New Immigration Rules in force - 29 March 2019 onwards
The final push by Theresa May’s Government for a Brexit deal this month has not held back the UK Home Office from making significant and wide ranging changes to the UK’s Immigration Rules. Published on 7 March 2019, the new Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules introduces two new visa types for business entrepreneurs - Start Up and Innovator. The latest Statement also introduces changes to the Tier 1 (Investor) visa route, updates the countries whose nationals have lower documentary requirements for Tier 4 student visas and provides important detail about the new EU Settlement Scheme.
With the majority of the changes due to take effect late March/early April 2019, UK employers also need to be aware of key changes to the Tier 2 sponsorship regime for work visas, including increases to many of the salary thresholds in the Codes of Practice.
Start Up and Innovator routes
The current Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) and Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) routes, the main routes for individuals wishing to set up or run a business in the UK, will be scrapped from 29 March 2019 and replaced by the “Start Up” and “Innovator” visa categories.
Extension applications for current Tier 1 Entrepreneur migrants will remain open until 5 April 2023.
The Start Up category is an expanded version of the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) category. Intended for those starting a new business for the first time in the UK, applicants do not need to be graduates nor have secured funding.
The Innovator category is intended for more experienced business persons who will need to invest £50,000 in a UK based business from any legitimate source, reduced from £200,000 for most Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) applicants.
Following the Migration Advisory Committee’s conclusion that the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) category “has a long tail of low quality projects which contributed little or nothing to the UK economy”, both new visa routes will require applicants to be formally endorsed by a trusted organisation in the UK “such as business accelerators, seed competitions and government agencies, as well as higher education providers.”
These endorsing bodies must assess an applicant’s business proposal against three key endorsement criteria, namely innovation (applicant has a genuine, original business plan), viability (applicant has the necessary skills, knowledge and experience) and scalability (potential for job creation).
In keeping with the principles of sponsorship (whereby sponsors are the ‘eyes and ears’ of the Home office), endorsing bodies must also agree to stay in contact with applicants, with ‘checkpoints’ six, 12 and 24 months after the application is granted. The endorsing body must be satisfied that applicants are continuing to work on their business ventures and have either demonstrated reasonable progress with their original ideas or are pursuing new ideas that are equally innovative, viable and scalable. If an applicant does not satisfy these criteria or misses a checkpoint, the endorsing body must report this to the UK Home Office.
Endorsing bodies for Start Up visas are listed on the Gov.UK website. There is not yet a set list of organisations that can endorse someone for an Innovator visa, although endorsing bodies will need to satisfy certain criteria to demonstrate that they are a ‘trusted’ organisation (including a proven track record of supporting UK entrepreneurs as well as approval by the Home office as an endorsing body).
The Tier 1 (Investor) visa category is for high net worth individuals making an investment of at least £2 million in the UK. To address concerns about the provenance of funds and protect against financial crime, the key change in this route is that now applicants must provide evidence that the funds have been held for a period of two years, up from 90 days.
Tier 2 Visas
The Tier 2 route is the main immigration route for UK employers seeking to recruit non-EEA Skilled Workers. Tier 2 visa applicants must meet certain minimum skills and salary thresholds, as set out in the Codes of Practice. With salary rates previously unchanged since April 2017, the latest Statement of Changes amends the Codes of Practice, resulting in an increase in the minimum salary sponsors will need to pay applicants for many SOC Codes. If an employer wishes to sponsor someone on or after 30 March 2019, it is important to check that the proposed salary meets any revised minimum salary requirement.
The exemption from the £30,000 minimum salary requirement for certain professions, which was due to end in July 2019, has been extended (seemingly indefinitely). This means that nurses, medical radiographers, paramedics and secondary school teachers in mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science and Mandarin do not have to meet to meet the £30,000 minimum salary threshold.
Tier 4 Students who are eligible to switch to Tier 2 can now apply up to three months before the expected completion of their course (rather than only after they completed the course).
Tier 4 Student Visas
The Tier 4 route is the primary route used by non-EEA nationals wishing to study in the UK. Following the latest annual review of low risk nationalities, the list of countries in Appendix H for whose nationals there are lower documentary requirements has been updated.
From 6 April 2019, nationals of the following countries can benefit from the easier documentary requirements when applying for a Tier 4 student visa to study in the UK: Brazil, Kazakhstan, Mauritius, Oman, Peru and Tunisia. However, Argentina, the Maldives and Trinidad and Tobago have been removed from the list which means nationals of those countries will have to provide evidence of their money and qualifications when applying for a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK.
Under the Tier 4 (Child) route, used by non-EEA nationals aged 4-17 wishing to study at an independent school in the UK, further provision has been made to confirm funds are held or being provided to them by a foster carer or close relative.
EU Settlement Scheme
The EU Settlement Scheme provides the basis for resident EU citizens and their family members to apply for UK immigration status, which they will require in order to remain in the UK permanently after the UK’s exit from the European Union. The latest Statement of Changes makes provision for the full opening of the EU Settlement Scheme from 30 March 2019, which has been in pilot and test stages since 28 August 2018.
Significant points to highlight:
- There will be no application fee under the EU Settlement Scheme (as per Theresa May’s announcement on 21 January 2019)
- Citizens of Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland and their family members can apply under the EU Settlement Scheme
- The date by which EEA nationals must have been continuously resident in the UK, and certain family relationships will need to have been formed, will be 31 December 2020 if the UK leaves with a deal, or 29 March 2019 if the UK leaves without a deal (although dates may change as Brexit negotiations continue)
- It will be possible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme from outside the UK.
- Non-EEA citizens will be able to apply for an “EU Settlement Scheme Family Permit” to join or accompany an EEA citizen who has been granted status under the Settlement Scheme.
For further advice and assistance, please contact our dedicated business immigration team.
The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.