User Pays Visa Application Centre fee frozen and changes to the network

UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) today announced changes to the User Pays Visa Application Centre (VAC) Network which will see the global fee stay at £59 across all locations. The fee was previously due to rise on 6 April to £70.

This change is possible because of the decision to convert a small number of currently free to use application points into User Pay centres in early May. In all these locations (Ikeja, Mirpur, Sylhet) applicants will continue to have access to at least one other free to use application centre in that country. Applicants at these centres will also benefit from service enhancements, including longer opening hours (where there is demand).

The changes that UKVI are now making are part of a longer term strategy to increase the number and range of different ways that people overseas can apply for visas to the UK over the next couple of years.

Likely changes to Tier 1 (Investor) visa requirements

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the independent body that advises the UK government on immigration matters, has recently published a report on the Tier 1 (Investor) category of the Points-Based System. The UK government usually follows the MAC’s recommendations and therefore this is an important insight into forthcoming changes to the Tier 1 (Investor) category.

Key parts of the MAC’s recommendations include:
1. The current minimum threshold of £1 million for an investor visa be increased to £2 million.
2. The current restrictions on permissible investment instruments be relaxed so as to permit wider investment activity.
3. The “topping up rule” be removed which, in turn, would mean that the requirement to provide quarterly valuations would no longer be necessary.
4. The “premium” route, offering accelerated settlement for applicants, remain but residence requirements for such applicants be relaxed, such that the individual need only be resident in the UK for a period of 90 days per annum, rather than 185 days as is currently the case.
5. “Premium” visas should be limited (for example 100 a year) with interested applicants invited to submit a single, sealed bid for those visas, with a reserve price of £2.5 million.

Individuals considering applying for an investor visa are therefore advised to apply sooner rather than later as the above recommendations could be implemented within weeks, if not days, by the UK government.

New Tier 1 Application Forms

The Home Office has today published new application forms for the following Tier 1 applications:
• Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)
• Tier 1 (Investor)
• Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur)
• Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)
• Tier 1 (General)

New forms have also been published for Tier 1 Dependants.

New knowledge of language and life requirements

From 28 October 2013, unless they are expressly exempt, all applicants for settlement (eg Indefinite Leave to Remain), or naturalisation as a British citizen, will need to meet the knowledge of language and life requirement by:
• passing the life in the UK test; and
• having a speaking and listening qualification in English at B1 CEFR or higher, or its equivalent.

In order to avoid these new requirements, applicants must ensure that their applications are received by the Home Office no later than Friday 25 October 2013.

New Immigration Rules relating to Tier 1

A number of amendments to the Immigration Rules have come into effect today, including the following changes relating to Tier 1 migrants:
• Amending the Tier 1 (Graduate entrepreneur) route to include additional places for talented MBA graduates from UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). This will also include the UK Trade and Investment’s elite global graduate entrepreneur scheme.
• Amending the Tier 1 (Exceptional talent) route to split the application process so that applicants will no longer have to pay the full fee in advance. This will also mean applicants will not have to submit their passport to the Home Office while their applications for endorsement by a designated competent body is being considered.

New Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) Rules laid before Parliament

The following changes have been proposed to the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route in the written ministerial statement laid before Parliament today:
• an introduction of a genuine entrepreneur test which will give UK Border Agency caseworkers the ability to test the credibility of suspicious applicants; and
• a change that requires the necessary minimum funds to be held, or invested in the business, on an ongoing basis rather than solely at the time of application.

Changes To The List Of English Language Tests

The UKBA have today made amendments to the list of approved English language test providers for applications made under Tiers 1, 2 and 4 of the PBS and for spouse or partner applications.

The amendments include:

  1. Three tests awarded by Cambridge ESOL now offer certification at 3 levels of the Common European Framework rather than just 2 levels. The tests include the Cambridge English: Key, Cambridge English: Preliminary and Cambridge English: Business Preliminary.
  2. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) have updated their web address for their test of English for international communication (TOEIC) and test of English as a foreign language (TOEFL)’
  3. Pearson have updated their contact details and clarified that they do not issue paper certificates’
  4. Separate certificate and notification of candidate results sheet are required for speaking part of the City and Guilds English language test’

Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) immigration route opens

On 20th July 2011 the government announced the requirements and application procedure for the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent category under the Points Based System. The UK Border Agency (UKBA) will start accepting applications from 9th August 2011.

The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route was introduced into the Immigration Rules on 6th April 2011 (Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules HC863), however, operation of the scheme has been “suspended” until now. On 20th July 2011 the UKBA announced the identities of the Designated Competent Bodies authorised to issue endorsements to exceptionally talented candidates and published their practice guidance. Application forms should be available before the opening date on 9th August 2011.

The recognition of talent will come from a Designated Competent Body in the form of an endorsement. There are four such bodies authorised to issue the endorsements:

  • the Arts Council – for arts and culture applications;
  • the British Academy – for humanities and social science applications;
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering – for engineering applications; and
  • the Royal Society – for natural sciences and medical science research applications.

The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent category is for “exceptionally talented individuals in the fields of science, humanities, engineering and the arts, who wish to work in the UK. These individuals are those who are already internationally recognised at the highest level as world leaders in their particular field, or who have already demonstrated exceptional promise and are likely to become world leaders in their particular area” (UKBA Guidance).

There are therefore two categories of migrants under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route:

  • Exceptionally talented – those who can demonstrate that they are the world leaders in their field; and
  • Exceptionally promising – those who can demonstrate the potential to become world leaders in their field.

When making an application certain documentation must be provided in support. For those seeking endorsement by the Arts Council,only established world-class artists will be considered by this body. The Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route will therefore not be open to promising artists, as the evidence required by the Arts Council is that candidates must be already professionally engaged in producing work of outstanding quality which has been published, performed, presented, distributed or exhibited internationally.

Actual or potential world leaders in the fields of social sciences,humanities, engineering, natural and medical sciences have been given the opportunity to be considered by their relevant Designated Competent Bodies, provided that they submit strong evidence of their actual or prospective success.

In all of the above categories letters of recommendations from eminent individuals or organisations will play a significant evidential role.

An Entry Clearance (visa) in this category will be mandatory (in-country applications switching from other immigration categories will not be available, unless there are exceptional circumstances which prohibit the applicant from travelling to their country of normal residence to make the application). Successful applicants will obtain leave to enter for three years, with the possibility of an extension for a further two years. On completion of five years of continuous residence in the UK in this category, migrants will be allowed to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, provided that the government does not change the Immigration Rules in the future.

The total number of successful applications will be capped at 1000 during the first allocation period which will run from 9th August 2011 until 5th April 2012. Each Designated Competent Body has its own limit of endorsements available.

Procedure

  • Before making an application for an Entry Clearance in the Tier 1 Exceptional talent category, all candidates will be required to obtain a Unique Reference Number from the UKBA. The request for the Unique Reference Number will be made by email and must indicate the relevant Designated Competent Body.
  • Once issued, the Unique Reference Number will be valid for 10 days and within this time an application for the Entry Clearance must normally be made at an appropriate UKBA Visa Application Centre abroad. All required supporting documentation must be submitted to the UKBA Visa Application Centre, which will then send it to the Designated Competent Body indicated by the applicant.
  • The appropriate Designated Competent Body will assess applicants against their published eligibility criteria and advise the UKBA whether the criteria have been met. If they have been met it will issue an endorsement.
  • An endorsement from a Designated Competent Body will entitle applicants to claim 75 points for their attributes under the Points Based System and be eligible for an Entry Clearance in the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent category. In addition to the points criteria, candidates will also be assessed against the general grounds for refusal such asfor example their immigration history.

Successful applicants will obtain the right to enter the UK for three years with the right to take up employment or self-employment. Before the expiry of their three year visa, migrants will be entitled to extend their stay for a further two years. To qualify for extension they will need to show that on the date of the application they are economically active in employment or self employment in their expert field and the Designated Competent Body has not withdrawn its endorsement. They will also need to supply evidence of their English language ability. The minimum level of English language has been set at B1 of the Common European Framework of Reference (equivalent to IELTS 4.0 – 5.0).

On completion of five years of continuous residence in the UK under the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent category migrants will be able to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

The new scheme places the main responsibility for assessment of candidates on the Designated Competent Bodies. Associated with this role are duties and obligations placed on those Bodies effectively passing responsibility for the assessment of the entitlement to an immigration status to a body outside the UKBA. The system therefore in part resembles sponsorship under the Tier 2, Tier 4 and the Tier 5 routes, where the burden of immigration control is effectively passed on to employers and other sponsors, with the UKBA remaining in a quasi regulatory and supervisory role, with powers to enforce the rules.

Proposals For Breaking The Link Between “Temporary” And “Permanent” Migration Announced

Migrants coming to the UK to work on “temporary” visas will no longer be able to apply for settlement, under proposals announced by the government today.

Launching a public consultation on reforms to the work routes leading to settlement, Immigration Minister Damian Green set out plans to re-classify visas as either ‘temporary’ or ‘permanent’ and introduce stricter criteria for those who want to stay:

The proposals I am making today are aimed at breaking the link between temporary and permanent migration. Settlement has become almost automatic for those who choose to stay. This needs to change. The immigration system has got to be made to work properly. We want the brightest and best workers to come to the UK, make a strong contribution to our economy while they are here, and then return home.

A small number of exceptional migrants will be able to stay permanently but for the majority, coming here to work will not lead automatically to settlement in the UK

Key proposals under consideration in the 12 week consultation are as follows:

  1. re-branding Tier 2 (the skilled worker route) as “temporary”, ending the assumption that settlement will be available for those who enter on this route;
  2. allowing certain categories of Tier 2 migrant, for example those earning over £150,000 or occupations of a specific economic or social value to theUK, to retain an automatic route to settlement;
  3. creating a new category into which, after three years in the UK, the most exceptional Tier 2 migrants may switch and go on to apply for settlement;
  4. allowing Tier 2 migrants who do not switch into a settlement route to stay for a maximum of five years with the expectation that they and any dependants will leave at the end of that time;
  5. introducing an English language requirement for adult dependants of Tier 2 migrants applying to switch into a route to settlement;
  6. restricting the maximum period of leave for Tier 5 Temporary Workers to 12 months; and
  7. closing or reforming routes for overseas domestic workers.

Section 19 Of The UK Borders Act 2007 Comes Into Force

Section 19 of the UK Borders Act 2007 has today come into force and, as a result, restricts the evidence that an appellant can rely on at a PBS appeal hearing. Any evidence submitted must have been produced at the time when the application was made. Any new evidence submitted at a hearing for the first time will now only be allowed if it is being used to prove, for example, that a document originally submitted was genuine, or if it is in support of grounds unrelated to the scoring of points under the Points-Based System.