Following the changes to the Immigration Rules and the Points-Based System in December 2020, one of the questions that these revisions have raised is whether there is any point in the Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) visa route remaining.
Previously, the ICT visa was a popular route, although it did not lead to settlement in the UK. It guaranteed a quicker visa process as there was no need to advertise the role or request a certificate from the monthly allocation. The ICT visa also protected the company by restricting employees from easily changing employers in the UK. When the ICT visa is compared with the new Skilled Worker visa (previously known as Tier 2 General), the benefits now appear to be of limited value.
Disadvantages of ICT
The ICT visa requirements continue to include the need for 12-months previous employment with an overseas-linked entity, or a salary package of at least £73,900 – and the route still does not lead to an entitlement to settle in the UK. One important restriction is the "cooling off" period which – unlike the Skilled Worker visa – has not been removed from this category. The ICT route restricts the period in which individuals can extend their stay, this is normally five years in any six-year period or nine years in any 10-year period if the salary is £73,900 or above. These restrictions are important. We frequently encounter situations where individuals or businesses change their mind regarding the duration of the UK assignment after a few years and, until the recent changes, many difficult conversations were needed once an employee had reached the maximum period.
The changes in the rules were made with the implications of Brexit in mind. Since 1 January 2021, EU nationals have also had to apply under the visa process, which has resulted in relaxing some of the requirements (however, most of these do not apply to the ICT route). The difference between the minimum salary requirements of the two visas has significantly widened. The ICT visa has remained at £41,500, while, in contrast, the Skilled Worker visa minimum salary is now £25,600 (and can even be as low as £20,480 if eligible for tradeable points). Unlike the ICT visa, the Skilled Worker visa has also lowered the skills threshold from degree level to A-levels, or their vocational equivalent, which significantly affects the types of roles that can be sponsored. These factors confine the availability of the ICT route to only the more senior technical or management roles.
With the relaxation of the rules, some of the protection the ICT route used to provide employers has been lifted. Individuals can now easily change employers in the UK and switch to the Skilled Worker visa route without needing to complete a "cooling off" period or leaving the UK. This was an important attraction to the ICT visa route and has now been removed.
Advantages of ICT
It may appear that there are no longer any benefits to the ICT route. However, one advantage of the route is that it does not have an English-language requirement, whereas the Skilled Worker visa requires nationals that are not from a majority English-speaking country to provide this evidence. This can be significant if there are time sensitivities, as obtaining an approved English-language test or verifying a degree taught in English can sometimes be time consuming.
There continues to be a small protection for companies that may wish to ensure their employees return to their home countries at the end of the UK assignment, as despite being able to switch without restriction to a Skilled Worker visa, the time spent in the UK under the ICT visa does not count towards settlement.
The final consideration, which can be an important factor for employers, is that companies will need to retain evidence that there was a genuine vacancy for the Skilled Worker visa. This requirement can be an extra burden on companies that will need to ensure all documentation is available in case of a compliance check by the Home Office.
It will be interesting to see the number of ICT visas in the coming years and whether companies will opt to use this option, which will inevitably influence how this route will evolve alongside changing Immigration Rules.