Employment and Immigration Law Update - Immigration Law Update January 2020

23 January 2020

Brexit, Sopra Steria fees, Life in the UK tests and Immigration Rules are all covered in this month's edition of Immigration Law Update January 2020.

Leaving the EU with a deal

On 22 January 2020, the UK Parliament gave its final approval to the Withdrawal Bill.Whilst the House of Lords had sought to make various amendments to Boris Johnson’s version, these were rejected by the House of Commons and the Lords backed down to avoid further delay.

The Queen is expected to ratify the Bill this week, turning it into an Act of Parliament. This will then enable Boris Johnson to sign the Withdrawal Agreement on behalf of the UK.

Ursula von der Leyen (President of the European Commission) and Charles Michel (President of the European Council ) are expected to sign the Agreement early next week. The European Parliament is due to hold its consent vote on Wednesday.

Hopefully we will have confirmation (with just 48 hours to go) that when the UK leaves the EU at 11pm GMT on 31 January 2020 it will be “with a deal”.

The transition period will then kick in, meaning free trade and free movement rights continue until 31 December 2020, whilst the Government attempts to negotiate a new trade deal.

EU nationals will still be able to come freely to the UK until 31 December 2020. They will then be required to apply for pre-settled or settled status as appropriate by 30 June 2021.

Increase in Sopra Steria fees

Anyone applying for a visa in the UK will need to attend an appointment to enrol their

biometrics. The Home Office has outsourced this service to Sopra Steria. It has come to
our attention that Sopra Steria has recently increased the fees it charges for biometric

In theory, free appointments are available at six core service points, including Croydon
and Birmingham. However, these are very difficult to book. Most applicants use one of
the other 50 application centres, where prices now start at £69.99 (instead of £60).
In practice we find that to secure an appointment within a short time frame, many of
our clients are using the premium lounge in central London, where appointments now
range from £210-£270.

Life in the UK test

From 17 December 2019 anyone who takes and passes the Life in the UK test will receive a ‘unique reference number’ (URN) electronically, rather than a test certificate. This reference must be quoted in their application for indefinite leave to remain, or British citizenship.

The test costs £50 and a pass mark over 75% is required. Applicants are allowed to retake the test as many times as they need, but must wait seven days between each retake and pay the £50 fee each time.

There are exemptions for those under the age of 18, over 65, or with evidence of a long-term physical or mental condition. EU nationals can obtain settled status without sitting the test.

New Immigration Rules

The Law Commission has called for a total re-write of the current unwieldy Immigration Rules. The Government has said we will have a new system from 1 January 2020, which is an opportunity to do this.

Whilst the press have reported various comments and rumours about what the new system will look like, we understand some key principles for the new immigration system were discussed at a Cabinet meeting this week, but the details have yet to be officially published.  Meanwhile the latest report and recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee are expected next week. We will provide further updates next month.

New Immigration Minister

Kevin Foster, MP for Torbay, was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Immigration at the Home Office on 16 December 2019. He is responsible for visas, citizenship, Windrush cases, Her Majesty’s Passport Office and immigration enforcement.

It is still to be seen what, if any, changes Mr Foster will push to make. Despite previous suggestions that Boris Johnson intended to restructure government departments, so as to move Immigration matters outside the remit of the Home Office, it appears he has now stepped back from this. Mr Johnson has continued his approach of giving the postholder the status of Parliamentary Secretary, rather than the status of a more senior Minister of State or Secretary of State.

This article is from the January 2020 issue of Employment and Immigration Law Update, our monthly newsletter for HR professionals. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. For further information please contact Clare Hedges or another member of Birketts' Immigration Law Team.

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at January 2020.