Overcoming Covid-19 – recent immigration changes

Bhavneeta Limbachia, Senior associate in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, immigration law team.
Bhavneeta Limbachia
4 min Read

The Government has implemented or is intending to implement a number of recent immigration changes in the near future. Some are relevant to employers and some relevant to individuals.

A summary of the recent changes are below (other key changes not listed below will be covered under a separate briefing):

Financial requirement for spouse visas

There are many who have been severely disadvantaged by Covid-19, especially financially. In the midst of rising redundancies and workers being furloughed, it can be extremely difficult to prove an applicant has sufficient funds to meet the £18,600 minimum income requirement to join a spouse in the UK. 

In recognition of this issue, the Home Office has confirmed in their guidance that any income which was received through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or the Coronavirus Self-Employment Income Support Scheme can count as income from employment or self-employment.

In light of Covid-19 the Government has provided a number of concessions that can be relied on if there has been a temporary loss of income during this period:

  • those that have experienced a loss of income due to Coronavirus from 1 March 2020 up to 31 August 2020, will be able to rely on income they had received prior to this period, provided the requirement was met for at least six months up to March 2020
  • further to this, for those who have been furloughed, the Home Office will consider your income to be 100% of your salary
  • in the event you are self-employed, then similarly the employment between 1 March 2020 and 31 August 2020 will be disregarded, as well as the impact of employment income from the same period for future applications.
  • where there is difficulty in accessing specific evidence directly as a result of Covid-19 restrictions then evidential flexibility will be applied

Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS)

The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) is a fee levied on most visa applications in the UK. It allows migrants to be able to access the NHS while living in the UK. The IHS will be increasing from £400 to £624 annually. This increase becomes effective from 27 October 2020. There will be a reduced rate for students, dependants of students and Youth Mobility visa holders, and anyone under the age of 18 who will pay £470 (currently £300). For example a migrant coming to the UK on a five year visa, after the 27 October 2020, would be required to pay £3,120, in addition to their visa fee.

Further to this, those who are applying for the Health and Care Visa are exempt from paying the IHS. For those migrants who are currently working in the Health and Care Industry and have paid the IHS, they will be able to claim back for every six months from March 2020.

Expansion of the Shortage Occupation List (SOL)

The Shortage Occupation List has been a key feature of the current Tier 2 route. The SOL provides a list of job occupations and roles where there is a shortage of suitable settled workers from within the UK and therefore in need of skilled migrant workers to fill such roles.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), in their recent review, has recommended 70 new jobs to be added to the SOL in anticipation of the new Skilled Workers route. New job roles, especially those in social care, have been added. These include veterinary nurses, senior care workers and electricians/electrical fitters. A complete list of the recommendations can be viewed in their recent publication

Under the new Skilled Workers route some points will be tradeable. An applicant under this route will be able to score 20 points if a job role is on the SOL; this reduces the minimum salary threshold to £20,480. In comparison, the minimum salary level requirement to sponsor an overseas worker not on the SOL will be £25,600. This is significant as it essentially means that a job can be offered to a migrant with a salary 20% lower than the standard salary rate.

Tier 2 cooling off period and switching in-country

It has long been known that most Tier 2 migrants, whose leave has expired, return to their country of origin and are subject to a 12 month cooling-off period before they can re-apply to come back to the UK. In addition, a Tier 2 (ICT) migrant who wishes to switch into the Tier 2 (General) category is, in most instances, unable to switch in-country. Similarly, such a migrant would usually have to return to their country of origin and be subject to a 12 month cooling-off period before they can apply to switch. Please note there are exceptions to the above.

Fortunately, it has been proposed that Tier 2 (ICT) migrants will be able to switch into the Skilled Workers category from within the UK from 2021. The cooling off period under the Skilled Workers route will also be removed.

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