Immigration Monthly Update- December 2022
19 December 2022
Border Force Strikes
From 23–26 and 28–31 December, Border Force will be striking at Birmingham Airport, Cardiff Airport, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow, Manchester and the Port of Newhaven. At least 10,000 flights are expected to land at the affected airports from 23–31 December. The strikes will only impact airports – the Eurostar will not be affected.
Practically, both employers and employees need to be aware of the impact of these strikes as employees travelling into the UK over the Christmas period under work permits and for business, or personal reasons, can expect delays and cancellations. Employees should be prepared for long waits, especially non-visa nationals as E-gates may not always work.
Key practical steps for employees include:
- Having a printed copy of their visa approval letter/printed evidence of their status, available in their hand luggage, ready to present to Border Officers to avoid technical delays;
- EU settlement applicants who are awaiting their decision should have a printed copy of their Certificate of Application;
- Understanding their immigration status and conditions of entry (in particular the limitation on activities visitors are permitted to undertake); and
- Keeping up to date on the latest government guidance to monitor changes to the strikes.
You may also wish to consider delaying your travel date to the UK (if possible) to avoid any interruptions on these dates.
Please also note that knock-on disruption at other ports including Eurostar is to be expected, as these ports will be busier than usual.
UKVCAS Christmas Opening Times
All UKVCAS Service Points will be closed from 12 noon on 24 December until 7am on 28 December.
Most Service Points will also be closed from 4pm on 31 December until 2 January 2023 (except in Scotland which reopens on 5 January 2023). No appointments will be available during these dates.
From 9 January 2023, all Service Points will have their normal opening times.
Applicants should bear in mind that reduced appointment availability will add to processing times for their applications and to consider any impact that would have for travel plans.
New Exemptions from the Immigration Skills Charge
Effective 1 January 2023, it is expected numerous Immigration Skills Charge exemptions will be introduced which will benefit businesses sponsoring EU workers under certain routes.
EU nationals applying for a Global Business Mobility – Senior/Specialist worker (previously known as Intra-corporate Transfer visas) and are employed by EU-based businesses will be exempt from the ISC, where certain conditions apply. In addition, UK sponsors employing individuals under the Scale-up route will be exempt from paying the ISC.
UK businesses sponsoring EU nationals to work for up to three years in the UK under the Global Business Mobility: Senior or Specialist Worker (GBM) Route will be exempt from paying the ISC where the entity assigning them to work in the UK is based in the EU and part of the same corporate group (i.e. shared common ownership and control with the UK company).
Easing of Sponsor Reporting requirements for Skilled Workers
The Home Office has published updated sponsor guidance that eases sponsor duties including:
- Permitting delays to work start dates to exceed 28 days for a broader set of permitted reasons including travel disruption, personal family matters and to secure an exit visa. This means that fewer employers will now be required to curtail and re-sponsor individuals where there has been unexpected delays in on-boarding; and
- Reducing Home Office reporting on the Sponsor Management System:
- Employers no longer have to report changes in their work start date if the new work start date is within 28 days of the Work Start date listed on the COS; and
- No longer being required to report increases in sponsored employee’s salary (only decreases)
- No need to undertake a Change of Employment application if a sponsored worker’s contractual hours/salary are temporarily reduced for health reasons or to enable a phased return to work following ill-health (NB. an OH assessment is required).
Visa processing times for Skilled Worker Visas
The Home Office have updated their processing times guidance, advising that due to the continuing war in Ukraine and high global demand for visas, it is currently taking an average of nine weeks to get a decision for in-country Skilled Worker visas and three-four weeks for out of country Skilled Worker visas.
Whilst this is an improvement over the service levels seen in recent months, this remains slightly outside the normal advertised processing times.
The Home Office continue to stress that individuals should factor in the significant delays to processing times when making an application from within the UK in particular as individuals are unable to leave the UK once their application is submitted and until they have received a decision or a new BRP card, otherwise their application will be withdrawn.
The UKVI are working hard to reduce the extended waiting times, advising that they aim to reduce processing times back within the eight week service standards for Skilled Worker visas by the end of 2022.
Knowledge of language and life in the UK
On 24 November 2022, the Home Office published the latest version of the Knowledge of Language and life in the UK guidance, which confirms that the British Overseas territories will be added to the Majority English Speaking Country list for the purposes of meeting the English Language part of the Knowledge of Language and Life in the UK requirement.
Slow take up of Scale Up Visa applications
Since the Scale Up visa scheme began, it has recently been reported that there have only been four such applications, so far, approved by the UKVI.
The first four to be approved were as follows:
- Macademia, a children’s educational TV and games producer
- Intrepid, a software consultancy company
- Pentific, a property management software development company
- Porter Bathroom, a maker of luxury vanity units
It has been questioned why so few businesses have applied for sponsor licences in order to apply to the Scale Up visa scheme, given that the scheme was specifically aimed to help growing companies with gaining access to skilled individuals all over the world.
The fees under the Scale Up visa scheme, are lower than the Skilled Worker visa route and there is also exemption from the Immigration Skills Charge available (see above). The route also offers more flexibility in terms of only requiring individuals to work directly for the sponsoring organisation for six months.
Nevertheless, some of the downsides, which may explain the slow uptake is:
(1) That fast track services are not available for applications made to the scale up visa route, with processing times taking up to 3 months for a decision to be made.
(2) Evidencing that as an organisation, you qualify as an eligible business for the Scale Up route is more laborious that under the Skilled Work route – business have to demonstrate that they’re a high-growth business with:
a. annualised growth of at least 20% for the prior three year period;
b. and the business must have employed at least 10 employees at the start of the relevant period.
Finally, some added benefit of the Skilled Worker sponsorship route (vs Scale Up) is that needing to sponsor a worker for five years (vs six months) can reduce attrition in staffing which, given the time and investment required to secure core talent, can be preferable to employers.
Figures from the Scale Up Institute suggest that 34,000 companies meet the criteria in order to apply to the Scale Up visa scheme and could apply. Time will tell if the route will grow in popularity – this is expected as awareness of the route’s availability is increased and as business look to reduce unnecessary expenditure on recruitment costs in the wake of a more challenging economic environment.
The UKVI are understood to be in the process of automating their visa application systems, which in turn should help with eventually accelerating the visa approval process which may result in more companies applying under this visa route.
Children of Hong Kong British Nationals (Overseas)
From 30 November 2022, eligible adult children of Hong Kong British Nationals Overseas will be able to file an application with their dependants (including adult dependant relatives) independently from the relevant Hong Kong British National Overseas individual.
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 December 2022.