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13 November 2020

Brexit and UK immigration: new statement of changes to immigration rules

On 22 October 2020 the government published its much anticipated statement of changes to the new immigration rules. The new statement of changes sets out the basis of the new Points Based Immigration System, the biggest change to our immigration system in at least a generation. Most EU citizens arriving in the UK from 1 January 2021 will be applying under the new system, but the changes will also apply to non-EU nationals from 1 December 2020.

We have highlighted the main changes to what will be known as the Skilled Worker route, such as the abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test and lower skill and salary thresholds in previous articles. However, the Statement of Changes also includes a number of changes that cut across various immigration categories and, mostly, signal a more practical approach to administering the immigration system. In this note we highlight the most important ones.

English language

Applicants will now need to supply evidence of English language skills only once, instead of the arduous current requirement of continually having to provide such evidence in consecutive applications.

In addition, Malta and Ireland are being added to the list of majority English speaking countries. This means that degrees from these countries will be categorised as being taught in English. However, a NARIC assessment will still be required to validate that these are equivalent to a UK degree.

Students, skilled workers, start-up and innovator visa holders who do not hold a degree taught in English and haven’t passed an approved language test can now meet the English language skills requirement if they have attended a school in the UK and achieved a GCSE, A-level or Scottish Higher in English language or literature.

Finance and maintenance requirements

Many of the financial requirements of the immigration rules have been updated. Unfortunately, many will be disappointed to hear that the minimum income threshold for spouses remains the same.

The main changes are as follows:

  • there is good news for those who have already been in the UK for 12 months on any of the following visas: student; skilled worker; ICT worker; minister of religion; sportsperson; temporary worker; start-up or innovator. If that’s the case, then evidence of maintenance will no longer need to be supplied in subsequent applications. There is also a slight relaxation in the rules so that, provided that funds can be accessed instantly, applicants will be able to rely on funds held in a wider range of account types and not just on cash or cash savings;
  • the new rules set a higher maintenance requirement (from £945 to £1,270) for the visa types listed in the previous bullet point, as well as seasonal workers, religious workers, charity workers, creative and sporting workers, international agreement workers and government authorised exchange workers. However, applicants will only need to show that they have held funds for 28 days, compared to the existing 90-day period;
  • the maintenance requirement for dependent partners is dropping from £630 to £285, although the requirement is £315 for a first child dependent, dropping to £200 for any further dependent children;
  • another relaxation of the rules is the acceptance, at last, of electronic bank statements. Applicants have long struggled with the requirement to either produce originals or copies stamped by a bank, so this is a really positive and long-overdue development and is in line with the general trend towards the acceptance by the Home Office of electronic documents in support of applications; and
  • Youth Mobility applicants will see their maintenance requirement increased from £1,890 to £2,530, albeit the period they are required to show they have held the funds also drops to 28 days.

Continuous residence and COVID-19 concessions

A new Appendix Continuous Residence is being introduced. This will significantly relax the switching rules that have so often led to pointless journeys outside the UK to come back in under a different visa category. Many requirements remain the same, such as continuity of residence being broken by absences of more than 180 days in any one year, albeit there is now also specific reference to absences due to a ‘pandemic’ being an exception to that rule.

As part of the government’s COVID-19 concession response, the new rules permit caseworkers to disregard any overstaying between 24 January 2020 and 31 August 2020 for those who remained in the UK without valid leave due to the current pandemic. This will provide much needed assurance to many who have found themselves caught in this predicament.

Rather frustratingly, the new statement of changes fails to address one of the grey areas: no statutory protection is provided for migrant workers with ‘exceptional assurance’ status because they have needed to remain in the UK from 1 September 2020 onwards.

New BNO visa

The much-publicised new immigration route for British National (Overseas) passport holders is also set out in the new immigration rules. There are two routes:

  • BN(O) Status Holders: for BN(O) citizens ordinarily resident in Hong Kong or the UK and their dependent family members; and
  • BN(O) Household Member: for adult children (born on or after 1 July 1997) of BN(O) citizens, and their dependent family members, provided they form part of the same household as the BN(O) citizen.

For further information please contact our immigration team.

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