Migrant workers who enter the UK in intra-company transfers will now be able to remain in the UK for nine years rather than the current five years if they earn £150,000 or more. Immigration Minister Mark Harper said that the changes were intended to respond to the needs of companies and manufacturers looking to transfer senior staff to the UK for longer.
"The UK is open for business to the brightest and best migrants and today's changes will ensure we remain an attractive destination for global talent," he said. "The Government remains committed to supporting a private sector-led economic recovery. At the same time we continue to cut out abuse of the immigration system and remain focused on bringing net migration down from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands."
Other changes will allow skilled workers to spend up to 180 days per year outside the UK without it affecting an application to stay permanently provided that the absence is for a "legitimate reason", for example as part of their job. Previously, workers who left the UK for more than 180 days over five years were disqualified. The changes will affect migrants 'sponsored by a UK company' under Tier 2 of the points-based system (PBS).
Further non-substantive changes for both migrants and their sponsors will take effect under other tiers of the PBS, with most of the changes coming into force from 13 December. Immigration law expert David Brannan of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the changes mainly altered details about "qualifying for visas" rather than the "general suitability" of the different routes.
The PBS was introduced in 2008 to replace the existing work permit system. Migrants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) must be able to demonstrate that they possess certain attributes before they can get permission to enter or remain in the UK. Points are awarded for various attributes under each category or 'tier' which can include having money to invest, being able to fill specific roles and English language ability.
Brannan said that the rules under Tier 1, covering entrepreneurs and investors, would be "tightened" including new restrictions preventing students from switching into the entrepreneur category. However, migrants under this route will no longer have to demonstrate a higher level of English than those migrants entering the UK under other routes.
Changes to Tier 4, covering students, were mainly "clarifications", Brannan said. However, students becoming doctors or dentists in training, or graduate entrepreneurs, will now be able to start work immediately rather than waiting until their visa application is processed as is currently the case. Tier 5, for temporary workers sponsored by an employer, has been "expanded and made more flexible", including through the creation of a new category of 'contractual service supplier' for overseas businesses using overseas employees to provide services in the UK for up to six months, Brannan said.
The 12 month 'cooling off' period, which was introduced for skilled workers under Tier 2 earlier this year, will be made more flexible in response to requests from businesses and employers, the Government said. Previously, a skilled worker who had worked in the UK had to wait 12 months from the end date of their visa to take up another job offer, even if they had left the UK before the visa had expired. From next month, this period will be counted from the day a worker leaves the UK regardless of when their visa is due to expire, as long as they can provide evidence of their leaving date and that they had not returned to work in the UK since.