The United Kingdom has become one of the best places to live and work on the planet. This leads to a major source of population growth in the UK, but also plays a significant role in the recovery of the economy.
The economic, social and political aspects of immigration have caused controversy for many years with no end to the debate in sight.
The rise in overall net migration to the UK in 2014 has shown that, regardless of the government’s endless efforts to curb migration, it remains an impossible task to reduce the numbers of foreigners coming to the UK in a free-market society.
According to the Office for National Statistics, a total of 560,000 immigrants arrived in the UK in 2014. This figure includes 81,000 British citizens and 214,000 from other EU states. A total number of 317,000 left the UK, thereby leaving a net migration figure of 298,000 people immigrating to the UK.
The stronger economic growth in the UK than in other European countries is the main factor for the increased arrival of EU nationals.
The fact that non-EU net migration has fallen shows that the implementation of strict immigration rules has paid off.
Changes to UK Immigration Rules
On 26 February 2015, the Home Office published their Statement of Changes, which outlines further changes being made to the Immigration Rules as an ongoing attempt to manage migration. These changes came into effect on the 6 April 2015 and are likely to have an effect on employers who employ non-EU skilled workers.
The changes include an attempt at strengthening the Tier 1 process, amending Tier 2 to create greater flexibility for businesses and simplifying the existing rules to enter the UK as a visitor to help support economic growth.
Tier 1 (General)
This route will close for extension applications in April 2015.
The Home Office will continue to accept Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) applications made under Tier 1 (General) until April 2018.
Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)
Applicants will be given the option of how much leave they wish to apply for. Individuals will be permitted to apply up to the current maximum of five years, or five years and four months in the case of entry clearance applications.
This change will be made alongside the introduction of the NHS surcharge payments. Applicants who apply under this category can now come to the UK for shorter periods and will not be required to pay the maximum leave period surcharge payment.
Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)
The Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) category accommodates applicants who come to the UK to set up, take over, or be involved as directors in the running of a business in the UK.
Changes to this category will be as follows:
- It has been clarified that if a public body confirms that funds are made available by a UK or devolved government department for the specific purpose of establishing or expanding a UK business, government funding by an intermediary public body will be accepted.
- The use of the ‘genuineness’ tests for those applying for an extension or ILR applications will be expanded. This should protect the process from any abuse without having a negative effect on genuine applicants. This change can be compared to the ‘genuine entrepreneur’ test which was introduced for initial applications in January 2013.
- Migrants in the Tier 1 (General) category will no longer be able to switch into Tier 1 (Entrepreneur), unless they have established a UK business before 6 April 2015, or they have the required funding from the government or endorsed seed funding competition.
- If the applicant is relying on funds they hold themselves and have held funds for less than 90 days before making an initial application, they will need to provide evidence of the third-party source of those funds.
While previously this was not a mandatory document, all initial Tier (1) Entrepreneur applicants will now need to submit a business plan as part of their application.
Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
The Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) category accommodates graduates who have been authorised by UK Trade and Investment or UK higher education institutions to establish business in the UK.
From 6 April 2015, in order to maintain consistency with the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) category, these applicants will be restricted from engaging in businesses principally concerned with property development or property management.
Tier 1 (Investor)
The Tier 1 (Investor) category accommodates high-net-worth individuals making a substantial financial investment to the UK.
The following major changes will be made to this category:
- Before making their initial application, prospective investors will be required to open a UK bank account regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). This is to ensure the UK banks carry out due diligence checks before the applicant applies.
- The minimum age requirement to apply for a visa under this category is being increased from 16 to 18.
- If they sell part of their investments at a loss, applicants will no longer need to subsequently invest additional capital but they will be required to maintain all their capital within their investment portfolios.
As long as the investor does not withdraw any capital, buying and selling investments will still be permitted.
Changes will be made to the Shortage Occupation List. These changes are as follows:
- changes to graduate occupations in the health sector for both the UK list and the additional Scotland list. Paramedics will also be added to the UK list;
- overhead lines workers in the energy industry will be added to the existing UK list; and
- some existing entries will be reclassified.
After a recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee, the government intends to make a further change to the Shortage Occupation List. This relates to graduate occupations in the digital technology sector, for recruits of scale-up companies.
Changes will be made to the annual minimum salary thresholds and appropriate salary rates for individual occupations (set out in codes of practice). These rates will also apply to settlement applications made by work permit holders.
The new salary thresholds are outlined in the table on this page.
The Tier 2 (General) annual limit will be rebalanced to increase the number of places available at the start of the limit year from 1,725 to 2,550. The overall size of the limit (20,700 places each year) will not be changed and unused places will continue to be carried over from previous months until the end of each limit year.
A change will be made to the 12-month cooling-off period. The change will mean that the cooling-off period will not apply to individuals whose previous grant of Tier 2 was for three months or less.
A change will be made for applicants applying for leave to remain under Tier 4 on the Doctorate Extension Scheme and who intend to pursue a period of study or research in one of the disciplines included in Appendix 6. They will not be required to apply for an ATAS clearance certificate if the hold a valid certificate in respect of that particular course or research.
The British Council have requested that the ‘UK-India Education and Research Initiative’ scheme is removed as this is no longer in use.
The Visitor routes have been redesigned. There are now only four routes as opposed to the previous 15 routes. The four routes are as follows:
- Visitor (Standard).
- Visitor for marriage or civil partnerships.
- Visitor for permitted paid engagements.
- Transit visit.
In addition to this, new activities will be added to Appendix 3 of the new visit rules. These are follows:
- allowing visitors to carry out incidental unpaid volunteering for up to 30 days at a UK-registered charity;
- allowing overseas trainers to deliver training to UK-based employees of a multinational company, where the training is part of a contract to deliver global training to the international corporate group;
- allowing UK-based organisations, who are not corporate entities, to provide training to overseas visitors on work practices and techniques that are needed for their employment overseas, where this is not readily available in their home country; and
- expanding the existing provision to allow overseas lawyers to advise a UK client on international transactions and litigation, provided they remain paid and employed overseas.
Changes to English Language Tests
The list of approved English language tests has been updated. It has removed many of the previously accepted tests.
The following test providers are no longer listed:
- Pearson Test;
- Cambridge tests;
- ESOL tests and IESOL tests.
The new test providers are Trinity College London (UK only) and IELTS SELT Consortia (UK and rest of world).
A seven-month transitional period has been introduced to aid those who have already taken their test ahead of these changes. As long as the test was passed before 6 April 2015, the test results can be used in applications up until 6 November 2015.
The changes in Immigration Rules have had a positive effect on immigration from outside Europe, but it is impossible for any future government to reduce net migration from within Europe without negotiating a radical change to the principle of freedom of movement that underpins the European treaties.
Skilled economic migrants from outside the European Union are contributing to the economy as they are highly likely to work and pay taxes. They have no right to claim any benefits and yet the government is still focusing on limiting these skilled people to come to the UK as they can easily control this category of immigrants.
A political solution may be to prevent EU nationals from claiming benefits in the UK unless they have lived and have been contributing to the UK economy for at least five years.
How correct is the total figure of net migration? There does not appear to be a reliable scientific method of measuring the numbers. Without knowing the exact numbers, it might be easy to use immigration as a scapegoat for mismanagement and under-investment, which leads to problems in the national infrastructure including housing, the NHS and education.
It is also time to acknowledge the contribution economic migration makes to the thriving UK economy which has seen a reduction of unemployment of 102,000. The unemployment rate remains 5.7% but it is at its lowest level since 2008 according to the Office for National Statistics.
Immigration has helped the UK by taking the edge off the massive national debt. Whether politicians have the political courage to make this case is of course another matter.
We should welcome immigration, not fear it.