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UNITED KINGDOM: The government has announced a permanent immigration limit

On November 23, 2010, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, announced the government’s plans for a limit on work visas beginning on April 1, 2011. There will be an annual cap of 21,700 on the number of skilled and highly skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area allowed into the United Kingdom (UK).

Tier 1

The Tier 1 (General) non-sponsored route for the highly skilled will be closed. This route is already subject to an interim limit introduced on April 19, 2010, under which only 600 visas have been available globally per month. The Tier 1 (General) monthly limits were reached on the day on which they were released on December 1, 2010.

A new Tier 1 route for persons of exceptional talent will be introduced. This will cover migrants who have won international recognition in scientific and cultural fields, or who show sufficient exceptional promise to be awarded such recognition in the future. Applications by those with exceptional promise must be endorsed by a competent body in the relevant field. The "exceptional talent" category will be subject to a limit of 1,000.

Tier 2 (General)

The Tier 2 (General) route will be subject to an annual limit of 20,700 for 2011/12. The limit will not apply to in-country applications from those already in the UK or their dependents. Nor will it include Tier 2 (General) new hires who are filling a vacancy with a salary of more than £150,000. The Tier 2 (Sportsperson) and Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) routes will also be exempt from the limit.

Beginning on April 1, 2011, Tier 2 (General) applications will be restricted to graduate-level vacancies. The Migration Advisory Committee will advise the UK Border Agency on what are to be considered graduate-level jobs, and the graduate occupation list will be amended accordingly. Existing Tier 2 (General) migrants in jobs below graduate level will be able to extend their permission to stay if they meet current requirements. The minimum level of English language competency will be increased from basic to intermediate level (B1 on the Common European Framework of Reference).

Applications for certificates of sponsorship will, where the limit applies, be considered on a monthly basis. If the monthly allocation is oversubscribed, applications will be ranked according to whether they are for shortage occupations; the post requires higher academic qualifications and salary. Potential workers who are granted a certificate of sponsorship will have three months in which to apply for a visa.

Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfers)

The limit will not include those applying under the Tier 2 (intra-company transfer) category. Intra-company transferees in the "established staff" subcategory paid more than £40,000 will be able to stay in the UK for up to 5 years; those paid between £24,000 and £40,000 will be able to enter for up to 12 months within a specified period. The current rules will continue to apply to Tier 2 (intra-company transfer) migrants in the "graduate trainee" and "skills transfer" sub-categories.

Applications for certificates of sponsorship will, where the limit applies, be considered on a monthly basis. If the monthly allocation is oversubscribed, applications will be ranked according to whether they are for shortage occupations; the post requires higher academic qualifications and salary. Potential workers who are granted a certificate of sponsorship will have three months in which to apply for a visa.

Settlement

There will be a new criminality threshold, requiring applicants to be clear of unspent convictions, for all those applying for settlement (permanent residence). Tier 1 and Tier 2 migrants applying for settlement will need to meet the salary criteria that applied when they last extended their permission to stay and will be required to show English language skills (in addition to the current knowledge of life in the UK).

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