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UNITED KINGDOM: Tier 1 Update

Less migration: The UK government proposes various measures to reduce immigration and save public funds.

On February 16, 2011, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) released a Statement of Intent (SOI) detailing proposals to change the eligibility criteria for the Points-Based System (PBS) Tier 2 migrants and the operation of permanent limits on certain Tier 2 applications. The UKBA also proposed changing the criteria for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) for Tiers 1 and 2 and work permit holders were made. These changes will take effect on April 6, 2011, including the final closure of the Tier 1 (General) category. Increases in application fees have also been proposed due to the need to cut public spending.

The Coalition Government’s overarching aim for UK immigration is to reduce net migration by "selecting the best and brightest." To help achieve this, UKBA proposes to raise the qualifying thresholds for the Tier 2 category and cap the number of Tier 2 (General) migrants to an annual limit. Moreover, restrictions will extend to the requirements for settlement in the UK to implement the government's "less automatic settlement" agenda.

UKBA is expected to publish the new Rules and formal guidance shortly. 

Proposals for Tier 1 (Highly Skilled)

The final closure of Tier 1 (General) on April 6, 2011, will deal a huge blow to both employers and individuals. After the dubious operational assessment of the category in October 2010, which purported to find that 29% of Tier 1 migrants were in unskilled jobs (the report was based on solely Tier 1 dependents who had been in the UK for six months), UKBA believed it had justification to delete the entire highly skilled migrant category. At least there will be transitional provisions in place for those who will be submitting eleventh-hour Tier 1 (General) applications by post, so that their applications will be assessed in accordance with the Rules in place on the date of application (the date the application is posted).

Under the transitional arrangements, migrants who are not already in Tier 1 (General) or its predecessor category under the highly skilled migrant program will not be permitted to switch into this category beginning on April 6, 2011. The Tier 1 (General) route will remain open to allow those with existing leave to enter or remain under Tier 1 (General) or its predecessor to extend their leave. However, the points threshold for extensions will be raised to 100 points for those who required 100 points when first granted leave.

It is feared by immigration practitioners that the Tier 1 (post study work) category may survive the changes only to be phased out after the new rules are implemented. Generous transitional provisions are anticipated, if this were to be the case.

On a positive note, there are proposals for those recognized as possessing "exceptional talent" from different sectors to be certified as "exceptionally talented." It will be decided that a migrant meets the "exceptionally talented" criteria by entities who have been delegated the power to certify migrants. The UKBA has yet to set definitive criteria on what will amount to "exceptional talent." Unsurprisingly, a Nobel prize winner will be viewed as such. The proposals need to be built upon and it is still unclear how the capped allocation of 1,000 migrants for each sector will be managed, let alone how UKBA will deal with an undoubted oversubscription to the category.

Proposals for reform of the Tier 1 Entrepreneur and Investor categories have not yet been published but future (skilled) changes are expected to be nominal.

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