On the heels of another year of major changes within the UK immigration system, we anticipate yet even more change in 2023. This is in large part due to the Home Office’s overarching plan to fully digitise the UK immigration system by the end of 2024. The rolling out of each phase of this plan, as with the implementation of any new process, has inevitably presented some practical issues. We have in large part seen the Home Office be quite receptive to user feedback, allowing most kinks within the new system to be ironed out in a (mostly) timely manner.
The following provides a summary of the recent and upcoming developments within the intricate world of UK immigration.
Recruiting teachers from overseas
Teachers with qualifications obtained overseas normally need to apply for and be granted with ‘qualified teacher status’ (QTS) from the Teaching Regulation Agency before they are permitted to teach in English schools. Currently, teachers who qualified in the following countries are eligible to apply for QTS:
- EEA countries
- New Zealand
- Northern Ireland
From 1st February 2023, teachers who qualified in the following additional countries will also be eligible to apply for QTS (provided they meet the Teaching Regulation Agency criteria):
- Hong Kong SAR
- South Africa
Skilled Worker sponsorship will be required for teachers who qualified in these countries and who do not have another form of immigration permission allowing them to work in the UK.
Over time, the Government intends to open the QTS application to qualified teachers from every country outside the UK. There will be a consistent set of criteria for the award of QTS, to ensure that all overseas teachers meet the same high standards as teachers who have trained and qualified in England.
Travel from mainland China
Following a rise in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in China and the easing of China’s border measures, from 5th January 2023, passengers (aged 12 and above) arriving in England from China must provide a negative Covid-19 pre-departure test taken no earlier than 48 hours prior to their departure from China. This includes passengers on both direct and indirect flights and applies even if only transiting through England to a final destination. The test result can be provided as a printed document or via an email/text message on a passenger’s phone, and must include the following information:
- Full name matching the passenger’s name on their travel document
- Date of birth
- A negative Covid-19 test result
- The date the test sample was collected/received by the test provider
- The type of test (lateral flow or PCR)
Passengers travelling to England from China are not permitted to board their flight without providing a valid negative Covid-19 test result. Additionally, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) are initiating surveillance at London Heathrow Airport from 8th January 2023 where passengers (aged 18 and over) arriving from mainland China will be selected at random to test on arrival to monitor for potential new Covid-19 variants.
In-country work visa applications
Applicants switching to or extending their work visa whilst in the UK should receive a decision on their application within 8 weeks from the date of their biometric appointment, if applying via the Standard service. This includes in-country applications under the Entrepreneur, Global Talent, Innovator, Investor, Minister of Religion, Scale-up Worker, Skilled Worker, and Sportsperson visa categories.
Overall delays in processing times in 2022 prompted the Home Office to establish a dedicated helpdesk for in-country work visa applications submitted via the Standard service and via the Priority/Super Priority visa service, which seems to have resolved most of the issues with delays.
Sponsor licence applications
There continues to be delays with sponsor licence applications submitted via the Standard service, meaning it may take up to 10 weeks (normally 8 weeks) for an application to be decided. These delays are expected to last until at least the beginning of March 2023.
The Priority/Enhanced service to expedite the processing of sponsor licence applications to 10 working days is still available via the first come, first serve application service, which requires businesses to submit a request for the service every working day until successful, which can take many weeks to do so due to the steady increase in sponsor licence applications following Brexit.
Reporting an early / late work start date
Sponsors are not required to report an earlier work start date against a sponsored worker’s Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS), where the worker has been granted with permission to enter or stay in the UK and has therefore started working in the UK prior to the work start date stated on their assigned CoS.
Furthermore, where a sponsored worker’s actual work start date is delayed, this does not need to be reported against their CoS, unless the actual work start date is delayed by more than 28 days following the CoS work state date. When reporting a work start date delayed by more than 28 days, this must be done no later than 10 working days following the 28-day period, and the sponsor must include the new work start date and the reasons for the delayed start e.g., the worker was applying from overseas and there were delays with his visa application.
Immigration Skills Charge (ISC)
The ISC (£364 per year of visa for small/charitable sponsors, and £1,000 per year of visa for medium/large sponsors) must be paid by sponsors assigning a CoS to a Skilled Worker or Global Business Mobility (GBM): Senior/Specialist Worker who is applying from outside the UK to work in the UK for 6 months or longer, or who is applying from inside the UK to work in the UK for any length of time.
There are certain exemptions to the ISC payment, which to be eligible for, require sponsors to assign an ISC-exempt CoS as opposed to an ISC-liable CoS. The Home Office has now introduced a new ‘ISC Exemptions’ section to the already existing ISC-exempt CoS’ on the Sponsorship Management System (SMS), where sponsors must select a reason for why they are claiming an exemption from the ISC payment.
GBM: Senior/Specialist Worker CoS’ assigned on or after 1st January 2023 to EU nationals (not including Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland) and Latvian non-citizens being transferred to the UK from a linked EU entity for a maximum of 3 years, are not subject to the ISC payment, and should therefore be assigned an ISC-exempt CoS. For these EU national GBM: Senior/Specialist Workers exempt from the ISC payment, the ‘EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement exemption’ must be selected, and the sponsor must provide the name and address of the linked entity in the further information box.
Skilled Worker skill level
A job being sponsored under the Skilled Worker route must normally be skilled to at least Level 3 (equivalent to A levels) of the UK’s Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF), and whilst the worker being sponsored as a Skilled Worker does not necessarily need to have been awarded with a RQF Level 3 qualification, the worker must have the necessary knowledge and skills required of RQF Level 3.
The Home Office has added a paragraph to the relevant guidance stipulating that compliance action will be taken against sponsors who provide false or misleading information about the skill level of a job.
Change of employment
Sponsored Skilled Workers who move to a different UK sponsor or who change jobs to a role which falls within a different occupation code (but stay with the same sponsor) must be assigned a new CoS and are required to submit a Skilled Worker Change of Employment visa application. The Home Office has now confirmed in their guidance that a right to work check must be carried out prior to a sponsored worker starting their new job, even if this new job is with the same sponsor. This essentially means that for Skilled Workers who are not changing sponsors and who are moving to a new job within their current organisation, they cannot start their new role until they have received their new Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) as this document is required for the online right to work check.
Change is the norm in UK immigration law, and the above information does not cover all the changes we expect to see in 2023. Please get in touch with our UK immigration team to discuss any of your business or private immigration concerns or queries.