Changes to the UK immigration rules from October 2019

Out-Law Analysis | 17 Sep 2019 | 4:42 pm | 5 min. read

The UK will implement all changes to the shortage occupation list recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) from October 2019, alongside a number of other changes to its points-based immigration system.

The MAC is also seeking public views to inform two pieces of work it is currently carrying out for the UK government around its planned overhaul of the UK immigration system from 2021. The MAC plays an important role in recommending changes to UK immigration policy, and we expect the immigration white paper published by Theresa May's government in late 2018 to be amended, if not completely rewritten.

Changes to the shortage occupation list from 6 October 2019

Former home secretary Sajid Javid previously confirmed that the government would be implementing all the changes to the shortage occupation list recommended by the MAC.

The new shortage occupation list will kick in for certificates of sponsorship assigned on/after 6 October 2019. Broadly, the list is being expanded although some roles have been removed.

Roles being added to the UK-wide shortage occupation list include:

  • all jobs under the biological scientists and biochemists code;
  • all jobs under the civil engineers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, electronics engineers, design and development engineers, production and process engineers and engineering professionals not elsewhere classified codes - not just certain occupations within the code in specific sectors as is currently the case;
  • all jobs under the IT business analysts, architects and system designers, programmers and software development professionals and web design and development professionals codes - not just certain occupations as it currently the case;
  • information technology and communications professionals not elsewhere classified now covered for all cyber security specialists regardless of employer or experience;
  • quantity surveyors - this wasn't one of the MAC's original recommendations;
  • quality control and planning engineers - all jobs falling under this code, not just certain ones;
  • all jobs classed as medical practitioners, psychologists, medical radiographers, occupational therapist and speech and language therapists;
  • veterinarians;
  • all jobs falling under the architect code.

Archaeologists under the social and humanities scientists code were expected to be added to the list but have not been.

The following roles have been removed from the UK-wide shortage occupation list:

  • IT product managers under the IT specialist managers code - these were previously on the list for certain qualifying companies;
  • environmental professionals – contaminated land specialists in the construction-related ground engineering industry currently appear on the list;
  • engineering technicians – commissioning engineers and substation electrical engineers in the electricity transmission and distribution industry currently appear on the list;
  • buyers and purchasing officers – manufacturing engineer (purchasing) in the aerospace industry currently appears on the list;
  • aircraft maintenance and related trades – licensed and military certifying engineer/inspector technicians currently appear on the list;
  • line repairers and cable joiners. Overhead line workers have been on the shortage occupation list since 2011. However, the MAC recommended that they be removed due to there being an over-reliance on Filipino workers and the industry not training workers as a consequence. The role will, however, remain eligible for Tier 2 sponsorship.

A number of changes to the shortage occupation list will apply in Scotland only:

  • the addition of chemical scientists and chemical engineers in the nuclear industry;
  • the removal of any roles falling under the 'managers in mining and energy' code applicable to electricity transmission and distribution and electricity generation and production controllers in electricity generation;
  • the removal of pharmacists and pharmacologists and dental practitioners;
  • the removal of management consultants, actuaries, economists and statisticians working in the life assurance, general insurance or health and care sectors.

Other changes to the points-based immigration system

Chartered architectural technologists will be classed as sufficiently skilled for Tier 2 sponsorship from 6 October.

PhD roles will be removed from the Tier 2 General annual cap with effect from 1 October 2019, and so will no longer require restricted certificates of sponsorship. This is to signal that the UK welcomes researchers and other highly skilled individuals.

As of 1 October, migrants in PhD-level roles may undertake research overseas directly related to their Tier 2 employment without such absences counting when they are assessed for settlement.

Absences from work: From 1 October, Tier 2 migrants will not penalised when seeking settlement for absences from work due to sickness, statutory parental leave, assistance in a national or international humanitarian or environmental crisis or legal strike. The rules already cater for maternity, paternity, shared parental or adoption leave.

Professional sportspeople: As of 1 October, the 'professional sportsperson' definition is being amended to clarify that Tier 4 students studying at degree level or above at a higher education provider are permitted to play or coach sport as an amateur whilst in receipt of a sports scholarship, or if doing so as part of a work placement being undertaken as an integral and assessed part of their course.

Tier 4 students: As of 1 October, Tier 4 students studying at degree level or above will be permitted to apply to switch into Tier 2 within three months of the expected end date of their course, to facilitate them taking up skilled work in the UK after completion of their studies. They will be able to commence work with their Tier 2 sponsor if they have applied to switch within three months of the expected end date of their course.

Post-study work: News last week about the return of post-study work visas for students will be welcomed by many employers. The government has committed to bringing this visa into place for students starting higher education in the 2020-21 academic year.

An opportunity to have your say on the future immigration system

Looking ahead to the planned overhaul of the UK's immigration system from 2021, the government has commissioned the MAC to look at two areas. The MAC has undertaken to respond to the government in January 2020, which is a tight timescale.

On 24 June, then-home secretary Sajid Javid commissioned the MAC to carry out an in-depth analysis of potential future salary thresholds and the range at which they could be set. The MAC had previously recommended that the current Tier 2 salary thresholds be retained and that regional variations should not be implemented.

Boris Johnson has made numerous comments about introducing an 'Australian-style points-based system' to the UK. In response, home secretary Priti Patel revised Javid's commission to also instruct the MAC to "conduct a review of the Australian immigration system and similar systems to advise on what best practice can be used to strengthen the UK labour market and attract the best and brightest from around the world".

MAC has asked users of the points-based system for their views by 5 November 2019. It is particularly keen to receive evidence of potential regional variations in salary thresholds; potential exceptions to salary thresholds, including for shortage occupations; what allowances, if any, to make for part-time workers; how to deal with jobs of high public value but lower wages; and how points could be awarded to applications for attributes such as education, language proficiency, and willingness to work in areas/sectors with a shortage of workers.

Joanne Hennessy is an immigration law expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.