Visa changes stemming from the 2021 budget

A couple of proposed tweaks to immigration rules represented possibly the high point of sector interest in Rishi Sunak’s 2021 Budget (para 2.140).

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

Universities as employers are particularly likely to benefit from an expansion to the Global Talent route. This replaced the old Tier 1 as recently as last year – and kept (though expanded) the “endorsing bodies” rules. Sunak announced that prize-winners and people who hold scholarships would automatically qualify to this route.

Global talent

Which prizes and scholarships? Well, we don’t yet know. The current Global Talent route requires an endorsement from:

  • The Royal Society, for science and medicine;
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering, for engineering;
  • The British Academy, for humanities;
  • UK Research and Innovation, for science and research;
  • Tech Nation, for digital technology;
  • Arts Council England, for arts and culture.

Or funding from a range of other providers including Wellcome, CRUK, and Horizon 2020.

The route leads to a very flexible set of permissions – allowing for self-employment, job changes, and dependent entry – so you’d imagine that eligibility would remain rare and that the prizes and scholarships required would be pretty prestigious.

But this pales in significance (the old Tier 1 only applied to a few thousand each year, Global Talent – although uncapped ) to a new route, announced in the budget.

Points-based high-skilled

By March 2022 the Home Office will introduce a points-based visa route for highly-skilled individuals – an “elite” points-based visa. This looks like it will sit in the gap between Global Talent and the standard Skilled Worker route – allowing for a more streamlined experience for those in academia, science, research, and technology to quickly start work in the UK.

There’s hints of a “scale-up” stream within this new offer, allowing start ups in the growth phase to make global job offers and access fast-track visas. But quite what differentiates eligibility between this and the existing Skilled Worker scheme remains unclear.

As background, the Skilled Worker route is based on a prospective employee to have a job offer (based on an agreed list of occupation codes – higher education teaching professional is in there) from a sponsor, at an appropriate skill level, and have the ability to speak English at the required level. The application must then make up 20 points from the following criteria:

  • Salary of £20,480 to £23,039 or at least 80% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher) [0 points]
  • Salary of £23,040 to £25,599 or at least 90% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher) [10 points]
  • Salary of £25,600 or above or at least the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher) Tradeable [20 points]
  • Job in a shortage occupation as designated by the Migration Advisory Committee Tradeable [20 points]
  • Education qualification: PhD in a subject relevant to the job [10 points]
  • Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job [20 points]

As you can see, simply by dint of being paid a fair wage and holding a PhD a prospective academic employee should have no problems in entering the UK to work via this route.

I can only speculate on what the elite route could add or how one would become eligible for it – but I’m going to suggest that more points from this list or a related list would be required, it might apply to a more limited (possibly STEM only?) set of occupations or qualifications, and it could widen the range of potential employers – perhaps including some of the freedoms to change employers or start up on your own that we see in Global Talent.

What else?

We’re also promised a review of the immigration sponsorship scheme, to make it easier to use (a roadmap will arrive in the summer), and a review of the Innovator visa – which allows a similar range of suitably qualified people to found businesses in the UK. More detail on all of this will most likely dribble out from the Home Office over the coming weeks and months.

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