Navigating the system: prepare for delays
In short, allow more time than you think you will need and do not assume that priority services the Government sets out on its website will actually be available when you need them or will deliver to timetable when purchased. This is why:
Government cuts have fed through to the Home Office; demoralised, depleted staff have struggled to keep up with processing targets as net migration balloons. There is a knowledge deficit in border control and caseworking teams as experienced officers retire. Industrial action by immigration officers and passport office staff has hit the news. Under international and domestic pressure, the Government made provision for temporary humanitarian schemes to admit Ukrainian refugees: 278,000 applications to date. with no corresponding increase in casework resources. Backlogs in asylum processing are the highest in years.
Something has had to give, and in large part it has been paid-for priority application services in business and family routes. By mid-2022 standard 12-week processing was extended across the board to 24 weeks. Some priority services were suspended completely, explicitly due to Ukraine cases. Applicants routinely received Home Office emails telling them that their cases were delayed due to their “complexity” despite it being clear that they met all the criteria for fast track approval. Super priority applications, which carry the highest fee supplement and are supposed to ensure 24-hour processing for eligible cases, were taking longer than priority or standard ones. Appointment availability fell. Eventually the Home Office will refund priority fee elements where service standards are missed, but this makes little impact on the real cost to applicants and employers of skilled people being unable to travel or start work. Many priority services have been restored in recent weeks, but unplanned delays are still common.
Priority services for UK visa applications: time is money
Waiting for the overdue outcome of a UK visa application can be an anxious and lengthy wait for an applicant, and present challenges to business and employers, especially where there is a need to transfer employees to the UK urgently or secure sponsorship before a competitor does.
A typical entry clearance application for a Skilled Worker may take up to 3 weeks to be decided.
An application submitted within the UK to extend the leave of a Skilled Worker may take even longer - up to 8 weeks for the decision to be made. During this time, UKVI advise applicants to remain within the UK meaning travel plans need to be taken account of, or postponed, before an application is made.
How can an application be fast-tracked?
UKVI typically offers 3 target service levels, with availability and specified timeframe dependent on the visa category and applicant’s location. The service levels are:
- Standard service – this is the usual target processing time.
- Priority service – faster than the standard service, subject to an additional fee, and optional;
- Super priority visa service – even faster, with an increased additional fee, and optional.
For example, an application for leave to remain under the Skilled Worker accelerates from 8 weeks to 5 working days where the priority visa service is purchased. However, no super priority service is available for this type of application.
As a second example: an application for Indefinite Leave to Remain under the 10-year long residence route usually takes 6 months to be decided under the standard service. Under the super priority visa service, a decision should instead be made by the end of the next working day.
A business applying for a sponsor licence can request a priority service. Here, the processing time should be reduced to 10 working days instead of 8-12 weeks.
How do you obtain priority services?
During the online submission process of an application, applicants are told which service options are available. Once a service level has been selected, it cannot usually be amended or upgraded later, without a withdrawal and fresh application. Like the availability of these services, the target processing times are not guaranteed.
How will you know if the priority processing targets will be missed?
At the moment, applications are hit by extended processing times almost at random due to capacity and resource within the Home Office, and it is impossible to foresee which cases will be affected. That said, extended processing times are more likely if an applicant has any criminal convictions, an adverse or complicated immigration history or, when applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain, high absences from the UK. Insufficient documentary support, or a suspicion that a document is not authentic, is also likely to trigger delay.
Where UKVI does not meet the service level paid for by the applicant, a refund of the priority fees (up to £800) may be made. Naturally businesses value a shorter timeframe over the fee, especially in urgent applications where time translates to much more money. See:
Visa decision waiting times: applications inside the UK
Visa decision waiting times: applications outside the UK
Get a faster decision on your visa or settlement application: Applying from inside the UK
UK Visa Priority Services Suspended
Ukraine Family Scheme, Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme (Homes for Ukraine) and Ukraine Extension Scheme visa data
Spring cleaning – budget changes, new categories, non-sponsored visas and more adjustments
The 185-page Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules HC 1160, with its Explanatory Memorandum, sets out changes to be rolled out in this new tax year:
- Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme – broadly similar to the US ESTA, this is a new security-driven pre-registration for short term visa-free travel to the UK for family, holiday or business visits for some deemed lower-risk nationalities, many of whom simply need a passport at present. A list of Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia and Qatar whose citizens currently require visas for all purposes will be added to the scheme in 2023-24.
- An Innovator Founder route, replacing the existing Innovator route
- Closure of the Start-up route to new applicants
- Adjustments to immigration routes including Visitor, Points Based System Skilled Worker, Global Business Mobility and Youth Mobility categories and the stand-alone and Global Talent.
Stand-alone, non-sponsored visas of particular interest to businesses are:
This route enables holders of valid student visas to apply for 2-year Graduate visa, following completion of an eligible course, such as a UK Bachelor’s or Post-Graduate Degree. An Applicant who has completed a PhD or other doctoral qualification can apply for 3-year Graduate visa.
In order to be eligible:
- The Applicant must be in the UK.
- The Applicant’s current visa must be a Student Visa or Tier-4 (General) student visa.
- The Applicant must have completed an eligible course for a minimum period.
- The Applicant’s education provider (university or college) must have informed the Home Office of successful completion of the course.
The Applicant must have completed the course they enrolled onto with their current Student visa, with an Education Provider which is a licenced sponsor with a ‘track record of compliance’. Check if your education provider has a track record of compliance - it will have ‘Student Sponsor - Track Record’ in the ‘Status’ column.
There is no requirement to obtain work in a specific field when obtaining this visa; this enables students to build experience and seeking opportunities. At any stage during the validity of the Graduate visa, should the Applicant secure an offer of employment from a Home Office approved Sponsor Licence holder, for a eligible occupation, the Applicant may be able to switch into another category of visa that can lead to settlement in the UK i.e. Skilled Worker visa (formerly Tier-2 General visa).
Dependants of the Applicant can also apply to remain in the UK with the Applicant i.e., Spouse and child.
Global Talent Visa
Global Talent replaced Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) and was incorporated into the revised Post-Brexit points-based immigration system in December 2020. It is designed for Applicants who are leaders or potential leaders in:
- Academia or Research
- Arts and Culture
- Digital Technology
Applicants must be at least 18 years old and must evidence ‘exceptional talent’ or ‘exceptional promise’ in their speciality field.
An employer need not be a licenced sponsor in order to employ a migrant under the Global Talent route. However, there is a requirement to be endorsed by an approved endorsing body, dependent on the field of work. You can find the list of approved endorsing bodies for Global Talent Visa here.
This is usually a two-part application process. The first part is an application for endorsement. Types of endorsements are:
- Arts & Culture endorsement
- Architecture endorsement
- Fashion Design Industry endorsement
- Digital Technology endorsement
- Science, Engineering, Humanities and Medicine Fields Endorsement
Each requires different evidential criteria for consideration before an endorsement is awarded.
The second part is the visa application for either entry clearance or permission to stay, following the award of an endorsement. Both applications can be made simultaneously too.
Dependant partners and children can apply with the main Applicant. The initial visa can be up to 5-years, with options to extend or settle at between 3 and 5 years depending on achievement.
Indian Young Professionals Scheme
Enhanced trade and cooperation with India have been touted as a post-Brexit opportunity for the UK and this specialist 2-year visa route, with atypical features for UK immigration is an early achievement. The initial process requires eligible applicants (Indian citizens aged 18 – 30 with a degree or equivalent qualification, sufficient savings and no dependent children) to be selected in the India Young Professionals Scheme ballot before they can apply for a visa. Applicants who have held a Youth Mobility Scheme visa cannot apply.
- Work limitations are:
no employment as a professional sportsperson (including as a sports coach); and
- no self-employment, except where the following conditions are met:
(i) the person has no premises which they own, other than their home, from which they carry out their business; and
(ii) the total value of any equipment used in the business does not exceed £5,000; and
(iii) the person has no employees.
Salary thresholds – inflationary increases
From 1 April 2023, the National Living Wage (NLW) increases to £10.42 per hour for workers, as recommended by the Low Pay Commission in November 2022. Minimum wage rates for 2023 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) With a rise of 9.7% (92 pence), it should be little surprise for those sponsoring Skilled Workers in the UK that the going rates and minimum salary thresholds are going up, too.
A statement of changes to the Immigration Rules was published 9 March 2023 (HC 1160). Statement of changes to the immigration rules: HC 1160, 9 March 2023 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). Among other changes, this confirmed the new minimum salary threshold for Skilled Worker and Global Business Mobility: Senior or Specialist Workers.
If your business holds a Sponsor Licence, or is considering applying for one, it is vital you are familiar with the salary requirements for sponsorship to ensure you maintain your Sponsor Duties and prevent illegal working. Rates for Skilled Worker, Global Business Mobility: Senior or Specialist Workers routes are all changing.
Right to Work checks – revised guidance for employers
On 28 February 2023 the Home Office published updated right to work guidance for employers, clarifying the present position. This follows the end of the COVID-adjusted remote right to work checks in place from 30 March 2020 to 30 September 2022. Since 01 October 2022 employers must carry out checks by one of three methods:
Online checks: A Home Office online right to work check provides an employer with a statutory excuse against a civil penalty in the event of illegal working involving the subject of the check. Employers can do an online check using the online service. The employee obtains a share code from Prove your right to work to an employer: get a share code by inserting their BRP reference or confirming they have a UK visas and immigration account or hold status under the EU Settlement Scheme. On receipt of the share code, the employer can conduct the check Check a job applicant's right to work: use their share code . A date of birth is also required. The online service allows checks to be carried out by video call. Employers do not need to see physical documents as the right to work information is provided in real time directly from Home Office systems. The final step is to check that the photograph on the online right to work check is of the individual presenting themselves for work (i.e., the information provided by the check relates to the individual and they are not an imposter). This can be done in person or by video call.
Manual checks: There are three steps to conducting a manual document-based right to work check. An employer must complete all three steps before employment commences to establish a statutory excuse.
- Obtain You must obtain original documents from either List A or B of the acceptable documents at Employers' right to work checklist
- Check- that the documents are genuine and that the person presenting them is the prospective or existing employee, the rightful holder and allowed to do the type of work.
- Copy- take a clear copy of each document in a format which cannot manually be altered and retain the copy securely: electronically or in hardcopy.
An important change in the last year, overlooked by many employers, is that Since April 2022, Biometric Residence Permit card holders must evidence their right to work using the Home Office online service only. Employers can no longer accept physical cards for this purpose; Biometric cards have been removed from the lists of acceptable documents used to conduct a manual right to work check.
The responsibility for checking the document is the employer’s. They may not delegate this responsibility to a third party when carrying out a manual check of original documents.
Identity Service Provider (IDSP)
In September 2022, the Home Office introduced the option for employers to engage an approved IDSP to undertake right to work checks for British and Irish passport holders. The IDSP method was introduced to allow employers to check identity documents and right to work eligibility for those holding British and Irish passports online as opposed to having to conduct a manual check in person.
The latest guidance does not change the original guidance which set out the checking requirements via this method, however, it does make it clear that employers will not benefit from a statutory excuse from a civil penalty if they rely on a check made via an IDSP for prospective employees other than British and Irish citizens with a valid passport. It is evident from recent reports and official lines of communication that some IDSPs have exaggerated their offering to organisations regarding the service they can provide. While they can make checks using non-British and Irish documentation and pull through a result from the Home Office checking service, using this service will not provide employers with a statutory excuse against a civil penalty. In addition, those without a valid passport cannot use the IDS technology although their expired document can be used to establish a statutory excuse if viewed as an original document manually. As with all methods, the employer retains overall responsibility for each right to work check.
Finally, in certain circumstances, employers will need to contact the Home Office’s Employer Checking Service (ECS) to establish a statutory excuse. This could be, for example, because they:
- have an outstanding appeal, review or application with the Home Office
- arrived in the UK before 1989 and do not have documents to prove their immigration status or right to work;
You must also ask the Home Office to check their status if they have:
- a digital or non-digital Certificate of Application that says you need to ask the Home Office to check their right to work
- an Application Registration Card