Last week the Home Office published a series of changes to the Immigration Rules, many of which will take effect on 6 April 2021.
In welcome news to many UK employers, the Home Office is introducing a new Graduate route into the UK (under a new section in the rules, called Appendix Graduate). Whilst UK graduates will need to meet a points threshold (in line with the new points based system), applicants will meet this by satisfying the essential criteria to the immigration route: (1) successfully completing their studies with an approved institutions; (2) obtaining a bachelor’s degree, master’s or certain vocational professional qualifications; and (3) being in the UK for a minimum period of time, subject to certain exceptions.
It is expected that this new immigration route will go live from 1 July 2021. If approved, applicants will be granted 2 years’ leave to remain in the UK (or 3 years’ if a doctorate was completed). Following the end of the leave period, migrants will be able to switch in country to an alternative immigration route, such as the Skilled Worker route (noting that the time spent under the Graduate route does not count towards residence for settlement purposes). This advanced notice is very helpful to employers and migrants currently going through usual graduate recruitment exercises, who will now have an alternative option to the more expensive, and administration heavy, Skilled Worker route (which requires the sponsor employer to hold a sponsor licence).
Given there are limited restrictions on the type of work that Graduate Visa holders may undertake, this route will offer more flexibility to employers, particular in the wake of the end of free movement.
Other changes to be introduced, include;
- a new minimum hourly rate has been introduced (£10.10), even if the minimum salary threshold is met. This is to avoid employers recruiting migrants and then imposing longer working hours in order to compensate for having to pay the minimum salary threshold (£20,480), where they may not otherwise have paid that rate; and
- the list of occupations included on the shortage occupation list has been expanded (to include, for example, laboratory technicians, pharmacists and other health/care related roles).
Gaining a ‘prestigious prize’ relevant to the applicant’s field of expertise, will now serve as qualification to this visa route, whereas previously an endorsement from an organisation in the UK was required. Whilst this has expanded the qualifying criteria for this route, it still remains an exclusive category, reserved for leaders in their fields/those at the top of their profession and may therefore be of limited use to employers.
Other changes across various immigration routes have also been proposed, including for example, amendments to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) eligibility criteria, which could help family members of EEA nationals gain access to the EUSS.
We also await updated right to work guidance, which is expected to be issued, before the grace period (following the end of free movement) expires, on 30 June 2021.