Despite entering into 2021 with a national lockdown, UK immigration slowly recovered from the unprecedented and completely unanticipated disruption that COVID19 caused in 2020. Visa application centres in the UK and worldwide were open again processing visas and some visa routes such as the Global Talent visa even saw record numbers of applicants.
The EU Settlement Scheme was still open for applications until 30 June 2021 and at the time of writing, 6.2 million applications have been made under the scheme – close to double the 3.5 million applications anticipated after the Brexit vote.
With the end of 2021 drawing near, this month’s immigration update looks ahead to 2022 to proposed changes to the UK’s immigration system and how visa applications are made.
Digitisation of the application process:
The EU Settlement Scheme was a significantly different visa process. Applicants used an online app to enrol their own biometric data and then an online application form that linked to HMRC and DWP to track tax records. The visa was then a digital status as opposed to a physical card. The Home Office has the intention of all visa statuses being issued digitally by the end of 2025.
In 2022, I would expect to see more streamlined visa application processes potentially for upcoming visa routes within the Global Business Mobility visa route. Digitisation will save time in the biometric collection and visa issuing parts of the visa process and given the disruption caused by the closures of visa application centres in 2020 will protect the visa application process against international lockdowns. The Home Office is also likely to extend its connection to HMRC and DWP to be able to make other checks: employment status of workers and business activities of Innovators would be viably trackable by the Home Office.
The Home Office has also promised a revamp of the Sponsor Management System, which will hopefully be actioned in 2022.
Global Business Mobility visa:
In Spring 2022, the Home Office plan to launch a new visa category that looks to include and update pre-existing visa routes and create new visa routes to offer more options to those entering the UK for business purposes. The Home Office have not provided much detail on these visa routes but have said that this will include a new sponsored route to send workers to establish a new branch/subsidiary in the UK. This could well mean the closure of the Representative of an Overseas Business (“Sole Rep”) visa route, which is a route that currently provides for businesses to establish a new branch/subsidiary but without the need for sponsorship, so it is unclear how ‘sponsorship’ will be incorporated into the visa application process.
The Home Office have also spoken on a new visa to provide for secondments in relation to high value import and export deals and to oversee substantial investment in the UK. This would suggest a temporary permission to enter the UK and be paid for working a UK-based position on a temporary basis without the need for UK sponsorship, although it will be interesting to see if this will be done via an intermediary sponsor.
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) also recommended an adjustment to visit visa rules to allow for workers who are required to work in the UK for short periods of time as part of a service agreement with a UK-based company to enter the UK without the need for an Intra-Company transfer visa. This would fit well with the above-mentioned visa routes within the Global Business Mobility visa category.
Scale Up visa:
UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced proposals for a new visa due to commence in Spring 2022. The Scale Up visa is proposed to require a ‘high skill’ job offer from a UK employer and a proposed salary of at least £33,000 per annum. Employers wouldn’t be required to sponsor these workers. To qualify, the employing company would need to demonstrate that they are a ‘scale-up’ by showing a rate of growth of more than 20% over a 3-year period. ‘Growth’ can be in terms of revenue or employment if at the start of the 3-year period the company employed at least 10 people.
High Potential Individual visa:
As part of a new programme to boost private sector investment across the UK, Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng introduced a potential new visa for individuals who have graduated from a top global university to enter the UK without company sponsorship. There are potentially other eligibility criteria being considered to evidence high potential (English language most likely, industry endorsement perhaps), but this would be a visa to attract those who have graduated from what is likely to be an exhaustive list of globally recognised higher education institutions and perhaps even overseas partners of UK-based universities. The visa presumably wouldn’t require a job offer or sponsorship from a UK company or impose working restrictions.
With 40% of Skilled Worker visas for the year ending 2021 being from India, it will be interesting to note how many Indian universities will appear on the list, or if the list will largely include western universities.
General skilled worker migration in 2022:
The number of Skilled Worker applications increased in the year ending June 2021 by 19% on the year before. Factoring in the impact of the global lockdown that mostly impacted the first part of 2020, the UK has seen large increases in skilled worker migration. The number of sponsor licences held by companies in the UK is currently just under 50,000, which is a huge increase on the 25,000 to 30,000 licences there normally were in the UK prior to this year. Despite 6.2 million EU nationals applying under the EU Settled Status scheme – a pool of EU talent that do not require visa sponsorship – the need for skilled workers from outside the UK has still increased dramatically.
According to the Migration Observatory, between 2016 and 2020, London was the destination for 44 per cent of all skilled work visa holders, although it had only 14 per cent of the UK’s population. Sponsorship outside London is dominated by the healthcare sector, accounting for 60% of all Certificates of Sponsorship being assigned. However, as Technation have noted an increase in the number of Global Talent visa holders being based outside of London, it will be interesting to see if there begins a trend of more skilled workers being sponsored outside London in line with flexible working trends in the UK. It could well be however that many sponsors outside London are prevented from sponsoring workers because of the cost of sponsorship and minimum salary requirements that are set to above market rate.
In 2022, as the UK agrees more bilateral trade agreements with the rest of the world, there could be reciprocated immigration visa routes that are specific to those countries, similar to the Youth Mobility visa route or the recently agreed musical performer permit agreed with the government of Spain.