visabureau.com > blogs > official blog

News, commentary & perspective from Visa Bureau

Tier 4: Changes Expected Following Review

by Marek 26/11/2010 15:37:00

Changes to the UK Student Visa system
is expected in the near future.

Tightening of the ‘economic immigration routes’ is but one part of a package of measures being made across the UK immigration system in an effort to achieve the coalition government’s goal of reducing overall net migration.

The Home Office confirmed that an 8-week consultation will be initiated before the end of 2010 focussing on Tier 4 of the points-based system – the UK Student Visa category – which makes up two-thirds of migrants entering the UK annually.

Feedback will be sought on a range of prospective measures, including:

  • For adult students, focusing Tier 4 on higher-level courses and those offered by Highly Trusted sponsors;
  • Introducing tougher entry criteria such as English language competence for students;
  • Ensuring that students wishing to extend their studies show evidence of academic progression;
  • Limiting the student's entitlements to work and to sponsor dependants in the UK; AND
  • Improving the accreditation process for education providers, alongside more rigorous inspections.

Theresa May added: "I want to ensure that students and education providers are of a high quality.

"People imagine students to be those who come here for a few years to study at university and then go home - that is not always the case. We estimate that nearly half of all students coming here from abroad are coming to study a course below degree level where levels of compliance with immigration requirements are not high enough.

"While we will protect our world-class universities, we want suitably qualified students with the genuine desire to study to come to our country. We must also have a more robust system to ensure that students leave the country at the end of their legitimate stay."

- Marek Starke is a member of the UK Visa Bureau.

Visa Bureau takes no responsibility and cannot be held accountable for action taken as a result of any information or comment provided on this blog, and we recommend that you always seek a number of opinions before making a decision regarding your migration or visa application. Please refer to the Visa Bureau terms of use for more information.

UKBA Announces Annual Limit for Non-European Workers

by Marek 26/11/2010 15:23:00

The Home Secretary has announced a number
of changes to the immigration system

On 23 November the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced several new measures that will assist in strictly controlling the number of non-European workers that can come to the United Kingdom.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said: "Today's announcement has set out a clear, rational approach to which workers we will allow into the UK job market. We have set out an approach which will not only get immigration down to sustainable levels but at the same time protects those businesses and institutions which are vital to our economy.

"We will take action on all routes into the UK, and these changes are crucial if we are to limit the numbers coming here to work while still attracting the brightest and the best to the UK.

"We have worked closely with businesses while designing this system, and listened to their feedback, but we have also made clear that, as the recovery continues, we need employers to look first to people who are out of work and who are already in this country.'

New Rules Taking Effect from April 2011

Tier 1 Changes
  • The Tier 1 (General) route will be closed and a Tier 1 route for ‘persons of exceptional talent’ will be introduced. This will cover migrants who have won international recognition in scientific and cultural fields, or who show sufficient exceptional promise to be awarded such recognition in the future. Applications by those with exceptional promise will be endorsed by a competent body in the relevant field. The 'exceptional talent' category will be subject to an annual limit of 1,000 places. Tier 2 will continue to be open to migrants working in these fields.
  • The Tier 1 (Investor) route will be reformed to offer an accelerated route to settlement, depending on the level of investment.
  • The Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route will be reformed to make it more attractive. The UK Border Agency (UKBA) will introduce flexible criteria and a new avenue for promising start-up companies which do not meet the investment threshold.
  • The Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) and Tier 1 (Investor) routes will not be subject to a limit on numbers.

More information will be published by the UKBA as soon as possible.

Tier 2 Changes
  •  The Tier 2 (General) route will be subject to an annual limit of 20,700 places for the 2011/12 migration year. This limit will not apply to:
    o In-country applications from those already in the UK;
    o Dependants of Tier 2 migrants;
    Tier 2 (General) applicants who are filling a vacancy with a salary of more than £150,000;
    Tier 2 (Sportsperson) applicants;
    Tier 2 (Minister of religion) applicants; and
    Tier 2 (Intra company transfer) applicants.
  • Tier 2 (Intra company transfer) applicants in the Established staff sub-category will be able to stay in the UK for up to five years if they are paid more than £40,000 per year. Those paid between £24,000 and £40,000 will be able to enter for up to 12 months within a specified period. The current rules will continue to apply to Tier 2 (Intra company transfer) migrants in the Graduate trainee and Skills transfer sub-categories.
  • Tier 2 (General) applications will be restricted to graduate-level vacancies. Following consultation with the Migration Advisory Committee, the UKBA will amend the shortage occupation list accordingly. Existing Tier 2 (General) migrants in jobs below graduate level will be able to extend their permission to stay if they meet current requirements.
  • The minimum level of English language competency for Tier 2 (General) applications will be increased from basic to intermediate level (B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference).
  • Applications for certificates of sponsorship will, where the limit applies, be considered on a monthly basis. If the monthly allocation is oversubscribed, applications will be ranked according to:
    o Shortage occupations in the first instance;
    o Whether the post requires higher academic qualifications; AND
    o Salary.

Potential Tier 2 workers who are granted a certificate of sponsorship will have three months in which to apply for a UK Visa.

Settlement Applications

The UKBA also announced that there will be a new threshold regarding criminal convictions, requiring all those applying for settlement to be clear of unspent convictions.

Tier 1 and Tier 2 migrants applying for settlement will need to meet the salary criteria that applied when they last extended their permission to stay. If an applicant fails to pass the minimum English language requirement, their application for settlement will be refused.

- Marek Starke is a member of the UK Visa Bureau.

Visa Bureau takes no responsibility and cannot be held accountable for action taken as a result of any information or comment provided on this blog, and we recommend that you always seek a number of opinions before making a decision regarding your migration or visa application. Please refer to the Visa Bureau terms of use for more information.

UK Tier 2 Interim Limit: Clarification of Certificate of Sponsorship Requests

by Marek 03/11/2010 15:22:00

The UK Border Agency (UKBA) has published refined criteria applicable to Tier 2 (General) sponsors' requests for additional certificates of sponsorship. 

Until now there has been very little clarification of the criteria against which the UKBA considers sponsorship requests. The guidance has now been refined to give sponsors greater certainty and the UKBA claim the newly-refined criteria will also help to meet the ongoing recruitment needs of sponsors while maintaining the overall interim UK Visa cap introduced in July 2010.

What do the refined criteria mean? 

New  Employer Sponsorship Licence applicants must now submit a completed Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) Request form together with their initial licence application. The UKBA have recently published a new form to replace the previous version.

Due to the introduction of the refined criteria - and the additional information the UKBA now needs to obtain for shortage occupation sponsorship requests already submitted - the November panel will be delayed until 12 November. Where further information is needed, sponsors will receive a letter detailing the information that they should supply.

The UKBA panel of managers will continue to meet on a monthly basis, normally on the first working day of the month. All requests received by the 25th of the month onwards will not be considered at the panel but will be rolled over to the following month. For example, if the request is received by the UKBA on or before 24th November, it will be considered in the December panel meeting; all requests received on or after the 25th of November will be considered by the panel in January.

Each month, the total number of CoS available will be split between extension applications and applications for new hires. The UKBA will grant all requests for applications for extensions where an extension application meets the relevant criteria (see below). After all extension applications have been granted, the remaining CoS will be split into two categories: one category for applications for new hires into shortage occupations and another category for applications for new hires into non-shortage occupations.

Please note that with regard to shortage occupations the UKBA will assess requests based on whether the job is in a shortage occupation on the day of the panel meeting.

In what order will sponsorship requests be considered? 

While the Interim Limit is in place until 31 March 2011, sponsorship requests will each be considered on a monthly basis and ranked against the following criteria, starting with the highest ranking:

  1.  Requests for applications for extensions - where the extension is required for an existing migrant worker who is (a) currently employed by the sponsor requesting extension, (b) who currently has valid leave as a Work Permit holder or under Tier 2 (General) and (c) where the migrant worker’s leave is due to expire within the next 60 days – all requests in this category will be approved;
  2. Requests for applications for new hires in shortage occupations – the occupation must be listed on the shortage occupation list on the day of the panel meeting and these requests will then be considered in the following order of priority:
    a. Salary is at or above £40,000;
    b. Salary is between £36,000 and £39,999.99;
    c. Salary is between £32,000 and £35,999.99;
    d. Salary is between £28,000 and £31,999.99;
    e. Salary is between £24,000 and £27,999.99;
    f. Salary is between £20,000 and £23,999.99;
    g. Salary is under £20,000 (shortage occupations only, non-shortage occupations with a salary under £20,000 do not score enough points to qualify under Tier 2 General).
  3. Requests for applications for new hires in non-shortage occupations – a suitable Resident Labour Market Test must have been completed before submitting the COS request and these requests will then be considered in order of priority of salary, as outlined in the point above.

When will sponsors be notified about the result of their request?

The UKBA have again iterated that only a limited number of CoS’ are available and they cannot guarantee that any application will be successful. Sponsors will be notified of the result of their request within five working days of the panel meeting. Where the request for a CoS has been successful the licence-holder’s Sponsor Management System Account will be updated.

There is a procedure in place for urgent CoS requests where there is a compelling reason to request urgent treatment, such as where a newly licensed sponsor needs a CoS for a migrant worker whose leave is due to expire before the next panel meeting. Previously refused requests are not considered to be grounds for exceptional consideration. Where an urgent decision is required before a panel a decision will be made by the Deputy Director for Sponsorship or a nominated deputy.

It goes without saying that any CoS’ allocated to sponsors following a request must be used for the role for which it was requested. Failure to do so may result in future requests being refused and compliance action being undertaken by the UKBA as appropriate.

- Marek Starke is a member of the UK Visa Bureau.

Visa Bureau takes no responsibility and cannot be held accountable for action taken as a result of any information or comment provided on this blog, and we recommend that you always seek a number of opinions before making a decision regarding your migration or visa application. Please refer to the Visa Bureau terms of use for more information.

UK Tier 2 interim limit explained: How the changes will affect UK work permit sponsors

by Marek 10/08/2010 14:44:00

As  you may be  aware, the UK Border Agency has introduced an Interim Limit on applications submitted under Tier 1 (General) and Tier 2 (General) of the Points Based System. To better explain these changes, see below for more details.

Please note: This information is taken from materials initially published by the UK Home Office.

What is the Interim Limit?

The aim of the Interim Limit is to achieve an overall reduction of 5% in the number of applicants in these categories compared to the equivalent period last year. This interim limit will run from 19 July, 2010 to 31 March, 2011. The interim limit will be implemented by limiting the number of Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) each sponsor can assign to migrant workers.

Within Tier 2 this limit:

When will sponsors be made aware of how many Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS) they can assign? 

All licensed Tier 2 (General) sponsors will have received a letter from the UK Border Agency (UKBA) notifying them of the introduction of an interim limit on Tier 2 (General). From 19 July, 2010 onwards, Tier 2 (General) sponsors will receive a further detailed letter setting out their individual CoS allocation for the period to 31 March, 2011.

The interim limit has been calculated by assessing the CoS usage of each sponsor for the equivalent period from 19 July, 2009 - 31 March, 2010. The UKBA have then applied a reduction to each sponsor who used 2 or more CoS during this period, leaving a pool of unallocated CoS for distribution to new sponsors and existing sponsors who have special requirements.

You can request CoS from this reserved allocation if you are:

  • a new sponsor licensed during the period of the interim limit until 31 March 2011; or
  • an existing sponsor who requires additional CoS in exceptional circumstances during the period of the interim limit.

How does this affect existing sponsors?

The changes will affect existing sponsors in different ways, but please note that some sponsors will be given a zero allocation for this period. This means that they continue to remain licensed by the UK Border Agency and are able to continue to sponsor any existing migrants they employ who have valid leave. However, they are not able to assign a CoS to any new migrants or to existing employees who require an extension to their leave. It is for sponsors to decide how to split their allocation between ‘new’ employees and extension applicants where appropriate.

Where an existing sponsor has a zero CoS allocation or requires additional CoS during the period of the interim limit, they can apply for exceptional consideration for additional CoS. However, please note that the number of CoS available for exceptional cases will be limited and it is therefore important that sponsors manage their allocation appropriately as there is no guarantee that their request for extra CoS will be granted. The UKBA will require sponsors with an interim allocation of 1 CoS or more who apply for exceptional consideration to account for how they have used, or intend to use, their existing CoS.

How will this affect new sponsors?

There will be a limited allocation of CoS available to new sponsors and some new sponsors may not be able to issue any CoS during the period of the interim limit. New sponsors will have to apply on a separate form to request CoS and all requests received by the UK Border Agency each month will be assessed against the criteria listed later in this guidance.

Where the UKBA approves a new sponsor licence, they will initially set up that sponsor on the Sponsor Management System with a zero CoS allocation. New sponsors must complete the request form for allocation of CoS at the time of application for a sponsor licence. This means that the sponsor is on the UKBA sponsor register and has a valid Tier 2 (General) licence. However, they are not able to assign a CoS to a new migrant or to an existing employee who has a work permit and requires an extension to their leave.

The request form must be signed by the Authorising Officer and requests from sponsors who have not completed this form or that are submitted via alternative routes will not be considered. Incomplete and unsigned forms will also be rejected by the UKBA.

What is the process of requesting additional Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS)?

The UKBA have advised that a CoS should only be requested for an extension where the migrant’s leave is due to expire within the next 60 days. Where the CoS is required for an individual whose leave is due to expire in more than 60 days then the request will be rejected by the UKBA and the sponsor informed.

IMPORTANT:

The UKBA will assess these requests against the following criteria - for a case to be considered for exceptional consideration, the following conditions must be satisfied:

  • the sponsor must be A-rated on all their sponsor licenses on all tiers and categories at the point they submit the request; and
  • the number of CoS requested must take into account any available CoS remaining in the sponsor’s existing allocation.

Requests for exceptional consideration will be considered and ranked in the following order of priority (starting with the highest ranking):

  1. A Work Permit or Tier 2 (General) extension for an existing sponsor;
  2. A Work Permit or Tier 2 (General) extension for a new sponsor;
  3. A new shortage occupation post for an existing sponsor;
  4. A new shortage occupation post for a new sponsor;
  5. A non-shortage occupation post for an existing sponsor;
  6. A non-shortage occupation post for a new sponsor.

Please note that a "limited number" of CoS have been made available for exceptional cases and the UKBA have stated directly that "it is likely that most requests will be unsuccessful". Sponsors should carefully consider their request against the above criteria before submitting.

The requests for exceptional consideration will be considered by a panel of UKBA managers to ensure consistency of decision-making. The overall allocation of CoS available for exceptional cases will be divided across the months of the interim limit. The panel will meet on a monthly basis on the first working day of the month. All requests for exceptional consideration received before the 25th of the previous month will be considered at the next panel. Any requests received from the 25th onwards will not be considered at the next panel but will be rolled over to the following month’s panel. Sponsors will be notified of the result of their request for exceptional consideration within five working days of the panel meeting. Where the request for a CoS has been successful then the Sponsor Management Account will be updated. Where an urgent decision is required before a panel then a decision will be made by the Deputy Director for Sponsorship or nominated deputy.

Please note that the UKBA have confirmed that the panel’s decision is final: there is no appeal or reconsideration process. However, sponsors can choose to resubmit their request at any time. Any CoS allocated to sponsors following a request for exceptional consideration must be used for the role for which it was requested. Failure to do so may result in future requests for exceptional consideration being refused and further compliance action being undertaken as appropriate.


How will a sponsor’s CoS usage be monitored and tracked?

Sponsors should note that the procedure adopted where a CoS is assigned remains the same under the interim limit as it was prior to 19 July, 2010. Any CoS that a sponsor assigns to a prospective worker will be counted as 'used' and will be deducted from the sponsor’s allocation for the period of the interim limit. This includes any CoS issued in error or any CoS which is assigned but not used by the migrant in a leave to enter or leave to remain application.

Each sponsor's CoS usage will be monitored closely during the period of the interim limit and reviewed in October 2010 and January 2011.

A sponsor's interim allocation may be recalibrated at this review point depending on the overall trajectory of the limit.  Additionally, a sponsor who no longer wishes to sponsor migrants may choose to surrender their sponsor licence at any time.

- Marek Starke is a member of the UK Visa Bureau.

Visa Bureau takes no responsibility and cannot be held accountable for action taken as a result of any information or comment provided on this blog, and we recommend that you always seek a number of opinions before making a decision regarding your migration or visa application. Please refer to the Visa Bureau terms of use for more information.