The UK Border Agency continues to make changes to the UK immigration regime with a view to reaching their aim of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015. In a recent statement of intent, they announced further amendments to Tiers 1, 2 and 5 of the points-based system, overseas domestic workers and visitor visas.
The most significant changes concern the right of Tier 2 migrants to settle in the UK. Currently, Tier 2 migrants (other than those in the Tier 2 (Intra-company) transfer category who entered the UK on or after 6 April 2010) have the right to apply for permanent residency following five years continuous residence in this category. These changes represent the government’s aim to break the link between work and staying in the UK permanently.
Tier 2 migrants applying for settlement, who entered the UK under the rules in force from 6 April 2011, will be subject to a new minimum salary threshold of £35,000 or the going salary rate in the relevant Code of Practice (whichever is the highest). However, there are exceptions from this new threshold for roles on the shortage occupation list, those in designated PhD-level jobs and for ministers of religion.
Furthermore, Tier 2 migrants under the Tier 2 General, Minister of Religion and Sportspersons categories will be subject to a cap of six years stay in the UK, with leave to remain granted for an initial period of three years, followed by an extension of up to three years. Migrants can still apply for settlement after five years continuous residence if they meet the new salary criteria above, however, those who do not apply for settlement will have to leave the UK after six years. Moreover, those who do not apply for or obtain settlement will be subject to a 12-month ‘cooling-off’ period before applying to return to the UK under the Tier 2 route.
Further changes announced include:
- Retaining a route for overseas domestic workers in private households but only when accompanying a visitor and limited to six months, with no right to change employer;
- Retaining the current route of entry for private servants in diplomatic households (under the Tier 5 International Agreement category), with a maximum period of stay of five years and no ability to change employer or to settle;
- Restricting certain types of Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchanges (GAE) sub-category schemes (internships, work experience/exchanges and youth exchanges) to one-off stays of a maximum of 12 months. All other GAE schemes (research, fellowships and training schemes in the fields of science and medicine) will continue to attract up to a maximum 24 months leave.
- Creating a new route for permitted paid engagements under the visitor rules for a limited group of professionals who are invited to come to the UK because of their particular skill or expertise (eg visiting lecturers, examiners, sportspersons, established artists and entertainers).
- Limiting the length of stay associated with coming under Tier 5 International Agreements to six months, reflecting obligations under General Agreement on Trade Services (GATS) and Free Trade Agreements from autumn 2012.
The proposed changes will be laid down in parliament on 15 March 2012 and will take effect on 6 April 2012.