11 October 2022
Law at Work - November 2022 – 2 of 5 Insights
The Home Office continues to recover from the impact of the pandemic on visa processing over the last two years. Below we set out information about some changes to the new points-based visa system that will impact British employees and visa holders. The autumn provides an opportune time for all sponsors to review and assess their internal systems and recruitment processes, ensure that visa notifications are up-to-date, and that any recruitment policies reflect the new rules.
From 30 March 2020 the Home Office allowed employers to carry out mandatory right to work checks on new hires under an adjusted policy which permitted checks to be carried out by video call rather than in person. Checks must be completed to provide businesses with a defence against illegal working which can bring a fine of up to £20,000 per employee. After repeat extensions this adjusted policy finally ended on 30 September. This means that checks again now need to be carried out in person which will be a challenge for businesses that have moved to fully remote working. Read our previous article for more information about right to work check changes in 2022, including the introduction of Identity Service Providers.
In March 2022 the Home Office suspended all priority services for all UK visa applications submitted outside the UK. This enabled them to focus on processing applications for Ukrainian nationals. The suspension led to processing delays of two or more months from application submission which created real difficulties for onboarding and filling UK based vacancies. On 12 August the UKVI suddenly announced that they were reinstating these services for some visa types. This was welcome news for sponsors looking to obtain visas for vacancies in the UK within a few working days rather than under standard processing which can take up to six weeks.
Sadly, it is not all good news. Currently only applications for sponsored work visas and student visas can access the super priority and priority services. Dependant applications for family members accompanying the main visa holder cannot access the faster processing routes. At the time of writing applications for family visas are still being processed under the current standard services of 24 weeks. Hopefully this will change soon.
Priority services are only available for new applications. They cannot be retrospectively applied to applications that have already been lodged where biometrics have been submitted. Additionally, some centres across the world are not yet offering this service. It's important for employers to check this when visa planning.
On 4 August 2022 the Home Office removed the requirement for citizens of 44 specified countries to register with the UK police. This programme had required that as a condition of their right to enter or remain in the UK, affected individuals had to register with their local police within 7 days of their UK arrival and update the police if their personal details changed. Non-compliance could lead to penalties, revocation of the visa or refusal of extension or settlement applications. During the pandemic appointments to register could take months to obtain. The Home Office has confirmed that neither new nor current visa holders are required to register. This is a big administrative change for impacted visa holders.
The Home Office continues to roll out new visa routes under its revised Points Based System. The newest route, the Scale Up visa, aims to help qualifying UK businesses attract and retain highly skilled global talent. The eligibility criteria are ambitious – they require UK companies to demonstrate that they have 10 employees each paid at least £33,000 at the start of three years and that their turnover has grown by 20% on average in each of those three years. Unlike the Skilled Worker route, this visa only ties the holder to the sponsor for six months. They are then free to work for any employer in an unsponsored role. The visa attracts no sponsor licence fee or Immigration Skills Surcharge making it cheaper and easier to attract highly skilled workers. It remains to be seen how many businesses will qualify for this route considering the global business slowdown in the last two years. For more information see our recent article.
When applying for a sponsor licence UK companies sign up to obligations with the Home Office. Failure to comply can lead to downgrading a licence rating, suspension, or revocation of the licence. It is important to regularly review licence details and visas to ensure compliance.
Changes to employee's work conditions must be reported to the Home Office within 10 working days. These include changes to the titles and/or descriptions, salary, working hours or work location. Unauthorised absences, delays to the work start date or early ending of the visa must also be reported.
Sponsor changes must also be reported for example appointment of a new Authorising Officer; a move to a new work location (for example downsizing of your office space), or a change in corporate structure. It is important to take advice on the timeframes and documents needed.
The Home Office has resumed in person sponsor audit visits. Sponsors must retain documents for each sponsored worker under Appendix D. It's essential to maintain a list of the contact details for each sponsored employee and make sure that Right to Work checks are completed (see above). The Home Office can request documents relating to sponsored workers or the running of your company when assessing your compliance with your sponsor duties. Periodic audits of your records can assist with compliance.For further information on these areas please contact your usual immigration experts.
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