What’s new in Immigration Policy?

The re-introduction of the post study work visa, which will allow international students to stay in the UK for two years after graduation to find a job - with no cap on numbers and no restriction on the kinds of jobs students can seek, gained a lot of attention last week. This is unsurprising, as the cancellation of the post study visa route in 2012 by the then Home Secretary was a controversial move, for which she faced continuous opposition, even from within her own party. The policy change is a major victory for universities and business groups, such as the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), which campaigned for this change. This development should go some way to addressing recruitment challenges.

There were, however, other less trumpeted changes last week, such as the streamlining of English Language testing, which will ensure that hospitals and medical practices across the country are able to access the staff they need more quickly. Doctors, dentists, nurses and midwives who have already passed an English language test do not have to sit further tests before entry to the UK on a Tier 2 visa. PhD roles have also been removed from the Tier 2 (General) annual quota, and the Shortage Occupation List has been expanded, as recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee, to include occupations such as IT business analysts, architects and web designers. People coming to the UK to work in these fields will gain priority in securing Tier 2 work visas, enabling employers to recruit the international workers they need. Job vacancies can also be advertised for the occupations included to all nationalities as soon as they become available.

It should also be easier for people to set up businesses in the UK, following changes to the Start-up and Innovator categories. These include confirmation that business activities can be started earlier, relaxation of Start-up visa requirements for Tier 4 (General) students on a doctorate extension scheme, clarification of the qualifying criteria an organization must meet to be an endorsing body, and the removal of a ‘checkpoint’ between an applicant and their endorsing body after 24 months in the Start-up category.

With regards to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), a right of administrative review has been provided to people who have had their status under EUSS cancelled at the border by an Immigration Officer on the basis that they no longer meet the status requirements. Also, close family members of UK nationals returning from the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland will be able to apply under the EUSS by December 2020 at the latest. As the EUSS is more generous and flexible than family reunification rules under the UK Immigration Rules, this will be good news for eligible close family members.

Also noteworthy was the Government’s announcement that more than 1.5 million people have applied to the EU Settlement Scheme. The statistics shows that by the end of August over 1.1 million applicants had been granted status under the scheme, with almost 300,000 people applying in the month of August. As there are around 3 million EU citizens living in the UK, this is a step in the right direction, but there is still some way to go. There have also been fears of the system buckling under pressure in the final months.

The above announcements are welcome in reducing the cost and expense for both individuals and employers, and ensuring that there is an immigration system that offers better access to talent.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has issued a call for evidence on salary thresholds and an ‘Australian Style’ points-based system. Our own recent polling has highlighted businesses’ concerns with the proposed £30,000 salary threshold, with 57% of London firms saying that this would worsen skills shortages. It is important that the Government listens to the concerns of business and ensures that a future salary threshold is set at a level that does not shut out the people of all skills levels that our economy needs. A devolved Shortage Occupation List for London would further boost the ability of businesses in the capital to access the people they need.

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