The Chancellor announced in his budget on 3 March 2021 further details of proposed changes to the UK immigration system. The reforms aim to attract and keep highly skilled individuals and entrepreneurs in the UK. The government also hopes that the reforms will support UK jobs and growth as part of rebuilding the economy.
The government has indicated that it will:
- Launch a new Global Business Mobility immigration category by spring 2022 to enable overseas businesses to establish a presence or to transfer staff to the UK
- Provide practical support to small firms that are using the immigration system for the first time
- Modernise the immigration sponsorship system to make it easier to use. The government has said it will publish a delivery roadmap in the summer
- By March 2022, introduce an elite points-based visa. Within this immigration category the intention is that there will be a "scale-up" stream, allowing those with a job offer from a recognised UK scale-up to qualify for a fast-track visa
- Reform the Global Talent visa to make it simpler for holders of international prizes and winners of certain scholarships to qualify automatically
- Review the Innovator visa to make it easier for those with the skills and experience to found an innovative business to come to the UK under this route
- Expand the Global Entrepreneur Programme to market the UK’s immigration offering and explore building an overseas talent network
The new immigration system came into effect on 1 December 2020. Importantly, since1 January 2021 this system has applied to European nationals as well as non-European nationals as free movement for European nationals ended at 11pm on 31 December 2020.
The end of free movement and the changes that were introduced in December 2020 mark a major shift to a new immigration system which the government has described as “simple”. In reality many businesses find the system far from straightforward and also costly. Interestingly, the proposed changes announced in the budget acknowledge that many firms will need support, especially as they will be using the sponsorship system for the first time, and recognise that the sponsorship system needs to be reformed to make it more straightforward for employers to use, especially small and medium sized businesses.
A review of the Innovator visa category will also be welcome as this is now the main immigration option for entrepreneurs wishing to establish a business in the UK and remain here long term. However, since its introduction in March 2019, the route as it currently stands is often regarded as driving away the investment in the UK which the government wants to attract. A key obstacle for applicants is the difficulty in obtaining an endorsement for their business from an authorised endorsing body. The path to obtaining indefinite leave to remain (settlement) in the UK as an innovator is currently also a very difficult one. Some of the eligibility requirements are almost impossible to meet for most as the threshold has been set very high.
We await further details to be published on the proposed changes and will provide further updates in due course.