The UK government is set to introduce an ‘elite points-based visa’, a further component of its drive to revamp the immigration system post-Brexit.
With its stated aim of helping the UK “attract and retain the most highly skilled, globally mobile talent” in science and technology, yesterday’s budget included a pledge to introduce by March 2022 a visa containing a “scale-up” stream. This will enable people with a job offer from a recognised UK scale-up to qualify for a fast track visa.
Ministers claim this would help drive innovation, and support UK jobs and growth.
The elite visa is aimed at fast growth tech sectors and boosting entrepreneurialism, leading some immigration experts to assert that other sectors also need skilled workers as they seek to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Chetal Patel, immigration specialist and partner at City law firm Bates Wells said: “This will be welcome news to tech businesses many of which were concerned about bringing talent from overseas following Brexit and coronavirus. However, the changes won’t be introduced for another year, so will not provide an immediate solution.”
She added: “The focus on academic, science, research and tech is central to the government’s aim of attracting the brightest and the best with the hope that these sectors will help fix the economy.”
Patel said that although many might welcome the government looking to position the UK as a leading destination for international tech and scientific talent, it was “disappointing that sectors that have been most severely hit by the pandemic, such as hospitality and the arts have been omitted”.
Many foreign nationals that were working in the UK’s hospitality sector before the Covid-19 pandemic remained unemployed, she said, or were on extended furlough, so “we will need to find ways to support them within our UK immigration system as the UK economy reopens”.
Patel said that historically, “we’ve had visas aimed at the highly-skilled and it sounds like these latest reforms are a re-working of historic and current visa categories, such as the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme and the current Global Talent Visa. These reforms need to go one step further and should be expanded to beyond just technology and science.”
Despite this, she said many immigration specialists would hope that the reforms would streamline the visa application process, ensure faster processing times and wouldn’t be prohibitively expensive.
Claire Nilson, counsel at law firm Faegre Drinker said the most important key point to take from announcement was that the new visa would not need to be sponsored by a UK company. This, she said, “will hopefully make it reasonable and desirable to people who are entrepreneurs and workers in this [science and technology] sector. A better and simplified system is always welcome news.”
Jonathan Beech, managing director at immigration law firm Migrate UK, said the elite visa seemed similar to those that existed under the UK’s former immigration system.
“On my first take it appears that no endorsement or sponsorship means this scheme could be a style of visa similar to the old ‘Tier 1 General’ or ‘Highly Skilled Migrant Programme,’ whereby specialists need to score points in designated areas for example, age, English language, work experience, qualifications, earnings and maintenance,” he said.
“The difference of course this time is that this will be for specific jobs only. If it does go ahead, the scheme would need to outline the job codes it will cover. Workers would be expected to be independent so they can swap and move employers to match their talents.”
Among other immigration system measures included in the budget were plans to reform the global talent visa, which would allow holders of international prizes and winners of scholarships and programmes for early promise to automatically qualify. A global business mobility visa would be launched by spring 2022 for overseas businesses to establish a presence or transfer staff to the UK and the immigration sponsorship system would be modernised to make it easier to use with a delivery plan being announced this summer.
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