Summary of corporate immigration changes 2022
Spring 2022 looks set to see a significant shake-up of corporate immigration, including new visa routes and changes to the way employers conduct right to work checks. In this article we discuss the main changes due to come into effect in April and consider their impact for employers. Whilst some of the changes will be good news for businesses, their practical application of course remains to be seen.
The Home Office has announced a raft of business immigration changes which will affect employers and workers alike. While the exact dates that some of these changes will come into force have not yet been finalised, they are expected to take effect in April 2022.
New visa routes
These changes will see the introduction of several new visa routes into the UK, including a Global Business Mobility (GBM) route and Scale-up route, both of which may be of interest to employers.
The GBM route will have 5 sub-categories to cover various business immigration scenarios. These will include overseas businesses with an existing UK presence looking to transfer employees with specialist skills, senior executives or graduate trainees to the UK, and overseas businesses with no existing UK presence who are looking to transfer staff to work on expansion in the UK or to send staff on secondment or assignment to a UK business for specific purposes. Overseas service suppliers will also be covered.
The GBM routes will replace the existing Intra-Company visa routes, although many elements of the latter have been incorporated, including the requirement for UK businesses receiving workers to have a sponsor licence from the Home Office, and minimum skill and salary thresholds. There will continue to be no English language requirement, which is a significant advantage of the route. While the exact criteria for each sub-category will vary, all categories will require some form of business relationship between the sending overseas entity and the receiving UK business to underpin the arrangement.
The Scale-up route is designed to enable the UK’s fastest growing businesses to access overseas talent. In order to be eligible, businesses must demonstrate an annual average revenue or employment growth rate of more than 20% over a 3 year period and must have a minimum of 10 employees. They must be registered appropriately with HMRC.
Eligible businesses will need to apply to the Home Office for a sponsor licence. It remains to be seen what the Scale-up licence fee will be, although we can speculate that it may be in line with the current sponsor licence fee for small businesses, which is £536. There will be no Immigration Skills Charge payable upon sponsorship of an individual worker, which will be welcome news for SMEs.
Visa applicants will need to meet an English language requirement and have a high-skilled job offer (at graduate or managerial level) from their sponsoring business with a salary of at least £33,000 or the minimum salary stated in the applicable occupational code, whichever is higher.
Individuals in this route will have greater flexibility to change jobs or employers than those under the Skilled Worker visa route and self-employment will also be permitted.
Reform of this area of immigration law is undoubtedly overdue and its expansion is welcome. It remains to be seen how onerous the evidential and administrative burden will be on employers, and this is likely to be a significant factor in determining the success of this new visa route. The applicable skill level requirement and salary thresholds will also be important in determining how useful this route will be for many businesses. While the new visa routes may be helpful in certain scenarios, it is unlikely that they will provide a solution to the widespread workforce shortages experienced by many sectors.
Right to Work changes
Two significant changes have been announced to the way in which employers conduct Right to Work checks, both of which will take effect from 6 April 2022.
The first change relates to employees or prospective employees who hold a biometric residence card (BRC), biometric residence permit (BRP) or frontier worker permit (FWP). From 6 April, employers will no longer be able to accept physical BRCs, BRPs or FWPs as evidence of right to work. Instead, holders of those documents will need to evidence their right to work using the Home Office’s online service only. Note that retrospective online checks for BRC, BRP or FWP holders who started employment on or before 5 April 2022 are not required.
This change is part of the government’s commitment to move towards a fully digitised immigration system over the next few years. It follows the rollout of digital immigration status to EEA & Swiss nationals and their family members under the EU Settlement Scheme (though some non-EEA family members will still receive a BRP as well for the time being) and the introduction of the Home Office’s ‘Prove your right to work to an employer’ service on GOV.UK. Certain individuals who apply under the Skilled Worker and Intra-Company routes using the new ID check app will also now be granted an ‘eVisa’ only, and will need to demonstrate their right to work through the Home Office portal.
Additionally, from 6 April employers may legally use certified identity service providers (IDSPs) to carry out digital right to work checks for British & Irish nationals using Identification Document Validation Technology (IDVT). This will be an additional option for employers and landlords, alongside conducting manual checks, rather than replacing the old methods entirely. It will only be available where an employee is relying on a current British or Irish passport to evidence their right to work.
This change will mean that employers can verify prospective employees’ identities, using potentially secure and consistent methods, which may reduce risk and allow safer recruiting practices, as well as promoting employee mobility and agile working practices.
Costs to the employer for this service are likely to vary between providers, as well as between service packages. Employers should also be aware that there are currently no certified providers or certification bodies and there is no indication of when a list of these will be available. Therefore, while the legislation will be in place from 6 April to facilitate this option, it may be some time before employers can actually make use of it in practice.