UNITED KINGDOM Immigration Updates
Several developments have been announced.
NHS Health Surcharge Introduced on April 6
The Home Office announced that a planned National Health Service (NHS) surcharge was implemented on April 6, 2015. This applies to all non-European Economic Area (EEA) migrants applying for permission to enter the United Kingdom (UK) for more than six months and to those migrants wishing to extend their existing limited leave to remain within the UK. The surcharge is £200 per annum per applicant, payable in full at the application stage, for all migrants except students, for whom the charge is £150 per annum.
This represents a huge increase in upfront costs payable by migrants. For example, a migrant with three dependents applying for a Tier 2 (General) visa for the maximum period of 60 months must pay an additional £4,000, on top of the usual visa fees.
Updates Released on the Roll-Out of Biometric Residence Permits for Overseas Applicants
As the general election draws closer, immigration advisers all over the UK are watching closely to see what the current coalition government will do and whether they will try to implement any changes to the current immigration system. No significant changes are expected.
The Home Office has introduced Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs) for overseas applicants. BRPs for non-EEA nationals traveling to the UK for more than six months have begun to be issued, starting with applications made in Pakistan as of March 18, 2015. The roll-out is continuing in three further phases from mid-April (including China and India), end of May (including Australia, the United States, and Japan), and end of July (the rest of the world). The following details have been released:
- Family members should be able to collect BRPs for each other if they can present the passport and decision letter for each applicant;
- Once in the UK, applicants are able to ask that their BRP be sent to a different Post Office than originally specified, but there is a charge for this service, although it can be nominal;
- Provisions may be introduced for nominated university staff to collect BRPs on behalf of a group of students, and then hand out the BRPs on campus, to avoid the Post Offices becoming overwhelmed in peak times; and
- The BRP is the only evidence of the grant of leave. The applicant must therefore obtain it before he or she can start work or classes.
An opportunity to amend or abolish Police Registration? Every year, the Overseas Visitors Records Office (OVRO) is overwhelmed in September, with international students and many secondees making their move at that time of year. This year OVRO ran a system that required individuals to attend (and queue) twice: once within the seven-day deadline to obtain an “appointment slip” and again on the date of the appointment.
With the introduction of BRPs, Police Registration nationals are expected to obtain their BRPs in person from the Post Office and then also to visit OVRO. As the Home Office is happy for the Post Office to oversee the collection of fingerprints (mandatory for most applications to remain in the UK) and the distribution of BRPs to new arrivals, outsourcing Police Registration would be the logical next step so that multiple visits to different locations would no longer be necessary and the process could be streamlined to require only one visit to the Post Office. Even better, it has been suggested that Police Registration should be abolished, now that almost all migrants will have BRPs. Either way, the administration-heavy current process needs to be reconsidered.
The Home Office released related guidance at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/414184/v_8_overseas_BRP_leaflet_-_signed_off_v_2__with_correct_image_.pdf. See also https://www.kingsleynapley.co.uk/news-and-events/blogs/immigration-law-blog/biometric-residence-permit-international-rollout-schedule.
Passport Checks on Leaving UK Introduced at Eurotunnel and Ferry Ports
Effective April 8, 2015, Eurotunnel and all ferry operators must scan the passports of those leaving the UK and send this information to the Home Office. The government is piloting some exemptions, such as coach tours and in situations where there are big delays; companies may relax controls with advance approval from a minister.
The exit checks are being reinstated following their demise in 1994. To avoid delays, airlines already obtain advance passenger information (API) and submit this information to the Home Office, so there is no change at UK airports. Eurotunnel is also introducing API in April to help reduce delays, and it is hoped that the ferry companies will follow suit.
Home Office Announces Changes to Immigration Rules
On February 26, 2015, the Home Office published its latest statement of changes to the immigration rules, with most of the provisions effective April 6, 2015. Filing fees for applications made within the UK and overseas increased on that date. In some categories, such as Tier 1 (Investor), the level of the fee doubled.
Notable changes include:
- The Visitor Rules effective April 24, 2015, have been simplified.
- Currently, there are 15 separate visitor categories, each with its own set of requirements. Following extensive consultation and feedback from interested bodies, the Home Office streamlined the visitor categories into just four visitor categories: visitor (standard), visitor for marriage or civil partnership, visitor for permitted paid engagements, and transit visitor.
- The student visitor category has been subsumed within a new short-term study category outside of the Visitor Rules.
- The “parent of a child at school” category has been rebranded as “parent of a Tier 4 (child) student” and taken outside of the Visitor Rules.
- Under the visitor (standard) category, all visitors can carry out permitted activities that were not originally declared on their visitor visa applications, although they may be required to provide additional information if requested by immigration officers on entry into the UK.
- The list of permitted activities has been expanded to include:
- Incidental volunteering for up to 30 days at a registered UK charity.
- Employees of an overseas training company delivering global training to employees of a multinational company based in the UK.
- Allowing training in specialist UK work practices and techniques to be delivered by non-corporate organizations.
- Expanding the current provision for overseas lawyers to advise UK clients on litigation and international transactions to include lawyers who are not employed by an overseas multinational company.
Other significant changes to the rules include:
- Addition of the ability for caseworkers to require persons present in the UK with limited leave to provide evidence and/or attend an interview to demonstrate that they continue to meet the requirements of the immigration rules.
- Limiting approved English language tests to Trinity College and Cambridge IELTS tests. The tests provided by Pearson and City and Guilds were removed as of April 6, 2015.
Tier 1 (Investor)
- Tier 1 (Investor) initial applicants must open UK-regulated bank accounts before submitting their applications.
- The minimum age for migrants in this category has increased from 16 to 18.
- The attempt to remove the “topping up” requirement in the November 6, 2014, Rule changes is refined to provide that Tier 1 investors no longer need to invest additional funds if they sell investments that have decreased in value; they need only reinvest the sale price of the investments to maintain the minimum £2 million investment. However, this equally means that investments sold at a gain must be reinvested in the UK.
Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)
- The use of the “genuineness” tests in the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route to applications for extensions and indefinite leave to remain is expanded. This change is similar to the “genuine entrepreneur” test introduced for initial applications in January 2013. In addition, the submission of business plans for initial applications is now mandatory.
- Applicants relying on funds they hold themselves must provide evidence of the third-party source of those funds, if they have held the funds for less than 90 days before making an initial application.
- The rules regarding how investment funds may be spent to satisfy the £200,000 investment requirement are clarified. The changes make it clear that buying a business from a previous owner, where the money ultimately goes to that previous owner rather than into the business, will not be acceptable.
Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)
- Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) migrants previously were granted leave to enter/remain for five years. As of April 6, 2015, such applicants now may choose the period for which they wish to be granted leave to enter/remain in one-year increments (up to the maximum five years/five years, four months). This change was introduced to prevent Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) migrants intending to be in the UK for shorter periods to be subject to the new NHS surcharge for the maximum period.
- Scheduled annual updates to minimum salary thresholds to qualify for Tier 2:
- Tier 2 (General): now £20,800.
- Jobs exempt from advertising in Jobcentre Plus: now £72,500.
- Jobs exempt from the annual limit, 12-month cooling-off period, the Resident Labour Market Test, and transfers of up to nine years (ICT): now £155,300.
- Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (Sports-person) earnings that qualify for settlement: £35,800 for settlement applications made on or after April 6, 2019, and £36,200 for those made after April 6, 2020.
- Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) Short-Term, Skills Transfer, and Graduate Trainee categories: now £24,800.
- Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) Long-Term: now £41,500.