Policy Update: Tier 2 Visas, Post-Study Work Visa and Freedom of Movement

At last, some good news on immigration!?

Welcome to our latest Policy Update. In these updates, The Entrepreneurs Network focuses on a recent policy development and set out (nearly) everything an entrepreneur needs to know about the topic. If you’re joining us for the first time, you can read our past updates here. We want to make sure this is as relevant as possible for entrepreneurs, so we’re happy to take suggestions for future topics (send them here).

In this edition, we’re looking at some recent changes to the Tier 2 visa system. Perhaps surprisingly, given the chaos in parliament, the changes are broadly welcome and will make life for startups a bit easier. We’ll also touch on a few policy announcements that aren’t in place yet, but are useful to keep an eye on, such as the restoration of the Post-Study Work Visa and the Conservative government’s plan to end free movement after Brexit.

Shortage Occupation List

From October 6th onwards, the shortage occupation list will be expanded significantly. There are a number of key advantages for employers hiring foreign workers in shortage occupations on Tier 2 visas. These include:

  • There is no need to advertise the role for 28 days before recruiting outside the UK.

  • No need to meet the minimum income threshold (£30,000).

  • Reduced visa fees.

  • Priority if the visa cap is reached (it’s less likely to be reached now as NHS Doctors and Nurses don’t count towards the cap).

The announcement is particularly good news for startups in science and tech. Newly added roles include:

  • Civil and electrical engineers

  • Web design/developers

  • Software developers

  • Biologists and bio-chemical scientists.

Other occupations added to the shortage occupation list include:

  • Architects

  • Skilled Chefs

  • Graphic Designers

  • Maths and Science Teachers

The full list is available here.

llda de Sousa, Partner of Immigration at Kingsley Napley told us: “We welcome the most recent statement of changes as these will help employers fill a much needed gap in their workforce. Even though the UKVI fees for short occupation roles are slightly lower than the standard fees, more can be done in terms of reduction of the fees.”

We are undertaking a series of roundtables with Kingsley Napley on understanding and reforming Britain's visa system to support entrepreneurship in the UK. The next one will be on November 7th. Find out more here.

Other helpful tweaks to the Tier 2 Visa include:

  • PhD level roles will be exempt from the monthly Tier 2 visa cap.

  • If a worker in a PhD level role has to leave the UK in order to carry out research, then those absences won’t count against an Indefinite Leave to Remain application.

  • Tier 2 workers who are absent from work due to sickness, statutory parental leave, assisting in a national or international humanitarian or environmental crisis or engaging in legal strike action may still apply for ILR even if those absences cause their salary to fall below the required threshold.

Post-Study Work Visa

We think the reinstatement of the 2-year post-study work visa is really good news for entrepreneurship in the UK. In fact, it was our top policy request in our recent report Job Creators. In the report, we found that 49% of the UK’s fastest growing companies had at least one immigrant-founder. When we dug deeper into the backgrounds of some founders, a pattern emerged. Most came to the UK to study, before transitioning to either the post-study work route or staying under EU free movement.

For employers and startups in particular, this change will help as it will allow them to hire foreign workers without sponsoring them with the Tier 2 process.

It’s worth noting the Post-Study Work Visa’s reinstatement is not guaranteed. The government has merely announced its intention to bring it back in time for graduates who start their degree level courses from next year onwards. However, given the cross-party support for the idea, it should pass into law even in a relatively gridlocked parliament.

The end of Freedom of Movement

While given the passing of the Benn Act, it’s unlikely that the UK will leave the European Union without a deal on October 31st, there is still an outside chance if parliament rejects an extension or the government finds legal means of being forced to seek an extension. You may remember back in August, Home Secretary Priti Patel claimed that free movement would end immediately in the event of a No Deal Brexit. This understandably has caused concern for companies employing EU citizens.

In part due to risk of legal challenges, the Home Office has now updated its guidance. The department accepted it will not be able to distinguish between EU nationals living in the country before and after Brexit until at least the end of 2020. As a result, employers will not be asked to carry out checks until everyone who is eligible has had a chance to apply for indefinite leave to remain through the EU settlement scheme.

Law Professor Steve Peers was quoted in Politico as saying: “It should avoid any serious crisis of large numbers of EU citizens not being able to enter the country again [after a no-deal Brexit]”...“It seems to be a climbdown because the government had threatened a much stricter scheme, without really explaining it.”

The key difference immediately after an Oct 31st No Deal Brexit would be that EU nationals who commit crimes during their stay in Britain would be subject to tougher treatment and would be at risk of deportation.