Immigration round-up 2022 and looking ahead to 2023

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It has certainly been an action-packed 12 months in the world of immigration. With several changes in political leadership and a plethora of headlines, UK immigration is set to stay firmly on the political agenda for 2023. So here is a round-up of the key changes from 2022, and a look at what we can expect to see this year.

2022 highlights

Changes to the Right to Work

A raft of changes to the Right to Work regime came into force during 2022.

Firstly, employers can no longer rely on a manual check of right to work (RTW) documentation for certain employees who joined on or after 6 April 2022 – they must evidence their RTW in the UK via the UK Visas and Immigration’s (UKVI) on-line service.

This applies to those employees who hold a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP), Biometric Residence Card (BRC), Frontier Worker Permit (FWP), as well as those with a status under the European Union Settlement Scheme (EUSS).

In practical terms this means that any manual checks of these documents on or after 6 April 2022 do not provide an employer with any statutory defence against illegal working. Employers are not required to retrospectively check RTW for employees employed before 6 April 2022.

Only British and Irish nationals (i.e. those who do not hold BRPs, BRCs or FWPs) can continue to have their RTW documentation checked manually, but there is also the option to use an Identity Service Provider (IDSP) to conduct the check electronically (although it is not mandatory to do so).

On a related note, during COVID, employers were able to rely on an adjusted right to work process that allowed them to check documents remotely/ by video call without the need to see the original documents. This concession fully came to an end from 1 October 2022, and where an employer is allowed to complete a manual check of RTW documents, the original documents must be viewed and verified.

These changes highlight the need for businesses to have a clear process to check the Right to Work for all new employees and to ensure all those involved in on-boarding are fully trained on this process.

Rebranding of existing routes

April saw wide-ranging changes to the immigration rules with the introduction of a new family of visas under the Global Business Mobility category, which was largely a rebranding exercise of existing visa routes, with some new additions.

For example, the Global Business Mobility – Senior Specialist route replaced the Intra-company visa. The requirements for the new visa remain largely the same with some minor amendments. Other visa routes have also been rebranded, including the UK Expansion Worker (formally Representative of Overseas Business), Graduate Trainee visa, and the addition of Secondment Worker and Service Supplier visa routes.

Other rebranded routes included the Global Talent visa (formally Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa) which allows individuals who can demonstrate they have an exceptional talent or promise in certain sectors (including digital tech, art and culture and sciences) to work in the UK for up to five years.

Introduction of new visa routes

The UKVI introduced the new High Potential Individual visa in May; a self-sponsored visa aimed at recent graduates from the top 50 global universities, allowing them to live and work in the UK for a period of two or three years. Unfortunately, this route does not lead to permanent settlement in the UK. We’ll be monitoring how useful this new route turns out to be in practice.

The Scale-Up visa was also introduced in August. This route allows individuals the flexibility to change employers after a compulsory sponsorship period of six months, without the need to make an additional application.

UK immigration is constantly changing and as such it is important to seek advice well in advance of any potential UK move to ensure all options are explored, and the proposed role meets all the relevant UK immigration requirements.

Abolition of the Police Registration Scheme

Certain nationalities had for some time been required to register with the police and keep their police registration certificate updated with any changes to certain personal details (visa type, duration, address details, etc.). In August, the Government announced the Police Registration Scheme would be abolished with immediate effect.

This was welcome news for many, as the scheme has long been criticised for being outdated and largely obsolete given that much of the information provided by the individual for registration was captured at the visa application stage.

What’s on the horizon? 2023 and beyond

Continued digitalisation of immigration system

The UKVI first published its ‘New Plan for Immigration for Legal Migration and Border Control’ in May 2021 and is continuing its efforts under this plan to fully digitalise the immigration system by the end of 2024. 2022 saw many applicants receive an e-Visa status instead of a physical BRP/visa, and this trend will continue throughout 2023.

With BRP cards being phased out completely by the end of 2024, it is more important than ever for businesses to have robust processes in place to ensure they are checking and capturing the right to work of their employees correctly.

Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme

Many of you will be familiar with the US ESTA, and similar schemes for Canada, Australia and New Zealand. From January 2023, we’ll see the roll-out of the UK’s equivalent scheme, with full implementation expected by the end of 2023. We are also expecting to see the EU launch their own travel authorisation scheme towards the end of 2023.

The aim of the ETA scheme is to further strengthen the UK border, allowing the UKVI the ability to more easily track overstayers and hold more information on who is travelling into the UK.

This is not a visa application in the traditional sense; it is simply a digital authorisation allowing visa-exempt travellers (non-visa nationals) to visit the UK. All non-British and non-Irish nationals (such as US, EEA, Australian and Canadian nationals), will need to apply under the ETA scheme before visiting the UK.

It will not apply to those who require a visa prior to travel to the UK (visa nationals), or those who already hold UK immigration permission (for example work visa holders, student visa holders, and those with status under EUSS).

It would be a good idea for businesses to ensure that those who do travel frequently for business purposes are aware of the new scheme to minimise any risk of disruption to travel plans.

Immigration skills charge exemption for certain EU nationals

In a welcomed cost-saving for some sponsors, the Government announced that from 1 January 2023 the Immigration Skills Charge will not be payable for sponsored workers entering the UK under the Scale-Up route, or overseas employees transferring to the UK under the Global Business Mobility Senior or Specialist Worker visa for no more than 36 months.

The exemption applies where the employee is an EU national (or Latvian non-citizen), but does not extend to those from Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Improvements to the Innovator visa

In February 2022 the UKVI abolished the Tier 1 Investor visa with immediate effect, and following this closure, the UK Government indicated that it would look to make amendments to the Innovator visa in Autumn 2022 to bridge the gap left by its closure. Unfortunately, these reforms were not forthcoming, and so we can potentially expect to see these changes tabled for 2023.

Changes to the Life in the UK Test

Since 28 October 2013, all those applying for permanent settlement in the UK or naturalisation as a British citizen are required to meet the knowledge of life in the UK requirement by passing the Life in the UK test.

The Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the House of Lords published a letter back in July 2022 calling for urgent review of the Life in the UK test, criticising it as being not fit for purpose and needing reform urgently. What this reform will look like and when this will happen is unclear at this stage.

Final thoughts

With the latest net migration figures confirmed at a record-breaking figure of 504,000, we’re likely to see a continued political focus on immigration in 2023.

The current Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, has already revived the Conservative pledge to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands and has tabled plans which include reducing the number of foreign students coming to the UK and making it more difficult for them to bring their partners/ dependants.

What remains to be seen is whether the net migration target is achievable given the well-reported labour shortages in many industries and the UK being widely expected to be in recession throughout all of 2023.

Despite this, the Government’s approach is likely to focus on maintaining highly-skilled and educated migration into the UK, so for now, businesses can rest assured that there will be visa options available to allow them to attract and secure talent from overseas.

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