8 Mar 2021

With the UK’s ‘new’ Points Based Immigration System (PBIS) live and fully functional, we briefly consider:

  • what businesses intending to employ and sponsor talent need to know and do
  • some key immigration considerations for applicants intending to relocate to the UK
  • provisions for frequent travellers to the UK
  • an Elite Visa for FinTech from March 2022.

Becoming a registered sponsor with the Home Office – operational considerations

Businesses wishing to attract and employ non-UK national talent will in most cases now need to be registered with the Home Office as a licenced sponsor. Briefly, this requires the entity to evidence to the Home Office that:

  • it is a genuine business with trading history, offering genuine employment in the UK
  • it has the capacity and the systems in place to monitor its workforce
  • it can comply with UK immigration law and has the requisite HR systems to do so in place
  • it can appoint at the very least one person based in the UK who will ultimately be responsible for meeting the ongoing compliance requirements which come with being a licenced sponsor.

The Home Office currently aim to process these applications within eight weeks, although there is scope to prioritise these applications whereby the Home Office will process them within 10 working days. However, considering the number of businesses now making these applications, coupled with the delays due to Covid-19, it is prudent to factor in delays with processing times. Advance and timely planning is therefore critical when considering becoming a licenced sponsor with the Home Office.

Although most businesses will have the relevant structures and systems in place to satisfy these requirements, legal advice should be sought promptly. A refusal of an application to register as a licenced sponsor could prevent a further application until a specified period of time has elapsed since the refusal, also known as a ‘cooling-off period’, thereby potentially hindering the ability to sponsor talent for several months.

Attracting and sponsoring talent

Although businesses are no longer able to rely on Freedom of Movement to attract EEA nationals, the PBIS includes fewer restrictions compared to the requirements of the previous immigration rules. Briefly, some relaxed measures include:

  • abolition of the prescriptive requirement to conduct advertising in a specified format, previously know as the Resident Labour Market Test
  • reduction of minimum salary thresholds
  • lowering of the skills threshold to now include occupations skilled at A Level and above, also known as RQF Level 3
  • relaxation on switching visa/immigration categories from within the UK
  • abolition of the 10% shareholding limit for sponsored workers
  • suspension of the cap on the number of visas.

EEA nationals with biometric passports may be able to utilise the availability of a completely digital process using an app, negating the requirement to attend an application centre to provide their original documents. In most cases the only major consideration for applicants will be meeting the English language requirement in a manner prescribed by the Home Office.

Whilst the new PBIS system does bring additional costs when sponsoring key talent, the new process should reduce some administrative burden on both employers and applicants in comparison to the previous sponsorship system. With a streamlined process and getting advice promptly, it should not be cumbersome for a business to hire and sponsor the talent it requires.

Frequent travellers to the UK – Frontier Workers or Business Visitors

The PBIS will not be the appropriate route for those individuals who either live outside the UK and travel regularly to the UK for work, or for those who only need to visit for a limited period as visitors to undertake specific activities.

The Frontier Worker Permit may be a suitable category for those EEA nationals who live outside the UK but need to visit regularly for work. This category covers those individuals who have worked in the UK by 31 December and allows them to continue sharing their time between with the UK and EEA office.

The visitor route remains open for those who may need to visit the UK to undertake a limited number of particular and permitted activities, such as attending meetings, conferences, seminars, interviews, giving talks, negotiating, signing deals and contracts, carrying out site visits, and similar. In this case we advise that prior guidance is sought to confirm that the activity is permitted as a visitor to the UK. We discuss the risks associated with this route in our article here.

Looking to the future – an Elite Visa for FinTech from March 2022

The Government is keen to protect the UK’s status as a global hub for FinTech. As part of its efforts to ensure that the sector retains access to skilled workforce and talent, the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced in his budget statement on 3 March 2021 that a new, ‘elite points-based visa’ will be introduced by March 2022, where there will be a ‘scale-up’ stream, allowing those with a job offer from a recognised UK ‘scale-up’ to qualify for a fast-track visa without sponsorship. Whilst the criteria for recognition as a ‘scale-up’ is yet to be announced, the route will be geared towards all tech sub-sectors, such as FinTech, AI, Cyber and games etc.

The Kalifa Review of UK FinTech, endorsed by the Treasury, recommended a bespoke unsponsored ‘Fintech Scaleup Visa Stream’ to enhance access to Global Talent for FinTech scaleups. The announcement from the Government appears to mirror the recommendations made in the Kalifa Review of UK FinTech.

In practice it might mean that an application under this route will require a job offer from a qualifying employer, who will not need to be registered as a licenced sponsor.

The Government has also announced a reform of the existing Global Talent visa scheme to allow holders of international prizes and winners of scholarships and programmes for early promise to automatically qualify for the route. The Global Talent Visa scheme currently in place permits Tech Nation to provide endorsements in all tech sub-sectors.

The Government also intends to launch a new ‘Global Business Mobility’ visa by spring 2022 for overseas businesses to establish a presence or transfer staff to the UK. Whilst no other details have been published, the existing Representative of an Overseas Business visa does already allow for a sole representative to come to the UK to establish a UK presence. It remains to be seen whether the new category will in effect be a rebranding of this existing route, or if it will bring further liberalisation.

Contact us

If you have any questions or would like any further guidance on UK immigration, please contact Yawar Abbas or any other member of the team at Fox Williams for further discussion.

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