· Features

The new MAC announcement: unwanted surprises for HR

Internal transfer employees will need two years’ overseas employment before being eligible to enter the UK

For HR professionals the long-awaited announcement by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on new immigration rules for Tier 2 non-EU skilled workers came with extra bite. While some elements were widely anticipated, others such as the Tier 2 ‘Intra Company Transfer’ (ICT) conditions were an unwelcome surprise. HR managers have little time to plan if the changes are written into law from 6 April, which is likely judging from previous MAC statements. So what can you do?

It was clear from the MAC’s announcement that the skilled workers mostly hit will be ICTs (transfers of key personnel from overseas locations to the UK for temporary periods).

Often these employees are paid more than local workers of comparable experience and have to be employed by the organisation overseas for a minimum of 12 months. But the first shock in the MAC announcement means that ICTs will now need two years of overseas employment before being eligible to enter the UK. Check which employees are forecast to join UK operations from April 6 as it is extremely likely that some will only have the current 12 months of company linked experience. Should this be the case, you need to submit and pay for visa applications on or before April 5.

Where this is not possible work transfers planned and contracted in advance will have to be cancelled, which will prove costly for organisations where employees have been trained for specific contracts. Getting applications in early will save money and administration time.The MAC also recommended that a much more detailed job description should be included for Tier 2 ICT applications, including skill requirements, which means more paperwork.

A further shock was the recommendation to introduce a new category for IT companies called the ‘third-party contracting route', which will affect those bringing in foreign IT contractors. Minimum salaries for contractors will rise from £24,800 to £41,500 for all workers.

Here too, job descriptions and skills required will be scrutinised further. There are recommendations to review skill shortages within the IT industry in future, and suggestions to introduce the ‘Resident Labour Market Test’ for any worker of any sector coming into the country, so that the vacancy is advertised to give UK citizens the chance to respond. HR departments are advised to monitor the ratio of sponsored workers to resident workers and start to initiate market tests before changes come into force.

The only welcome surprise from the MAC was the recommendation that no further restrictions are placed on dependents working in the UK. It was thought that dependents could be barred from any paid work here.

The scale and reach of the report's surprising elements mean that HR professionals have a limited window to fulfil skilled worker vacancies ahead of the changes. For HRDs reliant on non-EU workers, the sooner you initiate market tests and submit sponsorship applications the better, as there's likely to be unprecedented demand. Licence renewals will become increasingly complex so start estimating vacancies and financial plans now. This should ensure funds are available for applications after 6 April should you be unable to find the required skillsets within the UK.

Jonathan Beech is managing director of Migrate UK, a law firm specialising in immigration law