United Kingdom: Changes to TIER 2 bring greater flexibility for short-term assignments

The UK Home Office will introduce various changes to the Immigration Regulations effective April 6, 2015, including several changes to the TIER 2 programme.

map of United Kingdom
Most notably, in addition to the usual increases in minimum salary requirements, the changes this year bring greater flexibility for short-term assignments on TIER 2 status.

What's Changed?

Exemption of Cooling Off Period after Short Assignment

A foreigner who is in the UK on a TIER 2 visa and who either leaves the UK at the end of their assignment or whose visa expires without the possibility of renewal, must wait at least 12 months to obtain a new TIER 2 visa. Referred to as the “Cooling Off Period,” this 12 month window is calculated from either the date of the foreign national’s last departure from the UK or the expiration date of their visa. Traditionally, this rule has put a significant restriction on companies who need foreign workers in the UK for short assignments as foreign employees must wait at least 12 months to return for another assignment of any length.Currently the only exception to this rule is a foreigner returning to the UK as a high earner (see also “Minimum Salary Requirements” below).  However, the April 6 changes of this year will provide companies with more flexibility by introducing a new exemption to the Cooling Off Period: foreign nationals who have been in the UK on a TIER 2 visa with a maximum validity of 3 months will no longer be required to wait for 12 months before re-applying. In other words, eligible individuals in this situation will be allowed to apply for a new TIER 2 visa immediately at the end of their assignment.

This upcoming change brings two significant changes for UK companies:

  • Businesses can bring in a foreign national more than once per year on short assignments without being required to observe the 12-month Cooling Off Period.
  • It will be possible for companies to bring in a foreign national initially on a short-term TIER 2 (Intra-Company Transfer [ICT]) visa for less than 3 months and then, while the employee is already legally working in the UK, prepare the more lengthy process for a TIER 2 (General) Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) and visa.

Minimum Salary Requirements

TIER 2 applicants are required to meet both a general minimum salary requirement as well as an occupation-specific minimum salary requirement, and amendments to both have been announced.The new general minimum annual salary requirements will be as follows:
  • TIER 2 (ICT) – Short Term, – Skill Transfer and – Graduate Trainee: GBP 24,800 (increase of GBP 300);
  • TIER 2 (ICT) – Long Term: GBP 41,500 (increase of GBP 500);
  • TIER 2 (General): GBP 20,800 (increase of GBP 300);
  • TIER 2 (General) – exempt from advertising in Job Centre Plus/Online: GBP 72,500 (increase of GBP 900);
  • TIER 2 (General) – exempt from quota, 12-month cooling-off period and Resident Labor Market Test (“high earner”): GBP 155,300 (increase of GBP 1,800).
These new salary requirements are in line with the average annual increase of weekly earnings for resident workers of 1.2 per cent, based on the latest available salary data, and apply to all Certificates of Sponsorship issued on or after April 6, 2015.Amendments to the occupation specific salary requirements vary by occupation - for many occupations the salary requirements will increase, but for those occupations where on average a decrease in salary has been observed the salary requirements will be lowered accordingly. New salary requirements are in most cases based on the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2014 and the NHS Agenda for Change 2014.

TIER 2 (General) Quota Amendment

TIER 2 (General) Certificates of Sponsorship are subject to a quota (also referred to as the annual limit). The annual quota is released in monthly portions starting in April of each year, with any unused positions carrying over to the next month. However, any quota positions that are unused by March of each year do not carry over to April, which is considered the first month of the new quota year.Since a trend has been observed over the last few years with a higher demand for Certificates of Sponsorship in the month of April, a slight amendment to the monthly portions will be implemented, releasing more positions in April (an increase from 1,725 to 2,550 positions). However, by slightly lowering the amount of CoS becoming available in the other months, the total annual limit will remain the same as this year at 20,700 CoS.

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Shortage Occupation List

The independent Migration Advisory Committee has performed a partial review of the Shortage Occupation List. Based on this review, some changes to the Shortage Occupation List have now been announced, including changes to graduate occupations in the health sector (e.g. the addition of paramedics). Further changes are expected to be implemented in the near future, especially related to graduate occupations in the digital technology sector.

English Language Test

TIER 2 applicants (unless applying as an ICT) need to provide proof of English language ability. The applicant can do this by showing they are a national from a country in which a majority speaks English (if recognized as such by the Home Office), or they hold a degree that was taught or researched in English and is equivalent to a UK Bachelor degree or above. Applicants who do not fall in either of those categories will need to pass an English language test. Effective April 6, 2015 the list of approved English language test centres will be amended: several previously recognized test centres will be removed from the list and a few new centres will be added. The new list of accepted test centres can be found here.Since applicants planning to file their visa application after April 6 might have already had their test taken prior to this announcement, transitional measures will be put in place, allowing applicants to file their application until November 6 with tests results obtained before April 6 from a test centre included on the pre-April 6 list of approved test centres. 

New Visitor Visa Categories

Currently the UK Immigration System has 15 different visitor routes. For example, there are different statuses for business and tourism, which means that a business visitor is technically not allowed to engage in any touristic activities and vice versa.  After April 6th these 15 routes will be brought down to only four, which will elevate these types of rigorous restrictions. The 4 new routes are: standard visitor (including, among others, general [touristic] and business activities), visitor for marriage or civil partnership, visitor for permitted paid engagements and transit visitor.

Amendments to Allowed Activities on Standard Visitor Status

In addition to the simplification of the visa route structure, some relevant amendments to allowed activities on standard visitor status will be implemented on April 6 as well:
  • Overseas trainers will be allowed to deliver training to UK based employees of a multinational company, if the training is part of a contract to deliver global training to the international corporate group
  • UK based organizations, who are not corporate entities, will be allowed to provide training to overseas visitors on work practices and techniques that are needed for their employment overseas, if this is not readily available in their home country
  • Overseas lawyers will be allowed to advise a UK client on international transactions and litigation, as long as they remain paid and employed overseas

Expected Changes to Application Fees

Last month the Home Office also published their proposed new immigration and nationality fees to be applicable as of April 6, subject to the approval of parliament later this month.Proposed new fees for TIER 2 visas are as follows:

Overseas applications:

  • General and ICT - Long Term, with validity up to 3 years:  GBP 564 (increase of GBP 50)
  • General and ICT – Long Term, with validity over 3 years:  GBP 1128 (increase of GBP 100);
  • ICT – short term staff, graduate trainee & skills transfer: GBP 445 (increase of GBP 17).
  • In-country applications:
  • General and ICT – Long Term, with validity up to 3 years:  GBP 651 (increase of GBP 50);
  • General and ICT – Long Term, with validity over 3 years:  GBP 1302 (increase of GBP 100);
  • ICT – short term staff, graduate trainee & skills transfer: GBP 445 (increase of GBP 17).
Note that the fees for Shortage Occupation applications, for applications filed both inside and outside UK, will remain the same at GBP 428 for visas with validity up to 3 years, and GBP 865 for validities beyond 3 years.

Reminder: Implementation of Biometric Residence Permit for Applications Abroad

Readers are reminded that the Home Office has started to implement the issuance of Biometric Residence Permits to overseas applicants applying for leave to remain beyond 6 months. The implementation has started this month and is planned to be carried out in phases over a 4 month period.

ACTION ITEMS FOR EMPLOYERS

Employers should be aware of the upcoming increase in minimum salary requirements for Certificates of Sponsorship issued on or after April 6, 2015, and the proposed increase in application fees. Assignment details and budgets should be amended accordingly. On the other hand, the new exemption with regards to the Cooling Off Period for assignments up to three months opens up new possibilities for companies to plan multiple short term assignments for the same employee, as well as to have long term assignments start earlier on an initial 3 month TIER 2 (ICT) visa, before applying for a TIER 2 (General) Visa. The broadening of allowed activities on standard (previously business) status also provides more flexibility to UK based companies. However, we do advise to contact your Pro-Link GLOBAL Immigration Specialist for a case specific assessment when planning to make use of any of these new possibilities, to ensure full compliance with the new regulations.

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For more Re:locate news and features about immigration, visit our Immigration homepage.Caveat Lector | Warning to Reader This is provided as informational only and does not substitute for actual legal advice based on the specific circumstances of a matter. Readers are reminded that Immigration laws are fluid and can change a moment's notice without any warning. Please contact to your local Pro-Link GLOBAL specialist should you require any additional clarification. This alert was prepared by Pro-Link GLOBAL’s Knowledge Management team, partly based on information obtained through our PLG | ISP Office in the United Kingdom.