On the 22nd October, the Home Office published 500+ pages of proposed changes to UK immigration rules, following the UK's exit from the European Union on 1st January 2021. As there are a huge number of amendments being put in place, we have summarised a number of key points to help businesses and business owners get to grips with how these new changes will affect hiring in the UK from 2021 onwards.
Predominantly, we have focused here on summarising the changes affecting UK employers who are either currently using or considering the use of sponsored work visas.
Will all of my current EU employees require sponsorship?
Not all EU employees require sponsorship. EEA (including Switzerland) nationals who arrive in the UK before 31st December 2020 will be entitled to stay and work freely in the UK. To do so, they must apply for pre-settled or settled status by 30th June 2021. This application process is free and can be done digitally.
Irish Citizens will for all intents and purposes be treated as British Citizens under the new rules.
Any non-Irish European and non-European citizen who arrives in the UK from 1st January will require a visa in order to work in the UK. Primarily, this will mean employees will be required to sponsor these workers.
If you are sponsoring or looking to sponsor employees, you will likely be going via the Skilled Worker route or the Intra-Company Transfer route:
Skilled Worker: a rebrand of the Tier 2 General visa. This will be the UK's main sponsored work visa route.
Intra-Company Transfers (ICT): a rebrand from Tier 2 ICT.
How has the sponsorship process changed?
- To sponsor a Skilled Worker applicant, the employer will be required to hold a sponsor license, granted by the Home Office.
- Employers will no longer need to conduct the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) which required employers to demonstrate that there are no suitably qualified local settled workers applicable for the role. This change will save considerable time and money.
- The Skilled Worker visa has no time limit (previously Tier 2 General workers could only extend their visa up to a period of six years). Sponsored worker visas can now therefore be extended indefinitely. After five years' continuous stay on the Skilled Worker visa (or the Tier 2 General visa), the worker may apply for settlement (previously called 'Indefinite Leave to Remain').
- Sponsored workers must meet a minimum salary, although this has been lowered to £25,600 (was £30,000) and can be reduced even further for certain roles. The minimum skill level for UK sponsored roles has been reduced from RQF level 6 (graduate level) to also include roles at RQF level 3 (A-levels). The skill level is dependent upon the role.
- From 2021, Skilled Worker visa holders can complete and submit their visa applications while continuing to live in the UK whilst the application is being processed. Before this change, workers had to return to their home country for the visa processing period.
Skilled workers may continue to extend their visa indefinitely, if they do not apply for settlement (previously called 'Indefinite Leave to Remain') after five years' continuous stay.
- It is recommended that companies who are applying for a sponsorship license for the first time who are part of an international group structure should apply for ICT too, to allow for maximum employment flexibility.
- Under the new rules, workers on ICT visas will be able to apply for Skilled Worker visas at any time and from inside the UK, without needing to follow the twelve-month cooling off period. This would allow them to start down the route to settlement, if they so wish. The five-year clock to settlement will start from zero when they move over to the Skilled Worker visa. Note that this change would make it easier for the worker to leave their sponsoring employer at any time, in favour of another role / employer once they reach the UK.
- ICT workers will be able to apply for a new visa from inside the UK.
- Unlike the Skilled Worker route, the minimum salary for ICT remains at £41,500 and minimum skill level remains at RQF level 6 (graduate level).
- The benefit to applying via the ICT route is this negates the need for an English language requirement, which can be a lengthier part of the sponsorship process. It can therefore be more suitable for shorter term, more urgent requirements
What does it mean for contractors I have on my team or want to hire?
Contractors who are EEA nationals who arrive in the UK before 31st December 2020 must apply for pre-settled or settled status by 30th June 2021 to continue working freely.
Workers who arrive in the UK from 1st January 2021 will more than likely require visa sponsorship. As sponsorship requires an employment contract, it is unlikely that you will be able to engage these workers on a contracting basis.
What happens to people I'm already sponsoring?
Employees' existing visas will be converted as applicable to the new, rebranded visas. The new rules will apply to them in the same way as with any new workers acquiring visas from 1st January 2021 onwards.
How will I be able to tell which EU Nationals are allowed to work freely and who will require sponsorship?
EEA Nationals who arrive in the UK prior to 31st December 2020 may continue using their EU passports. From 1st July 2021 onwards, these workers will all require pre-settled or settled status and have means with which to prove that they hold this. Prior to 1st July 2021, however, businesses will need to carry out Right to Work checks following government guidance.
You cannot require EU, EEA or Swiss citizens to show you their settlement status until after 30th June 2021.
From 1st July 2021, you will be able to check the status of all EU citizens via their visa or settlement documentation.