Mark Harper, the UK immigration minister announced a series of proposed changes to the UK immigration system on Thursday 14th March 2013. He told the House of Commons that the changes will be introduced on April 6th 2013. The most significant changes will be made to the Tier 2 visa scheme, the tier visa of the UK's five tier points-based immigration system that is for skilled workers with a job offer.
Fees will be going up so we advise you to make your application now. The minister says that the changes will make the system more responsive to the needs of business. The introduction of a new introductory pay rate for graduate trainees and younger workers may make it easier to get a UK Tier 2 visa for some people but changes to the Shortage Occupation List will make it harder too.
Mr Harper announced a series of changes including
- Cap for Tier 2 (General) visas fixed at 20,700 per year until further notice
- An update of the Shortage Occupation List. Some medical occupations are removed from the list. Some engineering occupations are added
- Amendments to the Code of Practice for Employers
- Changes to salary thresholds and minimum appropriate salaries for individual occupations
- A series of changes designed to 'further improve flexibility for Intra-Company Transferees and for employers carrying out the Resident Labour Market Test'
- A rise in the level of fees
The Tier 2 visa system was established in 2008 by the then Labour government. Skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area who have a job offer in the UK can apply for a Tier 2 visa. In order to apply, they must have a valid job offer from a UK employer which has a valid Tier 2 sponsorship licence from the UK Border Agency.
Since 2011, there has been a cap on the number of Tier 2 (General) visas that can be granted each year. This cap has now been fixed at 20,700 annually. It will require a change to the immigration rules to change the cap in future.
Before the prospective applicant can apply for a UK Tier visa, the UK employer must issue him with a Certificate of Sponsorship. This allows him to apply to the UKBA for a UK Tier 2 visa.
If a worker is going to apply from abroad, the sponsor can only issue a Certificate of Sponsorship if the job is at above National Qualification Framework level 6. If the worker is already in the UK, the job must be at or above NVQ level 3. (NQF and NVQ qualifications are UK standards for educational achievements. NQF level 6 is equivalent to a bachelor's degree with honours. NVQ3 is equivalent to having 1-5 A-levels (UK exams taken by school children at 18) at grades A*-C))
Shortage Occupation List
The UK's Shortage Occupation List is a list of skilled occupations for which there is a shortage of UK resident workers leading to positions remaining unfilled. The list lays out the shortage occupations and the minimum appropriate salary rates that Tier 2 workers should be paid to work in one of those occupations.
The new list has been updated by the Migration Advisory Committee. Several medical professions have been removed from the list because of increased availability of UK resident workers due to training of local workers. Several engineering roles have been added to the list because of shortages of UK resident engineers.
If the job is on the Shortage Occupation List, then a foreign born worker who is offered the job will be awarded the points required to pass the points-based test to acquire a Tier 2 visa. They will, however, still have to prove their ability to speak English and to support themselves when they arrive in the UK (maintenance requirement).
Resident Labour Market Test
If the job is not on the Shortage Occupation List then the employer will have to carry out a resident labour market test before it can issue the Certificate of Sponsorship. The resident labour market test is carried out by advertising the job for a prescribed period, usually 28 days, in a national paper in the UK.
The new rules say that, from now on, employers may have to advertise jobs in two places. If the employer is a large company (250 people or more) one of those places may be the company's own website. The new rules say that the employer can place the advert where it believes that it is most likely to find a successful candidate for the role. All jobs with a salary under £71,000 must now be advertised on the Jobcentre Plus website and through one other outlet.
Code of Practice
The employer must also comply with the UKBA Code of Practice for Skilled Workers. The latest version was issued on 14th March 2013. The Code lays out
- The skills level for each occupation
- The minimum appropriate rates of pay for each occupation and
- Information to allow employers to match up the job they are offering to the corresponding classification code in the Code of Practice
Changes in the minimum salary levels
- The minimum qualifying salary for Tier 2 visas rises from £20,000 to £20,300
- The level at which jobs are excluded from the Tier 2 (General) cap rises from £150,000 to £152,000
- The minimum salary at which Tier 2 visa holders will qualify for indefinite leave to remain rises from £35,000 to £35,500
Changes to appropriate salary rates for separate occupations
The minimum qualifying salary for individual jobs remains at the 25th percentile. - that is to say, the qualifying wage must be equal to that earned by at least 25% of people in a given occupation or higher. It cannot be less. This proviso is in place to prevent Tier 2 workers undercutting UK workers and being employed when UK workers are available.
New Entrant salary level
Mr Harper has announced he intends to introduce a new introductory tenth percentile rate for new entrant employees. It will be permissible to pay new entrants at the tenth percentile level. The following groups will be eligible for the new entrant salary level
- Graduates switching from Tier 4 to Tier 2
- Graduate recruits employed after university 'milk round' recruiting
- Those sponsored in the Intra-Company Transfer Graduate Trainee route
- Anyone under 25 at the date of their original Tier 2 application
N.B. When new entrants apply for a renewal of their visa after three years, they must then be paid at the 25th percentile or higher.
The fee for a Tier 2 visa application will rise from £450 to £494
- The fee for a Tier 2 Extension application will rise from £561 to £578
- The fee for a Tier 2 Certificate of Sponsorship will rise from £179 to £184
- The fee for applications for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK made by Tier 2 workers and submitted by post will rise from £991 to £1,051
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