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Immigration announcements in the Spring Budget 2021

04 March 2021

On 3 March 2021 the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced a range of immigration measures designed to help highly skilled and skilled international talent come to the UK to support business growth, particularly for scale-up businesses, innovative businesses and intra-company transfers, and to contribute to the advancement of key industry sectors such as academia, science, research and technology. There are also commitments to improving the system for business users, and to marketing the UK’s visa offering more effectively.

We summarise and comment on these below.

‘Elite points-based visa’ for highly skilled migrants

The budget reaffirms the Government’s intention to introduce the previously announced points-based visa for highly skilled migrants, and states this will be in place by March 2022.

A ‘scale-up’ stream will be included within the highly skilled visa category. This will be aimed at allowing individuals with a job offer from a pre-approved UK scale-up business to access a fast-track process. It is not clear from the budget statement whether this will be fast-track visa processing, fast-track settlement or both.

Recent press reports have referred to the scale-up stream as a ‘fintech visa’, geared towards boosting this particular sector as suggested in the recent Kalifa review of UK FinTech. However the budget itself does not appear to limit the type of scale-up business that may be eligible for approval by the Government. No details have been released yet about what criteria businesses will need meet to qualify for approval, however it is positive that potentially it may be available to support a wide range of high-growth businesses.

More generally, the Government will want to put measures in place to avoid a repeat of the failed Tier 1 (General) route. One of the problems encountered in the past with unsponsored schemes for highly skilled migrants has been the entry of participants into low-skilled work in the UK. The mention of having a job offer to qualify under the scale up stream may indicate that this could be one way the Government hopes to be able to control the skill level at which highly skilled individuals enter the UK labour market under the new visa.

Streamlining the Global Talent visa for some applicants

Holders of certain international prizes and winners of certain scholarships will automatically be eligible under the route, as will participants in recognised programmes for early promise.

The Global Talent route can be document-heavy and bureaucratic, and this welcome change will make approval much quicker and straight-forward for the people covered by it.

Reviewing the Innovator visa

The budget confirms the Innovator visa will be reviewed to make it easier for those with appropriate skills and experience to set up an innovative business in the UK.

This is another positive development, although it remains to be seen how far the Government will go in liberalising the route. So far, the Innovator visa has proven unattractive to established entrepreneurs, as it is necessary in most cases to agree for a business incubator or seed funder to take an investment interest in the enterprise. Currently, it is only available to a very limited pool of individuals and the eligibility for extension and settlement are so onerous as to make it an unattractive option.

Since the removal of the 10% ownership limit under the Skilled Worker route in December last year, it may be that irrespective of any reforms to the Innovator route, Skilled Worker may prove to be a more accessible, straight-forward and less risky option for business owners, not least because there is no requirement for the business to be rubber-stamped as innovative.

Launching a new Global Business Mobility visa

The Migration Advisory Committee was commissioned in October last year to undertake a general review of the Intra-Company routes as well as considering an expansion of the Representative of Overseas Business route to allowing teams to come to the UK to set up a UK entity or branch. The MAC is due to deliver its report by the end of October 2021.

The budget confirms that the resulting new immigration category will be called the Global Business Mobility visa, and that it will launch by spring 2022. This will be a short time-frame for civil servants to work with in response to the MAC report. It should however be achievable as the fundamental aims and international commitments underpinning the route are already known.

It will be interesting to see how this route interacts with the sponsorship system as the current Intra-Company routes require a sponsor licence, whereas the Representative of an Overseas business category does not.

Modernising the immigration sponsorship system

This is another policy that has previously been announced, however the budget confirms there will be a ‘delivery roadmap’ published during the summer of 2021. Once this is available, there should be some more concrete indication of when reforms to the sponsorship system will be made effective, including how and when the outdated sponsor management system will be replaced with newer technology.

User support and marketing measures

Practical support will be provided to small firms needing to use the visa system for the first time. This recognises that more businesses, and, in particular, Small and Medium Enterprises, will now need to engage with the visa system following the end of free movement between the UK and the EEA/Switzerland.

Initiatives will also be put in place to raise awareness of the UK’s visa offering and to encourage applications. These include expanding the Global Entrepreneur Programme and running visa-related marketing campaigns. The budget falls short of promising to build an overseas talent network, however this will be explored.

For further information on these announcements, or to discuss current immigration options, please get in touch with a member of our Immigration Team.

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