In our previous updates regarding the United Kingdom, we discussed the increased scrutiny on immigration compliance currently taking place in the country and the potential impact on employers and individuals working in the United Kingdom.  The United Kingdom has implemented significant changes to immigration laws and regulations, which have already gone into effect or will be implemented throughout the next year.  Although there have been a few provisions that might facilitate travel to the United Kingdom, the government’s ultimate goal is to decrease immigration to the country.  Employers and employees should be aware of some of the major changes and trends, and the impact it could have on employment practices in the United Kingdom:

Increased assessments to be implemented for Tier 2 visa applications.  Starting November 2014, the United Kingdom government will implement an additional preliminary step to assess the availability of genuine employment vacancies with sponsoring United Kingdom companies.  The new assessment will apply to instances where the government has reason to call certain aspects of the employment sponsorship – such as the availability of the job or the foreign national’s qualifications for the position – into question.  Employers are now also limited in their ability to take cost saving measures such as reducing work hours or salaries below certain limits for sponsored employees.  Despite these changes, sponsorship trends in the Tier 2  (General) visas category show an increase in the number of sponsorships being sought by employers.  As a result, there is a real possibility that the monthly numerical limit for Tier 2 visas may be reached in the coming months, which will require employers to re-apply when numbers are available in subsequent months.  This limitation may be a further source of delays for employers in the United Kingdom seeking to employ foreign nationals.

“Right to Rent” checks.  Beginning December 2014, residential landlords in certain boroughs will be required to check the documents of prospective tenants to confirm they are legally present in the United Kingdom.  Fines for violating this requirement have also increased.  Foreign national employees residing in the United Kingdom should be prepared to present appropriate documentation in order to be compliant with the new provision.

Simplified visitor visa rules for 2015.  Currently, there are fifteen visa options for individuals seeking to enter the United Kingdom as visitors.  UK Visas and Immigration is considering options to reduce that number to four in order to provide more flexible options to travelers.  Specifically, the proposed changes would make it easier for travelers to participate in more permitted activities using one type of visa rather than being required to obtain separate visas to cover different sets of activities.

UK-Ireland visa scheme implemented.  As of late October, Indian and Chinese nationals will no longer be required to obtain separate short-stay visas for the United Kingdom and Ireland for business and tourism travel if they hold certain types of short-stay visas from either country.  Eligible individuals will be permitted to travel within the Ireland-United Kingdom Common Travel Area throughout the validity period of their visas.  The program will likely expand to apply to other nationalities over time.

Elimination of Tier 1 (General) visa category.    The Tier 1 (General) visa category will be eliminated in April 2015.  This visa category was offered to highly skilled foreign nationals as an option to move to the United Kingdom and work for any employer.  The government stopped accepting new applicants in 2011 but continued to allow existing visa holders to apply for renewals.  Starting April 2015, the category will cease to exist.  Foreign nationals currently holding this status and employers of foreign nationals working using their Tier 1 (General) status will need to consider alternative options to maintain work authorization in the United Kingdom after this date.