Legal development

The new UK Global Mobility visas and other core changes to the Immigration Rules

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    The Home Office has published the latest Immigration Rules providing details of the much anticipated "new" routes for Global Mobility. Furthermore, significant changes to a number of existing well-established routes will take effect, some from as early as April 2022.

    Although the changes are part of the Home Office's simplification project to provide greater clarity to users of the Immigration Rules, the introduction of further routes and different eligibility criteria may well create more and not less complexity.

    In this article we outline the most significant changes which will impact workers and businesses, and identify areas that are still subject to further development.

    What are the new visa routes?

    The new rules include five Global Business Mobility routes, four of which replace existing routes, with the fifth being a new provision for secondment workers. Although some of the replacement routes appear at first glance to be a re-branding, the Home Office has taken the opportunity to introduce some substantive changes in approach which look unlikely to assist businesses, as employers have additional criteria to satisfy. The amendments also include two further immigration routes: the High Potential Individual route and the Scale-up route.

    Global Business Mobility routes

    These routes are due to come into effect from 11 April 2022 and are sponsored routes for overseas businesses seeking to establish a presence in, or transfer staff to, the UK for specific business purposes.

    i. Senior or Specialist Worker

    This route takes the place of the current Intra-Company Transfer visa, a route for senior managers or specialist employees who are being temporarily assigned to a UK business linked to their overseas employer. The core eligibility criteria remain the same as with the ICT route, including in respect of evidencing common ownership between the UK and overseas entity and the length of stay. Applicants remain exempt from meeting the English language requirement via this route. However the amendments increase the minimum salary threshold to £42,400 per year (previously £41,500) or the going rate for the relevant occupation code (whichever is the higher).

    ii. Graduate Trainee

    As with the above, this is a replacement for the existing sub-category within the ICT rules and applies to workers on graduate training courses who are required to undertake a work placement in the UK. The amendments to the original route are minimal, although the general salary requirement has slightly increased to £23,100 per year.

    iii. UK Expansion Worker

    This is a new route for overseas workers who are senior managers or specialist employees, and are being assigned to undertake work related to expanding the business presence in the UK. As with the existing Sole Representative of an Overseas Business route (which closes to new applicants from 11 April 2022), this route can only be used where the business has not begun trading in the UK and is looking to assign senior individuals to establish a UK entity. However there are a number of core differences with the new route.

    Unlike the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business provisions, the UK Expansion Worker route is not a route to settlement, and this may act as a deterrent for senior executives (given the disruption to families in relocating cross border without longer term certainty).

    Furthermore, this route requires the applicant to hold a "Certificate of Sponsorship" assigned by a sponsoring entity. It is currently unclear how this will apply in practice where the employer is a non-UK entity and there is no trading presence within the UK, and further guidance on these particular provisions is required.

    In line with some of the other Global Business Mobility routes, the UK Expansion Worker route will be subject to a general salary requirement of at least £42,400 per year (or the going rate for the relevant role, whichever is higher), together with a set skills threshold, which were not features of the Sole Representative of an Overseas Business route.

    However, some administrative burdens have been eased, including an apparent removal on the number of people who can be sent to the UK to assist with establishing a new entity. In addition, there are slightly more relaxed rules for Japanese entities seeking to establish a UK branch or subsidiary, as well as for high earners (salary over £73,900), as both categories of applicants will be exempt from the requirement to have worked for the overseas entity for a cumulative period of at least 12 months prior to application.

    iv. Secondment Worker

    This is a new business immigration route for overseas workers who are undertaking temporary work assignments in the UK, where the worker is being seconded to the UK as part of a "high value contract or investment" by their overseas employer.

    As with the other Global Mobility routes, this will require sponsorship of the worker and a skills threshold. However, it appears that it will not attract a minimum salary threshold or need the worker to meet the English language requirement. Applicants will need to have worked for their overseas employer for a cumulative period of 12 months before coming to the UK. It is currently unclear from the published rules what constitutes a "high value contract or investment", but we anticipate this will be explained in the forthcoming guidance.

    v. Service Supplier

    This route replaces the existing contractual service supplier and independent professional provisions in the Temporary Work – International Agreement route. Again, the eligibility requirements broadly align with the previous routes. The route applies to overseas workers who are undertaking temporary work assignments in the UK, where the worker is either a contractual service supplier employed by an overseas service provider or a self-employed independent professional based overseas. They will need to undertake an assignment in the UK to provide services covered by one of the UK’s international trade agreements.

    The High Potential Individual route

    This new points-based route is intended to attract the "brightest and best to the UK to maintain our status as a leading international hub for emerging technologies". From 30 May 2022, when this route opens, applicants to this route must have either a Bachelor's or postgraduate degree from one of the top global universities outside the UK, as published in the specific annual Home Office "Global Universities List", which was awarded during the five years immediately preceding the date of application.

    This route is also subject to English language and financial requirements.

    Successful applicants of this route will be granted permission to live and work in the UK for a period of two or three years, depending on whether they are relying on a qualification equivalent to a UK Bachelor's/Master's level degree, or to a UK PhD, respectively.

    The Scale-up route

    The new Scale-up route aims to enable "talented individuals" with "a job offer at the required skills level from a recognised UK scale-up company to qualify for a fast-track visa".

    To register for this route, the UK company will have to have a sponsor licence and be able to demonstrate it has an annualised growth of at least 20% for the previous three-year period, either in terms of turnover or staffing. Companies seeking to use this route will also need to have had a minimum of 10 employees at the start of this three-year period.

    The relevant job offer must be at the required skills level, being skilled to graduate level (RQF 6 and equivalent), and also with an appropriate salary - at least £33,000 per year or the going rate for the particular occupation, whichever is higher. The applicant must also attain specific English language requirements.

    A slightly unusual feature of the Scale-up route is that although the initial application requires sponsorship, extensions do not. Applicants are only required to work for their sponsoring employer for the first six months – after this, their immigration status is no longer tied to that employer.

    Successful applicants of this route will be granted permission to live and work in the UK for two years. In order to extend their permission to stay, applicants will be required to have PAYE earnings of at least £33,000 per year for at least 50% of their time on this immigration route. Extensions will be granted for three years and this route does lead to settlement.

    What next?

    Further explanatory guidance on these amendments and new routes is awaited which should provide greater clarity on how some of these options will operate in practice.

    Looking further into the future, the Home Office's broad aims over the next few years include simplifying the business immigration routes. The Home Office's points-based immigration system: sponsorship roadmap (published in August 2021), sets out plans to modernise the immigration system through developments such as making the sponsor licence application "fully paperless", building a new sponsorship IT system, and introducing automated checks against data held by other government departments such as HMRC and Companies House to expedite the application process.

    If you require further advice on the recent amendments to the Immigration Rules, or would like to discuss potential business immigration routes for your own workforce, please contact our immigration specialists.

    The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to.
    Readers should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.

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