Immigration update – June 2023
28 June 2023
Upcoming changes to Student Visa and Dependant Routes
The Student Visa has long been a popular visa route because it enables international students to move to the UK with family members as dependants. However, the Home Office announced last month that the Student Visa dependant route will now have new restriction imposed from January 2024 – in particular that the student dependant visa will only be available to post-graduate research students. Those coming to study for a Bachelors or Masters degree will no longer be eligible to bring dependent family members with them.
Currently the Student Visa enables international students above the age of 16 to undertake further education courses in the UK, whilst being sponsored by a Home Office approved, UK higher education provider – generally students undertaking a bachelor’s or master’s degree, or a PHD. Depending on certain requirements, family members of the student may be able to join in the UK if for example the visa holder is studying full-time at postgraduate level or on a government sponsored scheme.
The announced changes follow the publication of record net-migration figures to the UK – with students identified as one of the largest and a growing group of visa applicants. The student dependent visa also allows an unrestricted right to work in the UK. The changes therefore seek to reduce numbers coming to the UK and, in addition, to tighten compliance following indications of concern from the Home Office that applicants apply for student visas to initially relocate to the UK, but are increasingly failing to complete their course of study – calling into question if they are genuine students.
These upcoming changes will:
- limit the ability of international students to sponsor family members under all immigration routes, except post-graduate research routes;
- limit the ability of overseas students to switch from the student visa route to work routes until they complete their studies;
- amend the available funds students must prove to qualify for a student visa; and
- restrict international student agents who may be supporting applications illegally.
Further information on these upcoming changes is expected to be announced in due course.
Health and Care Worker Visa holders – restriction temporarily lifted
Due to the squeeze on the health and social care sectors in the current economic environment which has led to the highest levels of job vacancies seen in these sectors, the Government is going to implement certain measures to help alleviate the staff crisis and shortage of labour.
These measures include:
- A removal of the 20-hour cap on supplementary work
- Temporary exemption for Health and Care Worker visa holders
Although the removal of the 20-hour limit on supplementary work for Health and Care Worker Visa holders provides greater flexibility, it emphasizes the importance of tracking employee population and ensuring Right to Work systems are in place.
Further announcements on the implementation of the UK’s Electronic Travel Authorisation
Earlier this year, the Government announced the launch of the Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme in attempts to strengthen UK border. The scheme, similar to the US’s ESTA programme, will apply to those visiting the UK who do not need a visitor visa (for stays of less than six months) and who do not have or otherwise need any other permission to enter.
Below we list the key takeaways from the most recent announcements.
Who will have to register for an ETA to visit the UK?
The ETA program will apply to anyone wishing to travel to the UK who:
- Is not a British or Irish national;
- Does not have permission to live, work or study in the UK; and
- Who does not have a UK visa.
How to apply:
- The application will be made online or via an app to scan biometrics.
- The Home Office has estimated that the application itself should not take longer than a few minutes.
How much will it cost?
- It has been recently confirmed that the ETA will cost £10 per applicant, and it will be valid for two years (or when your passport expires – whichever is sooner).
When will the scheme start?
The following application dates for different nationalities have been released:
- Qatari national can apply from 25 October 2023 (registration is mandatory for any arrivals into the UK from 15 November 2023)
- Nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates arriving in the UK from 22 February 2024.
The Government is expected to announce further roll out dates soon.
Changes to the Expansion Worker and Service Supplier Routes
As a result of Brexit and the ongoing post-Brexit trade deals between the UK, Australia and New Zealand, changes have been made to the Expansion Worker and Service Supplier visa routes. It is hoped that these updates are to provide UK employers with more access to workers based in Australian and New Zealand.
Changes to the Expansion Worker route:
- For nationals or permanent residents of Australia who are looking to establish a branch or subsidiary of their sponsor group in the UK under the UK–Australia Free Trade Agreement, it is no longer required to have worked outside the UK for the overseas sponsor for a minimum specified period prior to submitting their application. Previously, they were required to have worked outside the UK for the overseas sponsor for at least 12 months.
- For Australian business looking to expand into the UK under the UK–Australia Free Trade Agreement, the requirement to have traded overseas for a minimum specified period prior to submitting a sponsor license application has now been removed. Before the deal, Australian businesses were required to have traded overseas for at least three years.
- If you are an Australian company making use of this new exemption, you can sponsor only one worker at a time.
Changes to the Service Supplier route:
- Permanent residents of Australia and New Zealand who provide services (specifically covered under the relevant trade agreements) are now eligible to apply for a UK visa under this route.
- Under this route, individuals will be able to stay in the UK initially for up to six months.
- However, Australian permanent residents may remain in the UK for an initial period of up to 12 months.
- In addition, individuals who have technical qualifications from certain institutions are now considered to have the equivalent of a UK degree and are eligible to apply under this route.
Update to irregular work patterns
In addition to the recent updated policy guidance regarding flexible working and hybrid working pattern policies which apply to sponsored workers and reporting obligations, the Home Office has now also confirmed that sponsored workers may have irregular work patterns.
The maximum a worker may work per week is an average of 48 hours over a period of no longer than 17 weeks at a time.
Any unpaid rest after a period of long-hour weeks will count towards the average when considering whether the salary thresholds are met and will not count as absences from employment.
The Sponsor Management System should be updated in the usual way within 10 working days to notify of any irregular work patterns.
Changes to the Priority Service for Sponsor Licence Applications
As of 21 June 2023, the Home Office began streamlining the process for requesting priority service for sponsor licence applications by incorporating it into the online form within the sponsor licence application. Therefore, companies and organisations will now be able to request and pay for priority service all within the sponsorship licence application.
The cap on the number of priority applications remains at 30 a day for the time being.
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 June 2023.