The UK Home Office has announced a number of changes to the UK Immigration Rules impacting work visa options and routes for employers to recruit and employ overseas workers.
As a headline for businesses, the UK ICT visa and Sole Representative visa are closing and are being replaced by a number of new work visas.
The changes will be phased in over the coming months, between 6 April 2022 and 22 August 2022.
Global Business Mobility route
The Global Business Mobility route opened on 11 April 2022.
It is a new sponsored work visa route for overseas businesses looking to transfer personnel to the UK temporarily to either set up a UK presence or for specific business purposes.
The new route coincides with the closure of the Sole Representative visa. Applicants to the Sole Representative visa must submit their initial applications prior to 11 April or they will be required to apply under the new UK Expansion Route.
The Global Business Mobility route comprises five sub-categories:
- Senior or Specialist Worker
- Graduate Trainee
- UK Expansion Worker
- Service Supplier
- Secondment Worker
Senior or Specialist Worker
The Senior or Specialist Worker replaces the UK’s Intra-Company Transfer (‘ICT’) visa.
This category is for senior managers or specialist employees being deployed to a UK business that is linked to their employer, which must be an overseas entity.
The applicant must have worked for the overseas employer for at least 12 months prior to the application, or if they earn over £73,900, there is no minimum service requirement.
The requirements under this route include a minimum salary level of £42,400, which is higher than the equivalent requirement under the ICT of £41,500.
The Senior or Specialist Worker visa allows a maximum time of 5 years in any 6 year period if paid less than £73,900 per year; or 9 years in any 10 year period if paid £73,900 or more per year. It does not lead to UK settlement.
The Graduate Trainee route replaces the Intra-Company Graduate Trainee route and is for individuals to undertake a UK-based work placement as part of a graduate training course that leads to a senior management or specialist position.
The minimum salary threshold for graduate trainees will be £23,100 per year.
UK Expansion Worker
Replacing the Sole Representative visa, the UK Expansion Worker is for senior or specialist personnel to come to the UK for a limited period of time to carry out work relating to their organisation’s expansion plans in the UK.
There will be no limit to the number of Expansion Workers an employer can sponsor.
To be eligible for this route, the employee’s organisation cannot already be trading in the UK.
In a notable change to the predecessor route, the employee will have to be sponsored by their organisation. This means their employer will have to apply for a UK Expansion Worker sponsorship licence, and the worker will have to meet a minimum salary requirement.
Further guidance on this process is expected from the Home Office, although the initial indication is that the overseas company may have to make an application for a ‘provisional rating’ on the register of licenced sponsors in order for the visa application to be processed, with the licence being fully granted once the UK-based entity has been formally established.
The applicant must have been an employee of the overseas business for at least 12 months unless they are deemed a high earner or are coming under the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
The applicant’s salary must be at least the market rate requirement or the general salary threshold of £42,400 per year, whichever is the higher amount.
The Expansion Worker visa will initially be granted for 12 months, and up to two years in total. It will not lead to UK settlement.
Currently, the UK operates contractual service supplier and independent professional provisions under the Temporary Work – International Agreement route. This is being replaced by a new Service Supplier route.
The Service Supplier route is specifically designed to allow for assignments in the UK to deliver services as provided by one of the UK’s international trade commitments.
The route is for contracted service suppliers that are employed by service providers based overseas and as well as self-employed independent professionals based overseas.
The role being performed must have an occupation code listed in Appendix Skilled Occupations as eligible for the Global Business Mobility route, or the applicant must have a university degree or equivalent technical qualification.
The applicant must be sponsored by an entity that has been authorised to sponsor a Service Supplier. They also have to have a contract with the overseas service provider, and that contract must have been ‘registered’ with the Home Office.
This route will allow a stay of up to five years within a six-year period although it does not lead to UK settlement.
The new Secondment Worker route has been designed for workers coming to the UK on short-term secondment as part of high value contracts or investment by their overseas employers.
The applicant must have at least 12 months service with their overseas employer prior to applying.
This category will allow a stay of up to five years, but cannot lead to UK settlement.
High Potential Individual Route
The High Potential Individual route is part of the government’s drive to attract the world’s ‘brightest and best’ into the UK economy. It is set to open from 30 May 2022.
The route is designed for international graduates who can evidence certain educational achievements. The requirement is to have either a bachelor’s or postgraduate degree qualification from a non-UK top 50 global overseas university.
The university must be a non-UK institution and be featured within the top 50 of at least two of the following ranking systems:
- Times Higher Education World University Rankings
- Quacquarelli Symonds World University Rankings
- The Academic Ranking of World Universities
Additional eligibility includes the financial maintenance and English language requirements.
The graduate route allows up to 2 years in the UK for those with a bachelor or master’s degree, or up to 3 years with a PhD. The High Potential Individual route does not lead to settlement in the UK but visa holders can switch into a different UK visa route, such as the Skilled Worker visa.
The Scale-up route is a new sponsored work visa opening on 22 August 2022.
The sponsoring employer must be an approved UK scale-up company, which requires evidencing annualised growth of at least 20% in turnover or staffing for the 3-year period prior to the application, and having a minimum of 10 employees at the start of this 3-year period.
The visa holder is only required to stay employed by their sponsored employer for 6 months. They can then make an application to extend or settle by meeting the relevant minimum salary requirement and being employed in a graduate-level role.
The role on offer must also meet certain requirements, including being at a skill level of at least degree level (RQF level 6) and paying a minimum salary of at least £33,000 or the going rate for the job, whichever is higher.
As these are higher thresholds than required under the Skilled Worker visa, it will be interesting to see the level of takeup among UK employers for this new route.