UK Budget 2021: immigration proposals leave gaps for some sectors

Out-Law News | 08 Mar 2021 | 10:52 am | 2 min. read

Immigration reforms announced by the UK government will help start-ups and fast-growing firms and those with internationally mobile staff, but leave gaps for some key sectors of the economy, an expert has warned.

Joanne Hennessy of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said that the announcements, made as part of the UK budget, would be welcomed by employers following the twin impacts of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic on staff mobility. However, she said that employers in other sectors still lacked long-term clarity around future recruitment.

"As UK employers prepare for the period beyond Covid-19 and Brexit, they will be receptive to a visa system that enables them to access the talent and experience that they need," she said. "Once lockdown, travel and quarantine restrictions begin to ease and we see the dust settling after the grace period for EEA national to apply to cement their status ends, we can expect far greater mobility to the UK."

"While the recent announcements focus on key areas such as science, technology and innovation, there are some sectors for which there is no long-term sector-focused solution. Shipping and renewables are two sectors not currently covered, and they need plans to enable them to access the talent and experience they require in safety-critical roles," she said.

The reforms set out in the 2021 budget are designed to "help the UK attract and retain the most highly skilled, globally mobile talent - particularly in academia, science, research and technology - from around the world". They include a new 'elite' points-based visa, a new 'global business mobility' visa and reforms to the 'global talent' and 'innovator' visas; as well as pledges to modernise the immigration sponsorship system and provide more support to small firms using the visa system for the first time.

The 'elite' points-based visa proposed by the UK government will include a 'scale-up' option, enabling those with a job offer from a "recognised UK scale-up" to qualify for a fast track visa. The government intends to have this in place by March 2022. The proposal appears to be aimed at those working in the financial technology sector in particular, following a recommendation by former Worldpay chief executive Ron Kalifa in his recent review of UK fintech.

The new global business mobility visa is also planned for spring 2022, and is aimed at overseas businesses seeking to establish a presence or transfer staff to the UK. Joanne Hennessy said that these businesses currently faced complex and onerous administrative burdens, often having to first secure a 'sole representative' visa followed by a full sponsor licence in order to transfer additional staff.

"It's not clear if this is simply a re-branding and possible expansion of the current representative of an overseas business route," she said. "Any streamlining which will ease the way for these businesses' establishment, ability to trade and to recruit in the UK will be welcomed."

The government also intends to establish a global outreach strategy for international talent, including by expanding the existing Global Entrepreneur Programme. It will reform the global talent route to allow holders of international prizes, including the Nobel Prize, and winners of scholarships and programmes for early promise to automatically qualify for a visa. The innovator visa will be reviewed to make it easier for those with the skills and experience to found an innovative business to obtain a visa.