force for applications submitted after 9am on 1 December 2020.

From this date, free movement for nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland will end. Non-British and Irish nationals not covered by the withdrawal agreement between the UK and EU will require visas for all but short-term visits to the UK.

Arrivals will require passports, unless covered by the withdrawal agreement. National ID cards will not be acceptable. The government intends to introduce a universal 'permission to travel' requirement on a phased basis to 2025, which will mean that anyone other than British or Irish nationals looking to travel to the UK will need to seek permission to do so in advance. A visa, where held, will constitute permission to travel and the plan is to move towards a digital immigration record, according to pinsentmasons.

An electronic travel authorisation (ETA) will be introduced for visitors and those transiting through the UK who do not need a visa for short stays in the UK, or who don't have a UK immigration status before travelling.

Employers should now:

Review and plan ahead

Current sponsored migrants looking to extend their stay after 1 January 2021 will have to do so under the new rules - they will not only be relevant for new recruits.

Consider your recruitment needs

Consider whether the typical vacancies arising in your business will qualify under the new requirements. What impact could this have on your recruitment practices and costs? Recruiting EEA and Swiss nationals will undoubtedly be more complex, expensive and time consuming from January 2021, where possible at all. EEA or Swiss nationals recruited to the UK ahead of 31 December will be able to remain in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme rules, avoiding the new system.

Now is the time to conduct a 'health check' to ensure your immigration processes and procedures are sufficiently robust; and that you are aware of your compliance duties and adhering to them.

Neither the current points-based system (PBS) nor the new system permits migrants to enter the UK for lower-skilled work below RQF3. Only a limited number of applicants at RQF3 will qualify given the salary thresholds. There will be no temporary route to avoid a 'cliff edge' scenario for businesses, as was previously promised by Theresa May's government. This is a significant concern for affected businesses and the impact on the construction, care, hospitality, tourism, food processing, manufacturing and retail sectors, all of which already face skills shortages, should not be underestimated. The knock-on effect could be widespread, including in many business supply chains.

Check or get a sponsor licence

If you have until now avoided the PBS, you may well find yourself needing to obtain a sponsor licence to recruit the talent you need come 2021. We expect there to be a surge in licence applications in the coming months, which may naturally impact on processing times.

We recommend employers act now if they are not licensed already, so that they are in a good position to hire the talent they need from 2021. See our Out-Law guide UK immigration from 2021: applying for a sponsor licence.

If you already have a sponsor licence, you are likely to be making greater use of it from January if you need to recruit EEA or Swiss nationals. It is not known whether UKVI will increase its auditing of existing sponsors, but now is the time to conduct a 'health check' to ensure your processes and procedures are sufficiently robust; and that you are aware of your compliance duties and adhering to them.

Communicate with existing staff

It is vital that those in the UK on the basis of current EU free movement rights secure their ability to remain by applying under the EU settlement scheme in order to avoid the new requirements. Employers should communicate this to affected staff, and consider and provide sufficient support.

Visiting the UK: Changes Rules

New Policy in UK since 1 January 2021: Some minor changes to the visitor rules
Photo: Politics Home

There are some minor changes to the visitor rules.

Visitors are able to come to the UK for up to 180 days at any one time to undertake a wide range of permitted activities. For example, visitors can attend conferences and meetings, attend interviews, gather information for their work overseas, give and receive training in most circumstances.

Some nationals, known as “visa nationals”, require visas before they travel to the UK, for example those from China, India or South Africa. Applications for visitor visas are made at a local visa application centre and a vignette is placed into the passport.

From 1 January 2021, EEA nationals will be classified as non-visa nationals, joining other countries such as the US, Canada and Australia. They will therefore not be required to obtain a visa before they travel to the UK to visit. Instead, they will simply be able to travel to the UK and apply on arrival for entry as a visitor, either by presenting their passports to an Immigration Officer or by going through the e-gates at the border.

Visitors will now be able to undertake a course of study with an accredited institution for up to 6 months. Recreational courses for leisure can be undertaken for up to 30 days.

It is important to note that visitors are not permitted to undertake any work or long-term study in the UK, beyond certain permitted activities, while holding this status. Visitors are also prohibited from using the visitor route to reside in the UK long term.

New Policy in UK since 1 January 2021: Working in the UK

Skilled migrant workers may be sponsored by organisations who hold a sponsor licence issued by the UK Home Office. Those migrant workers undertaking permanent employment will usually be sponsored under Tier 2 (General), while those who are employed overseas and being sent to the UK on a temporary intra-group assignment are usually sponsored under Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer).

From 1 January 2021, employers will need to sponsor EEA nationals who do not already have an immigration status which entitles them to undertake the role on offer. If an employer does not have a sponsor licence and regularly hires EEA nationals, they are strongly advised to apply for one now.

New Policy in UK since 1 January 2021: Highly skilled migrants

There are no substantial changes to the rules for highly skilled migrants.

The Global Talent route, which has replaced the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route, will be extended to EEA nationals. Under this route, talented individuals will be granted immigration permission to work without restriction if they are endorsed by a specialist endorsing body following peer review.

The Government also intends to introduce a non-sponsored “Australian-style points-based-system” where visas would be granted based on academics, age, earning potential etc. without the need of a job offer. Those granted this visa would be able to work without restriction. This route will not be implemented by 1 January 2021 as the Government needs to undertake further research into this route’s viability, cites macfarlanes.

New Policy in UK since 1 January 2021: Low skilled migrants

There will continue to be no dedicated visa route for low skilled roles which is defined as those roles below the RQF 3 skill level, for example roles in agriculture, retail, manufacturing and haulage.

The Government had previously proposed a temporary transitional visa to assist industries which rely heavily on lower skilled EEA workers, but this will no longer be implemented.

There will be sector specific seasonal visa programmes, such as the Seasonal Agricultural Workers programme, which will provide time limited visas via a quota system.

New Policy in UK since 1 January 2021: Temporary work

Tier 5 of the current immigration system contains a range of sub-categories for those undertaking temporary work in the UK, for example interns, religious workers and sportspeople. These visas require sponsorship from an organisation that holds a Tier 5 sponsor licence.

There will be no substantial changes to most of these sub-categories.

Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) may be extended on a reciprocal basis to the nationals of individual EEA countries.

Currently, those aged 18-30 from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan are able to apply for a visa valid for two years which permits unrestricted work in the UK.

Tier 5 visa holders will now be able to switch into the Skilled Worker visa category from within the UK.

New Policy in UK since 1 January 2021: Investors

There will be no substantial changes to the rules for investors.

Those with at least £2m who are able to transfer these funds to the UK and invest in qualifying assets will be able to continue to apply for visas under the Tier 1 (Investor) category. As long as the investment is maintained for a five year period, the migrant will eventually qualify to settle in the UK. Accelerated routes to settlement are available for those who invest £5m (settlement in three years) or £10m (settlement in two years).

Innovators/entrepreneurs

There will be no substantial changes to the rules for innovators/entrepreneurs.

Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) and Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) was replaced by the Start-Up and Innovator categories in March 2019 and visas will be granted to those with a genuine and viable business plan who are endorsed by a Government approved endorsing body. For Start-Ups, no capital investment is required but Innovators will need to show that they have £50,000 to invest in their business.

New Policy in UK since 1 January 2021: Studying in the UK

There will be no substantial changes to the student rules.

Students are sponsored by Higher Educational Institutions and Schools, which hold a sponsor licence, to study in the UK under Tier 4. Adults, for example those attending UK universities, will be granted immigration permission under Tier 4 (General) while those at school will be granted Tier 4 (Child) immigration permission.

EEA nationals will require sponsorship to study in the UK from 1 January 2021.

New Policy in UK since 1 January 2021: Family routes

New Policy in UK since 1 January 2021: Some minor changes to the visitor rules
Photo: Sky News

There will be no changes to the route, which allows partners to join British citizens and those with permanent residence in the UK.

This is particularly relevant to EEA nationals who obtain either pre-settled or settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme since their partners will have to satisfy the requirements of this route if their relationship began after 31 December 2020.

This means that EEA nationals in this situation who have a status under the EU Settlement Scheme and wish to bring their partners to the UK will have to show that they are earning a minimum of £18,600 a year or have at least £62,500 in savings. Currently, there is no earnings or savings requirement for EEA nationals wishing to bring their partners to the UK.

Dependant visa holders will be able to switch into the Skilled Worker category from within the UK under the new system.

With no provision for low-skilled workers, limited changes to the sponsored worker category, few new options for high-net-worth individuals and the self-employed and no reduction in the fees associated with immigration applications, it is perhaps understandable that many are concerned that the new immigration system will not address all the challenges created by the end of EU free movement.

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