Nathan Campbell: New UK immigration rules will impact Northern Ireland businesses

Nathan Campbell: New UK immigration rules will impact Northern Ireland businesses

Nathan Campbell

Nathan Campbell, employment and business immigration associate at Belfast-based Cleaver Fulton Rankin, reflects on recent changes to the Immigration Rules and considers how the amendments could impact businesses in Northern Ireland.

A new statement of changes to the Immigration Rules has been published which includes a number of significant changes to immigration law. At 185 pages, there are a large number of technical changes which will affect future applications. This article examines three of the most significant changes and how they will affect employers.

Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) scheme

Currently EU nationals (and a number of other “non-visa” nationals) do not need to apply for any permission to come to the UK as visitors. This will be changing and applications will need to be made for an ETA. The rules underpinning this have been set out in a new appendix to the Immigration Rules. The scheme will open on 25 October 2023 for Qatari nationals only. This will then be rolled out to other Gulf States and eventually it is planned to cover all non-visa nationals including EU citizens.

Applications will be made online and decisions should come through within three working days. ETAs will last for two years and will be digitally linked to the individual’s passport. Therefore, it will be similar to the ESTA process that visitors to USA will already be aware of. It is not yet known how much this will cost but it has been claimed that it will be comparable to the ESTA which costs $21. It does not apply to Irish nationals or Irish residents who do not otherwise need a visa. This will be of some comfort to border communities in Ireland.

This scheme is set to be fully rolled out by the end of 2024 and is aimed at improving border security. The European Union is set to launch its own digital travel authorisation scheme in 2024 as well, and therefore this will be the end of visa free travel as we know it for many. This will affect businesses who are used to having employees travel between their EU and UK branches for short business trips without any visa being required. It will obviously also have massive implications for the tourism sector in UK and particularly in Northern Ireland due to the land border.

Work visa changes

Salary requirements for visa applications from 12 April 2023 will be updated. The minimum salary for a Skilled Worker Visa will increase from £25,600 to £26,200. The minimum salary for Global Business Mobility Senior and Specialist workers will increase from £42,400 to £45,800.

There are also changes to a number of the “going rates” for various occupation codes and they will now be calculated on the basis of a 37.5-hour week rather than a 39-hour week. Given that inflation is still high and minimum wage rates are due to increase in April, these changes are designed to ensure that the minimum salary requirements for work visas will also increase accordingly.

Employers that pay at or close to the minimum required will need to review the pay and/or working hours of migrants from April to ensure that they will continue to meet the requirements.

Innovator founder route

The Innovator and Start-Up Visa routes are still relatively new, having only been launched in 2019. However, they have been unpopular largely due to their endorsement requirements. Therefore, this new visa route will replace these visa categories with a new route that is designed to encourage migrants that have innovative business ideas to come to UK.

There is no longer a £50,000 minimum funds requirement and rules on secondary employment will be relaxed. However, as there is still the requirement to have your business idea endorsed as “innovative, viable and scalable” by one of the endorsing bodies registered with the Home Office this does not address the fundamental problem. It is therefore unlikely that this visa category will be any more popular than its predecessors.

In summary

The speed at which immigration rules are updated and visa routes are removed or created is difficult to keep up with. Businesses should consider obtaining legal advice on business immigration law to ensure that their needs are met and that they continue to comply with immigration law.

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