Business Immigration: The key developments so far

As always with business immigration, nothing stands still for long, and a flurry of updates and changes have been confirmed during late 2021 and early 2022. In this constantly evolving area, this article has been prepared to provide a snapshot of the key developments for organisations and concludes with a reminder to sponsor licence holders, who held their licence before 1 December 2020, to submit requests for their next annual allocation of undefined Certificates of Sponsorship on or before 5 April 2022.

Care workers to be eligible for Health and Care worker visa and added to the Shortage Occupation List

Following the recommendation from the Migration Advisory Committee and given the staff shortages within the social care sector, care workers sponsored to work with the NHS, an NHS supplier or in adult social care are to be added to the Health and Care Worker visa. This temporary concession will increase the number of roles eligible for sponsorship under the Health and Care Worker visa route, so that care assistants, care workers, home care assistants and support workers (in nursing homes) will all be eligible to fill vital vacancies. All roles that fall within SOC code 6145 will come within the scope of this visa (as currently they do not meet the skill level requirement). SOC code 6145 will also be added to the Shortage Occupation List, with a minimum salary of £20,480 per annum.

The main benefits for applicants and their dependants under this visa will be fast-track processing, 50% visa fee reductions, exemption from the Immigration Health Surcharge and a route to settlement. These temporary measures are expected to come into effect in February 2022 and will be in place for a minimum of 12 months, being reviewed in late 2022. The expectation is that this will give the health care sector a much-needed staffing boost while they deal with the ongoing pressures of the pandemic.

Those without a sponsorship licence in the Skilled Worker route and looking to take advantage of this temporary offer are encouraged to apply for a sponsorship licence ahead of implementation.

Seasonal worker visa route extended until the end of 2024

The Seasonal Worker visa route allows foreign workers to come to the UK for up to six months to pick both edible and ornamental crops. In welcome news, the Home Office and DEFRA have announced that this route will be extended until the end of 2024 to support the industry while it transitions to prioritising domestic workers. There will be 30,000 visas available next year, but this will be kept under review with the potential to increase by 10,000, if necessary. The number of visas will begin to taper down from 2023 as the sector is encouraged by the government to cut the reliance on foreign labour. DEFRA are expected to bring forward proposals in due course on ways to further support this sector.

Right to Work check changes from 6 April 2022

Two significant updates are contained in the latest Right to Work guidance. The first update was published on 16 December 2021 and confirms that, from 6 April 2022, employers will no longer be able to carry out a manual right to work check on those who hold a biometric residence permit, biometric residence card or a frontier worker permit. From this date, physical presentation of these documents will no longer be acceptable, even if it shows a later expiry date. Instead, employers must carry out an online right to work check, using the Home Office online service:

The second notable update was published on 17 January 2022. Presently, right to work checks for British and Irish citizens can only be completed manually, which could arguably lead to discrimination in the marketplace for those candidates. As a result, the Home Office has been working on a new scheme to enable employers to use certified Identity Service Providers (IDSPs) to carry out digital identity checks on their behalf. 

From 6 April 2022, employers will be able to use certified IDSPs to complete digital right to work checks involving British and Irish citizens, provided they hold a valid passport. Although there are currently no organisations on the list of certified IDSPs, we understand that names will appear once certifications have taken place. Employer who want to carry out the digital checks using their own processes will need to be become certified themselves and there is guidance available on the process that should be followed. It remains to be seen how much it will cost for employers to instruct certified IDSPs to provide this digital checking service on their behalf compared to obtaining their own certification.

The latest right to work guidance has been updated under Annex F and can be found here:

We will produce a more detailed article on the new digital identity system once certified IDSPs begin to appear. We understand that manual right to work checks for British and Irish citizens will also remain available to employers to satisfy their right to work responsibilities.

ID check app now available for certain visa categories inside the UK

For readers who haven't heard of the ID check app, this product was launched in October 2020 allowing biometric information to be uploaded by applicants via a mobile app, rather than having to attend a visa application centre in person. The government initially made this available to EU/EEA/Swiss applicants who were applying under the Skilled Worker route from outside of the UK.

In our experience, this new technology has been well received, eased the administrative burden on applicants based outside the UK and resulted in timely visa decisions. We were therefore pleased to read that the government have now expanded the list of applicants who can use the ID check app. Since December 2021, non-EU/EEA/Swiss applicants applying from within the UK to stay on either the Skilled Worker or Student route, are now able to apply using the ID check app provided they have previously given their biometric information to the Home Office within the last 15 years and have a valid Biometric Residence Permit ("BRP"). Where the successful applicant is a visa national, they will receive both an eVisa and BRP as proof of their immigration status.

Reminder to submit your annual allocation requests for undefined Certificate of Sponsorship ('CoS')

Sponsors who held licences before 1 December 2020 (converted to Skilled Workers and/or Intra-Company Transfers) should be considering their recruitment strategy for the upcoming year. Sponsors will need to plan and request their undefined CoS allocation to take them through the 12 months, starting from 6 April 2022. The Home Office will send out reminders to Level 1 users asking them to make their requests via the sponsorship management system on or before 5 April 2022. A brief justification will be required when making the request. As such, sponsors should consider which of their existing migrants will need to extend their permission to stay and how many individuals they aim to attract who are in the UK under a different visa category or are eligible to switch employers.

Sponsors granted a licence since 1 December 2020 will be required to renew their undefined CoS allocation 12 months from the date the licence was first granted, and from then on, 12 months from the date an allocation renewal request was granted. This should, in time, ease the administration burden on the Home Office when considering annual allocation requests for licence holders.

If you have any questions on any of the above developments or have general business immigration queries, please do get in contact with Gemma Robinson.

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