Plans for new UK immigration policy – overview for Scotland’s digital tech sector

ScotlandIS News | 10.01.2019

Plans for new UK immigration policy – overview for Scotland’s digital tech sector

Just before Christmas, the UK Government published its plans for a post-Brexit immigration policy. Since access to international talent is crucial to many of our members, we’ve prepared an overview of the proposed changes and their potential impact.

What are the main changes?

The main change to the immigration rules will be that EU nationals will have to follow the same routes as non-EU nationals to obtain permission to live, study or work in the UK, as freedom of movement will end.
The main route will be Tier 2 visas for skilled individuals. Currently, this route is reserved for people with at least a first degree but the UK Government now proposes to open this up also to individuals with mid-level skills (from Higher and A-level to HNC and HND). There are no current plans specifically for lower skilled workers apart from a work permission system that would allow a maximum stay of 12 months, limited until 2025.

Additionally, a number of changes have been announced (or are being considered) to simplify the Tier 2 visa route, speed up processes and make it more employer friendly.  These are:

  • Abolition of the resident labour market test which currently requires employers to advertise a position for a minimum of 28 days before they can fill it with a non- UK national on a visa

  • Exploration of changes to the sponsorship system, e.g. use of umbrella organisations to act as sponsors, lighter-touch regime for trusted employers or the introduction of a less bureaucratic and cheaper system for employers recruiting only a small number of non-UK nationals,

  • Abolition of the current cap on the number of people that can get a Tier 2 visa per month.

There will continue to be a minimum salary requirement for workers coming to the UK with a Tier 2 visa, this is currently at least £30,000 (lower for graduates, e.g. £24,000 for a graduate software developer). The UK Government will consult with businesses and employers before deciding if this salary threshold will be maintained. The Government is also considering whether equity stakes in the business can be offered to supplement salaries; this is particularly to support startups, recognising that they can struggle to pay the required salary levels.

Specifically for people with digital technologies skills, the UK Governments plans to explore how the current Tier 1 visa route for exceptional digital tech talent can be “supplemented”. A new startup visa route which had previously been announced will launch in spring 2019.

International students studying in the UK will be able to stay for 6 months, after graduating to look for a permanent job or work temporarily.  This will replace the current allowance of 4 months. Whilst a slight improvement, this still falls far short of the post study work route abolished in 2012, which allowed graduates to stay for two years and whose re-introduction ScotlandIS has repeatedly called for. International students graduating from UK universities are an important source of talent for our members.

Since freedom of movement will end for EU nationals coming to the UK and vice versa, restrictions for tourism and business travel between the UK and the EU are to be expected. The UK Government announced that EU nationals will not need to obtain a visa in advance of travel and tourists will be allowed to stay for 6 months without a visa. However, all of this is dependent on whether the EU offers the same conditions for UK nationals travelling to EU countries and is still subject to negotiation. Business travellers will be able, as now, to carry out a wide range of business activities and an extension of this list is being considered. A list of the currently permitted activities is available here (see Visitors Appendix 3).

When will these changes come into force?

The new immigration system described above will be introduced from 1 January 2021. If a Brexit deal is signed, the freedom of movement currently in place will continue to apply for EU and UK nationals until the end of 2020.

In the case of a “no deal” situation, the UK Government has confirmed that EU nationals will be able to stay and the EU Settlement Scheme will also be rolled out. However, it remains unclear which immigration rules will apply to EU nationals moving to the UK after 29 March 2019.

What is the potential impact for our industry?

The UK Government estimates that the proposed changes to the immigration rules could result in an 80% reduction in workers from the EU and EEA moving to the UK on a long-term basis. This is mostly likely to affect lower skilled workers given that the only route for them to work in the UK from 2021 will be a temporary short-term work permission system. However, the number of EU nationals educated to degree level is also very likely to fall, as visa requirements increase the hurdles for immigration. This will make recruitment for digital technologies businesses in Scotland more difficult as EU nationals are an important source of talent for our industry.

What next?

Please let us know what you think about the proposed immigration system and how it would affect your business. This will help us represent the interests of Scotland’s digital technologies industry to the UK Government. It would be particularly interesting to know:
a) your views on the minimum annual salary requirement of £30,000 for Tier 2 visa and

b) what kind of activities you or your employees need to be able to carry out when travelling to the EU. Does the current list provide sufficient scope (see Visitors Appendix 3)?

Please get in touch with our Research and Policy Manager, Svea Miesch, at with your feedback and any questions.

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