The Home Office are making changes (again!) to the Immigration Rules, which will be in place from 6th April 2014.  There are a number of minor changes, clarifications and technical amendments being made and we have outlined what we think are the most significant changes below.

Please also note that the Home Office forms and fees will be updated, so you must ensure that you are using the correct form and have paid the correct fee from 6 April 2014.  This is very important as failure to do so could result in your application being returned as invalid. 

The most significant changes are:

Changes to minimum salary thresholds, appropriate salary rates for occupationsand maintenance funds thresholds for Tier 2 and other categories

Notably, the Tier 2 minimum salary thresholds have been increased by 0.9%.  These will apply to those who have Certificates of Sponsorship assigned on or after 6 April 2014.

If a sponsor has assigned an individual a Certificate of Sponsorship before 6 April, the application will be decided in accordance with the lower salary thresholds in force. If employers do not assign a certificate of sponsorship by this date, they will need to ensure that salaries are in line with the new revised salaries as of 6 April 2014 as set out in the codes of practice.

Increasing Grants of Leave to Five Years for Tier 2 Migrants

Those who are applying for entry clearance or leave to remain under Tier 2 (General) or Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer-Long Term Staff) will be able to apply for a maximum grant of leave of five years at their first application instead of the current maximum grant of three years. This longer grant of leave will be available for a higher application fee.

Minor changes to evidential requirements for Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) applications

These include removing the need for third party declarations to be provided when funds are held in a joint account with the applicant's spouse or partner, requiring lawyers providing declarations to be independent of those providing investment funds, changing the contents of third party funding declarations from banks to better reflect banking practice, and requiring business accounts produced as evidence of investment to meet statutory requirements.

Expand the scope of the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) category to include the digital technology sector

The Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) Category is being expanded to include leading talent in the digital technology sector, who are endorsed by Tech City UK.  There will be 200 endorsements allocated to Tech City UK which can then be used to submit an application for leave as Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) Migrant.

Settlement under the Points Based System

An amendment is being made to the settlement rules, to allow applicants to amalgamate time spent in other Tier 1 and Tier 2 settlement routes towards the 5-year qualifying period.

Settlement under the Points Based System for dependants

Corrections are being made to enforce the intention that only dependants of individuals who qualified for settlement under the Points-Based System can apply for settlement as dependants of Points-Based System Migrants. Previously the Immigration Rules allowed dependents of those who qualified for settlement on the basis of long residence to also apply. The change will mean such dependants will need to apply for leave to remain under the 'new' rules for family members in Appendix FM before they can qualify for settlement.

This means that for PBS dependants who are applying to 'switch' into the partner of a settled person route on or after 6 April 2014 will have to apply under Appendix FM of the Rules, and will not be able to combine any leave they have accrued as a PBS dependant with leave as a Partner under Appendix FM.

There are, however, transitional provisions for those who were granted leave to enter or remain as the dependant of a PBS migrant prior to 9 July 2012 and make an application to switch into the spouse of a settled person category before 6 April 2014.  These applications will be considered under the transitional Part 8 rules for further leave to remain under Paragraph 284.

Where those on the transitional provisions will be affected by these new changes is that they will have to complete the two years for settlement from the time they 'switch' into a spouse visa (as from 6 April 2014 they can no longer combine leave under Part 9 with leave as a PBS Dependant).

Unfortunately, for those PBS dependants who do not fall into this category, or who are making applications after 6 April 2014, they will need to wait five years for settlement from the time they 'switch' into a spouse visa.

Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange)

A new scheme is being created under the Government Authorised Exchange route for overseas government language placements. This category will enable language teachers to carry out teaching placements at UK institutions.

Maintenance for Points Based System migrants

The maintenance fund thresholds for Point-Based System migrants and their dependants will increase. The new thresholds will apply to both individuals providing evidence of their own funds or sponsors certifying maintenance for sponsored migrants. For example, the maintenance for Tier 1 (General), Tier 2, and Tier 5 (Temporary Worker) migrants will increase from £900 to £945 and from £600 to £630 for dependants.

These changes will affect all applications made from 1st July 2014 (as maintenance needs to be held in your account for either 28 days or 90 days).

Certain English Language Tests No Longer Accepted

The Home Office has announced that it will no longer accept English language tests administered by the Education Testing Service (ETS) to meet the English language requirement for UK visa applications, because of investigations into these tests.

Tuberculosis Testing

The Home Office has increased the number of countries from which tuberculosis (TB) testing is a requirement for UK visa applications and an individual who wishes to apply for a visa to come to the UK for more than six months must now provide a valid TB test certificate from a Home Office-approved TB testing clinic with his or her application. A full list of countries can be found at https://www.gov.uk/tb-test-visa

Visa Requirements for certain countries

The Home Office has introduced an electronic visa waiver for passport holders from Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (and plans to extend this scheme to passport holders from Kuwait later in 2014). The electronic visa waiver is available to those visiting the UK for tourism, business, or study purposes for less than six months. It is free and may be obtained by completing an online application form at least 48 hours before travel to the UK.

Venezuela is to be added to the list of counties whose nationals require a visa to travel to the UK.

The Home Office is removing the exemption from the genuineness test that exists for applicants from countries and regions listed in Appendix H (which lists the countries and regions from which applicants are subject to different documentary requirements under Tier 4 of the Points Based System) so that Immigration officials can assess whether an applicant is a genuine student regardless of the nationality of the applicant.

Curtailment

Changes to the curtailment provisions in Part 9 of the Immigration Rules (General Grounds for Refusal) "to support the Home Office in its work to take robust action against those who attempt to abuse the immigration system and ensure that migrants do not retain leave to which they are no longer entitled."  The changes enable the Home Office to curtail leave where a Points Based System (PBS) sponsor notifies the Home Office that a migrant's period of study or work is due to end earlier than had been originally planned when leave to enter or remain was granted, and incorporate the grounds in section 10(1)(b) and (c) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 in preparation for the changes made by the Immigration Bill.

Changes to the Immigration Rules relating to family life

To make clear that non-EEA national fiancé(e)s and proposed civil partners of

EEA nationals who do not have a right of permanent residence in the UK cannot apply for entry clearance as a partner under Appendix FM to the Immigration Rules. Such persons cannot enter the UK under the EEA Regulations unless they have been in a durable relationship with the EEA national for at least 2 years, which is comparable to the requirement for entry clearance under the Immigration Rules.

The Home Office have also announced minor changes in respect of documentary evidence required for the minimum income threshold requirement, to do the following:

  • To count maintenance payments from a former partner of the sponsor, as well as of the applicant;
  • To clarify the manner in which cash income can be counted;
  • To provide that tips and gratuities distributed by an employer via a tronc scheme can be counted as employment income;
  • To provide for overseas maternity pay, paternity pay and adoption pay to be counted;
  • To update references to the VAT registration threshold to reflect the current
  • HMRC threshold of £79,000;
  • To provide for ongoing payments from insurance companies and legal settlements to be count as non-employment income.

If you would like anymore information on these changes, or think it will have an impact on your immigration status in the UK then please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Immigration Team.