UK Immigration Changes | March 2019

Written on 25 Mar 2019

Each year, UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) make changes and updates to the UK’s Immigration Rules. The UKVI announced the latest changes in the Statement of Changes released on 7 March 2019.

The most significant changes relate to Tier 1, Tier 2 and the EU Settlement Scheme. In light of Brexit, there will be more significant changes to Tier 2 in the future. Should the UK enter into a withdrawal agreement as it currently stands, this would be at the end of December 2020, when the transitional period is due to end (subject to any extension), or shortly thereafter.

The March 2019 Statement of Changes set out the following changes;

Tier 1 of the Points Based System

Start-Up & Innovator

Both the Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) and the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route will be scrapped, and replaced by “start-up” and “innovator” routes. There will be a gap between the ending of these routes in March 2019 and the implementation of the new routes in August 2019.

For both routes, applicants will need to:

  • be endorsed by trusted organisations in the UK, “such as business accelerators, seed competitions and government agencies, as well as higher education providers”;
  • stay in contact with those endorsing bodies regularly;
  • show that they speak English at level B2 (higher than the current required level B1);
  • show that their business plans are “credible, scalable and innovative” (they may be called for interviews to test this); and
  • meet the maintenance requirement.

Applications to become an endorsing body are expected to open in April 2019, to allow time before the route opens for applicants in August.

Investor visa

There are significant changes to the Tier 1 (Investor) route from 29 March 2019. These include lengthening the period for which funds must be held prior to applying, from 90 days to two years. The requirement to open a UK bank account before applying for an investor visa is being tightened to make explicit that the bank must carry out all required due diligence checks and Know Your Customer enquiries, and confirm that these have been done.

Applicants will no longer be able to simply buy up UK national debt to qualify as an investor. Purchase of UK government bonds is being excluded as a qualifying investment.

There will also be tighter rules on routing investment funds via “intermediary vehicles”, including a requirement that such vehicles be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Transitional arrangements for current investor visa holders will be in place until 5 April 2023 for extension applications and 5 April 2025 for settlement applications.

EU Settlement Scheme

There are also significant updates to Appendix EU. Most of these changes take effect at 7:00 am on 30 March 2019 notwithstanding any extensions to the Article 50 period, with one notable exception being the relevant date for continuous residency and family relationships as discussed below. Points to highlight are as follows:

  • It will be possible to apply under the scheme from outside the UK.
  • Non-EEA citizens will be able to apply for an “EU Settlement Scheme Family Permit” to join or accompany an EEA citizen who was been granted leave under the settlement scheme.
  • Applications made under Appendix EU will be free of charge from 30 March 2019.
  • Citizens of Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland, and their family members, will be able to apply under the Settlement Scheme.
  • Everyone must go digital Applications will need to be made digitally, unless an exception is made by the Home Office
  • The date by which EEA nationals must have been continuously resident in the UK, and certain family relationships will need to have been formed, will be 31 December 2020 if the UK leaves with a deal, or 29 March 2019 if the UK leaves without a deal. The Statement of Changes pre-dates the UK and EU’s agreement to extend Article 50 and this date may be subject to change depending on the ultimate date of the UK’s departure from the EU.
  • Those living on the Isle of Man or Channel Islands are also able to can obtain settled status too.
  • It will be possible to submit national ID cards as identity documents for EEA nationals, and biometric residence cards for non-EEA family members
  • Administrative reviews can now be made from outside the UK.
  • Some of the general grounds for refusal found at part 9 of the Immigration Rules will apply to applications under the EU Settlement Scheme if the UK leaves without a deal

Tier 2 salary levels

When the Home Office last increased the minimum salary (to £30,000) necessary to get a Tier 2 work visa, it exempted certain professions: “nurses, medical radiographers, paramedics and secondary school teachers in mathematics, physics, chemistry, computer science, and Mandarin”. This exemption was due to expire in July 2019 but has now been extended— possibly indefinitely.

The Codes of Practice at Appendix J of the Rules have been amended, resulting in an increase in the minimum salary sponsors will need to pay applicants for many SOC codes.

There is also a technical change to the salary bands that inform the monthly quota of Tier 2 (General) visas (Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship requests). This means that when the quota is oversubscribed, a whole salary band of applications (for example £49,999 – £54,999) is rejected, resulting in a large number of rejections, as there is no fair way of being able to decide which to approve and which not to. So: “To address this issue, the Government has removed the bands and instead awarded one point for each £1,000 of gross annual salary. The effect of this change will mean more applications could be awarded within a monthly allocation, reducing potential refusals.”

Students on Tier 4 leave who are eligible to switch to Tier 2 can apply up to three months before the expected completion date of their course (rather than only after they completed the course).

Tier 2 migrants applying for indefinite leave to remain will need to earn a minimum salary of £38,800 if the date of application is on or after 6 April 2023, and £40,100 if the date of application is on or after 6 April 2024.

Fee Increase

There are minimal increases this year; the fee increase only affects priority payments and visitor’s visa submission fee.

Immigration Health Surcharge remains at £400 per year applied for per applicant. Immigration skills surcharge also remains in place.

How can we help?

If you have any questions about the changes and how they could potentially affect you and / or your sponsored workers please feel free to contact one of the experts listed below, or your usual Osborne Clarke contact.