In the first week of December 2017 the Home Office presented a new Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules (HC309) to Parliament. Most of these changes will come into force next week on 11 January 2018. Below I have set out the most notable of these changes, briefly explaining their effect on certain routes for entry clearance and settlement.
Points-Based System (PBS) Migrant
- Currently, whilst PBS migrants must be out of the country for no fewer than 180 days in any given 12 months to qualify for indefinite leave to remain (ILR), their partners and dependants do not. Under the new rules, the limit on absences for dependant partners of PBS migrants for ILR will be 180 days, in line with main PBS migrants. Only absences from the UK during periods of leave granted under the rules in place from 11 January 2018 will count towards the 180 days.
- Tier 2 Migrants are no longer required to have been continuously employed throughout the qualifying period to be eligible for settlement. Currently, the rules provide that breaks in employment can only be disregarded where they amount to less than 60 days. This means that those sponsored Tier 2 migrants who had a break between jobs of more than 60 days could not apply for ILR after five years. With Tier 2 leave capped at 6 years, this meant that those who had a break in employment of more than 60 days would have to leave the UK after 6 years (unless they secured leave in another category) , and were ineligible to apply for ILR. All applications submitted from 11 January 2018 onward will be decided under the new rules and this is likely to be a welcome change.
- Nurses will be eligible for sponsorship under Tier 2 if they are undertaking an approved programme with a view to returning to practice.
- The number of Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas will double to 2,000. Further changes under this category now allow exceptional talent visa holders to qualify for ILR after three years. This brings the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) category into line with the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) and the Tier 1 (Investor) categories, both of which currently offer similar accelerated settlement.
- Students seeking to switch to Tier 2 visas after completing their studies will now be able to do so as soon as they have completed their course. Under the current rules (other than those studying a PhD) they have to wait until they receive their final results. If the final degree certificate or academic transcript is not yet available, alternative evidence can be submitted stating the date the course was completed, that all exams have been sat and that all academic papers have been presented.
- For the first time, some part-time students will now be able to secure Tier 4 visas. Tier 4 students studying part-time courses will not, however, have a right to work, will not be able to bring dependants to the UK and will not be able to extend their visa in-country or switch into other immigration categories permitting work after completing their course.
Short-term Study Visas
- The minimum age to apply will be reduced from 18 to 16. This will enable students aged 16 years and over to come to the UK for the longer period of 11 months to study an English language course.
- Electronic visas for applications made outside of the UK will be introduced and trialled, initially with specific groups. The intention is to roll them out if the trial is successful. This means that when an entry clearance application is granted, the immigration permission will usually be endorsed in the passport, but in some cases it will be granted electronically. Those migrants who have Electronic Entry Clearance (EEC) will not be required to present such entry clearance to an Immigration Officer on arrival in the UK for checks, and will only be required to present their passport or identity document.
Finally, and unrelated to the Statement of Changes, there is a new online form for application for British nationality. It can also be used for family members of the main applicant. You have to be living in the UK to be able to apply online; if not, you must use the paper form.
For more information on any of the above, or any of the other changes not specifically detailed, please do not hesitate to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.