The Home Office announced a number of changes to immigration rules and processes in the run up to the holidays in December 2018. It also published a White Paper on the future immigration system. If, like most people, you were unable to digest all the immigration news in recent weeks on top of all the festive lunches, but are now feeling a bit uneasy about possibly having missed something important, please enjoy this update from the immigration team at EmployLaw Ltd.

Electronic right to work checks

A new ‘Code of Practice on preventing illegal working – Civil penalty scheme for employers’ is coming into effect on 28 January 2019. The new code of practice allows employers to enjoy an excuse from civil penalty if they undertake an online right to work verification process. Where an employer enjoys a statutory excuse from penalty, they will not be liable for employing someone who does not have the relevant permission to work.

As with the hardcopy document checks, the initial verification of the right to work must be completed before the employee starts work and if the prospective employee’s right to work in the UK is temporary, further checks are required to maintain the statutory excuse.

The online right to work verification process starts with the employer requesting the prospective employee’s permission to undertake the online check. The prospective employee must complete an online process themselves, in order to obtain a code that they then share with the employer so that the employer can undertake the check.

The employer will go to a particular page on the GOV.UK website and enter personal details of the prospective employee along with the code provided to submit a request for confirmation of their right to work. The confirmation of the right to work will be issued electronically and the record of same must be kept on file.

Pilot EU Settlement Scheme opens to EU passport holders

From 21 January 2019, the Home Office’s pilot of the EU Settlement Scheme will open to a very large group: EU nationals in the UK who hold passports, and their non-EU family members who hold valid biometric residence permit cards, will be able to apply. EU nationals who do not have passports, but only national ID cards, will have to wait until the scheme opens fully on 30 March 2019 in order to apply.

The EU Settlement Scheme is the scheme by which EU nationals and their family members can apply for status under the UK immigration rules, rather than for documentation of their EU rights under the European Economic Area Regulations.

New rules on skilled migrant workers

In December, the Home Office published a number of changes to the immigration rules, most of which are effective from 10 January 2019. Changes include introduction of a new architect visa under the exceptional talent category and introduction of a code of practice allowing fashion models to be sponsored for work in the UK without advertising their roles.

Changes are also made to the routes for temporary, sponsored religious and charity workers, requiring them to wait 12 months between periods of holding those visas.

Immigration White Paper

The Home Office finally published its long-awaited White Paper on the future immigration system in December 2018. The proposals set out in the White Paper are just that, and rules giving effect to the proposals will not be laid until the Home Office has consulted with stakeholders for an expected period of one year. However, the Government has said that it will start trying to improve the sponsorship system whilst working to implement the changes discussed in the White Paper.

Lots of changes are proposed in relation to sponsored skilled workers. Sponsorship of new hires will be available for medium-skilled, or A-level, roles. This will benefit creatives, lab technicians, retail managers, financial and accounting technicians and marketing associates, amongst others. Transfers of existing employees to the UK from overseas branches will still have to meet the current, highly skilled role requirements.

The Government will engage with businesses and employers before setting a minimum salary threshold, which may be lower for shortage occupation roles. The White Paper mentions the possibility that equity in technology start-ups might count towards the salary requirement.

The Government plans to streamline the sponsorship system, as follows:

  • Abolishing the annual limit of 20,700 on sponsorship of new hires earning less than £159,600. This means that employers will no longer have to undertake the Restricted Certificate of Sponsorship request process.
  • Abolishing the Resident Labour Market Test, though a ‘light-touch’ version of the test might be maintained for new graduate, entry-level roles.
  • Minimising sponsors’ duties to report on migrants, through information-sharing between government departments, for example regarding migrants’ salaries.
  • Allowing low-risk migrants to come to the UK as visitors and switch to work visa categories from within the UK once they have secured employment.

The Home Office is considering how to accommodate small businesses sponsoring migrants for the first time. It might implement a system of sector-based, umbrella sponsor organisations, rather than require each small business to be a sponsor itself.

In addition to the sponsorship route, the Home Office proposes to introduce a 12-month visa for workers of all skill levels, who will be able to switch employers in the UK. These migrants will not be able to bring family members with them, access public funds, switch to other visas from within the UK or settle in the UK. They will have to wait 12 months between periods of holding those visas. The government reserves the right to close the route or tighten eligibility criteria and proposed to review the route in 2025.

The government plans to extend the Youth Mobility Scheme, a 2-year visa scheme open to 18-30 year-olds of certain countries with reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals. Age, nationality and work restrictions of the future scheme are to be determined through negotiations.

The government also proposes to expand reciprocal arrangements for 6-month visas for self-employed professionals under contract to provide services in the UK in certain sectors.

The overall objective is a digital system of electronic permissions and biometrics capture for all migrants. The plan is for a system where each migrant will have an online account that they can update as their details change. The government hopes that this system will replace reporting requirements and the need for migrants to resubmit information and documentation with each application.

If you have any questions about the changes listed here, or would like to discuss an immigration query, please do not hesitate to contact our Head of Immigration Samar Shams at s.shams@employ.law or on 0203 805 3471.