New Immigration Rules for Employers

The Government has announced that the new sponsor licence system will open for applications on 1 December 2020.

The key points for employers are:
• There is no time to lose. Apart from UK and Irish nationals and EU nationals registered under the EU Settlement Scheme, anybody from overseas wanting to live and work in the UK from 1 January 2021 will need a visa.
• The new rules do NOT allow foreign nationals to work for an employer with just an offer letter from the employer. The foreign nationals need to be SPONSORED.
• The current employer sponsored Tier 2 visa routes is replaced by the new Skilled Worker and Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) routes with effect from 1 December 2020.
• Employers will need to hold a sponsor licence to sponsor the visas of new EU employees who arrive in the UK from January 2021 onwards. This will result in increased costs and administration for employers.
• Businesspeople will no longer be able to travel as freely as they do now between the UK and the EU. Short business trips will be permitted but these will be subject to restrictions.
• Employers will need to ensure that existing EU national staff already working in the UK as at 31 December 2020 register under the Government’s EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021 to be able to continue doing so.

Employers can apply for sponsor licences now and any licences granted under the current rules will remain valid in the new regime. Employers who do not already hold a sponsor licence are encouraged to apply as soon as possible to avoid future delays with recruitment. The sponsor licences already in existence will carry on being valid.

Under the new rules, the key new work visas are the Skilled Worker and the ICT routes. These will open from 9am on 1 December 2020. EEA and Swiss nationals will continue to be able to rely on their free movement rights until 31 December 2020 so will only be granted status with effect from 1 January 2021 under the new rules.

Existing Tier 2 visas obtained under the current rules will remain valid but extension applications submitted from 1 December 2020 onwards will be considered under the new rules.

New Skilled Worker route: the Tier 2 (General) visa category is replaced by a new Skilled Worker visa category, which will cover individuals coming to the UK with a job offer from an approved sponsor employer. Employers will need to be paying a minimum salary of at least £26,500 or the “going rate” for the particular role set by the Home Office. The rules for obtaining this category of visa have been made easier:
• the resident labour market test requirement to advertise for a minimum of 28 days is removed;
• the 20,700 annual cap on visa numbers is removed;
• the 12-month ‘cooling off period’ requiring applicants to wait 12 months outside the UK before reapplying under Tier 2 no longer applies;
• the maximum six-year cap on the time spent in the UK under the Tier 2 (General) is lifted and there is no limit on the time an employee can spend on a Skilled Work visa; and
• employees in the UK on an ICT visa can switch to a Skilled Worker visa without having to leave the UK.

New ICT rules: the ICT route allows companies to transfer staff from linked overseas offices to work in the UK temporarily. This route will remain under the new regime but with some key changes:
• the 12-month cooling off requirement will be removed and replaced with a new cap of up to five years in any rolling six-year period or up to nine years in any 10-year rolling period for high earners;
• the high earner threshold under the ICT route will change to £73,900, a reduction from the current rate of £120,00;
• individuals may be able to switch to the new ICT route within the UK if they hold a Tier 5 or Tier 2 (General) visa – this is currently not permitted;
• the 10% shareholding limit is removed.

Actions to take Now

If you are not already a licensed sponsor, you probably need to apply for a sponsor licence to remain competitive and be able to recruit from the best talent pool. If you are already registered with just the ICT category, it is very worthwhile applying for the licence to cover the skilled worker category.

We will be very happy to advise you. Please send us an email.

Tom Redfern