Yet barely three months after ending free movement for EU citizens who want work in the UK, the UK government began announcing more changes to make it easier for employers to attract the best candidates, wherever they come from.
The new developments outlined below are overshadowed by an extreme slowdown in work visas to the UK. There was an unprecedented 35% drop, according to the most recent Home Office figures, and recent ONS figures show EU nationals in employment fell by around 70,000 in the year to 2020 (Q2).
Yet despite free movement ending during a global pandemic there has been good immigration news for employers this year.
The Tier 2 (General) Visa became the most popular route for firms bringing in skilled talent, with 30,109 successful visas in 2020. The Skilled Worker route replaced Tier 2 (General) in January, making the route cheaper with less red tape to negotiate by removing the Resident Labour Market Test and reducing the salary threshold to £25,600.
The list of shortage occupations was also expanded even further last month and the new points-based system now awards bonus points for those with relevant PhD qualifications.
What are the latest reforms and how will they help British firms hire the talent they need?
A statement of changes of the immigration rules has been presented to parliament, including the following immigration measures to help employers, all set to be rolled out over the next 12 months.
Careful not to mention the word, Brexit, Rishi Sunak told MPs that the government will be phasing in immigration reforms to ensure British firms could still attract the international talent crucial to protect their “international competitiveness.”
Sponsor licence roadmap
The latest Home Office figures show 34,349 businesses now have licences to sponsor staff – still a fraction of UK companies, so the government has promised a year-long “roadmap” to look into making the system easier to negotiate for employers.
So far this year roadmaps appear to be working, but we will have to wait and see how this works out. Plans have been announced for more support for small firms having to negotiate the sponsor licence system for the first time.
No need to sponsor graduates
The new Graduate Visa will commence in July - great news for employers seeking to hire talented international students graduating this summer without the bureaucracy of having to first sponsor them.
Firms will have a fair amount of time to get to know an international graduate hire without the responsibilities of sponsorship. Students on the Graduate Visa route will be able to work or look for work for a maximum period of two years after studies, or three years for doctoral graduates, after which they can join the Skilled Worker route as a New Entrant on a minimum of just £20,480 per year.
This is also good news for UK’s higher education institutions seeking to attract more international students again after the devastating effects of the pandemic.
Easier global talent routes
More reforms of the Global Talent Visa for those excelling in academia, research, the arts or digital technology are also promised. Global Talent Visas usually require endorsement by an endorsing body. The government has published a list of certain prestigious awards which will now mean automatic qualification without the need to wait for an endorsing body to endorse talent.
Prizes on the list include a BAFTA, Tony, Golden Globe or Academy Award for leading actor or actress for instance, Nobel Prize for literature, physics, medicine, chemistry or economics, or MOBO or Brit Awards for international music artists. Expect more changes to make the Global Talent programme easier to navigate.
Fast tracks for highly skilled workers
A fast-track visa system for overseas workers with job offers from recognised UK scale-ups has also been trailed. The new elite points-based visa with this scale-up stream is to be implemented by March 2022.
“A new unsponsored points-based visa to attract the best and most promising international talent in science, research and tech” is promised this year, with “radically simplified bureaucracy for high-skilled visa applications.”
It would be great news for employers if this means emulating the old Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (which became Tier 1 General before being dropped in 2018), but more cynical immigration lawyers suspect this may just involve expanding the Global Talent Visa.
Young Professionals Scheme
As part of the Migration and Mobility Partnership signed by the UK and India, the Young Professionals Scheme will now allow up to 3,000 18-30 year old Indian nationals to live and work in the UK for up to two years (and vice versa.) The scheme is much like the existing Youth Mobility Scheme the UK has for Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, San Marino, South Korea and Taiwan.
Young professionals benefitting from this new scheme would require a degree or professional experience related to the employment on offer and competent language skills. Expect the scheme may be oversubscribed, with perhaps a lottery system for applicants, and this route may become dominated by the big IT outsourcing giants that rely heavily on Intra-Company Transfers from India.
A brand-new Global Business Mobility Visa for overseas entities establishing a presence in the UK or transferring staff over is also due to start by this time next year. This appears likely to be a rebrand of the existing Sole Representative Visa for overseas businesses.
Rishi Sunak also promised to grow the Global Entrepreneur Programme for high-growth tech businesses, marketing the UK for tech innovators and an “overseas talent network.”
Whether all these new immigration reforms will give UK firms the competitive edge enough to make up for the loss of free movement from the EU remains to be seen.
Vanessa Ganguin is managing partner at Vanessa Ganguin Immigration Law.