March is normally a big month for planning in the immigration law sector. Ordinarily the Home Office introduces new laws on the 16th, ready for them to take effect on 6 April. Between now and then the trick is to know what is happening and to help the companies we work with to recalibrate their internal policies and procedures.
This time around March is different.
Last summer the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) embarked on a fundamental review of Tier 2 visa policy. The Home Secretary had asked her independent advisers to look at whether and how Tier 2 could be reshaped to reduce numbers and prevent the undercutting of local workers.
The MAC completed their report a little before Christmas, publishing it in January.
Ordinarily we would have expected a government announcement by now, a statement of intent setting out which of the MAC’s recommendations would be accepted. This time around we have not heard anything.
Why not? Any major change to UK immigration law needs to be agreed by most government departments, through the Prime Minister’s Taskforce. The PM spent most of the year on a whirlwind tour of Europe, renegotiating the UK’s relationship with Europe in the hope of preventing Brexit, a British exit from the EU.
My guess is that he hasn’t had time to take a view on the MAC’s recommendations, let alone convene his Taskforce. Frankly I doubt that Cabinet divisions over Brexit can only make things harder.
So, if we don’t know what is changing, what should HR and global mobility experts be doing in terms of immigration? My three priorities would be:
A policy announcement has to be coming soon. Ministers will want to make an announcement on immigration before the EU referendum campaign is in full swing and everything else becomes white noise.
The Home Office normally accepts most of the recommendations put forward by the MAC and I see no reason that will not change here. That is not to say the law will change on 6 April, as normal, as there may not be time for that.
It still makes sense to be ready for the changes when they happen. How many of your prospective assignees have less than two years company experience and could you feasibly bring them in sooner than you had planned? Who in your business pays immigration costs and do they need to know that salaries could increase and the new charges could apply?
There will be other questions too and the sooner you know what they are the better.
Many of the businesses I work with are asking what Brexit could mean for immigration policy. We can only speculate at this stage, of course, but companies are right to question whether their existing EU employees will need to leave and if they would be prevented from recruiting any new EU nationals. There will be many other questions too.
As a starting point I would assume that EU nationals already here will not be expected to leave. Even UKIP, the political party pressing for Brexit, have ruled that out. Whether you could still recruit workers from outside the EU is up for grabs. I assume that free movement will end and there will probably be some sort of work permit regime. It remains to be seen what sort of jobs that regime would cater for.
It is easy to focus on new policies at the expense of more routine matters.
Sponsors have until 5 April to request the Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) allocations for the 2016/17 year. The requests should be submitted as soon as possible or you risk having none on 6 April.
You should also be ready for licence renewals. Many sponsors were awarded their licence in November 2008 for four years, renewing for another four years in November 2012. This November they will need to renew the licence again.
The act of renewing a licence is a fairly administrative task that can be completed quite quickly. The key is to make sure that everything is in order before the renewal application goes in. The Home Office will be auditing a proportion of sponsors before the licence renewal process begins. If you are not confident that everything is up to scratch then bringing in an immigration expert to look at your systems might make sense.
By Ian Robinson, Fragomen
Find out more at http://www.fragomen.com