Update: Changes to the Tier 1 (General) Scheme

As per our previous memo relating to the “tightening up” of the Tier 1 (General) scheme for highly skilled migrants, we are now able to pass on some more information we have just gained from the UK Border Agency.

The Border Agency have now confirmed that individuals who currently hold HSMP visas will not be affected by the rule change that will be coming into force at the end of March. The following is a direct quote from the guidance that was passed around the Border Agency enquiry line call centre yesterday and shared with us by a senior member of management:

“…a person applying in country for Tier 1 (General) from HSMP will be deemed to be extending their leave to remain under Tier 1 (General), and not switching. These persons will be able to switch from HSMP to Tier 1 (General) without being affected by the rules change as announced by the Home Secretary.”

If we ignore the contradiction within that section of wording it does seem clear that existing HSMP holders will not be affected by the new changes. This is a direct contradiction of the information being given by Border Agency between the announcement on 22/02/09 and 04/03/09. During this period Public Enquiry Office staff members were consistently informing callers that the new changes would definitely affect HSMP holders.

We have become aware of this change of position on 4th March, and so far we have only been given this information by telephone. We are seeking written confirmation as soon as possible. As yet no official guidance has been released and the Border Agency have failed to respond to requests for clarification in writing.

This new information is clearly very good news for HSMP holders. If a person holding HSMP status would qualify for an extension now, then they should also qualify for one after the rule changes have been implemented. Based on this most recent clarification, providing absences from the UK have not been excessive, they should, after all, still only need to make only one extension application (near the expiry date of their current visa), before being eligible (after a total of 5 years) for Indefinite Leave to Remain.

However, the rule changes will still affect individuals intending to make initial applications under Tier 1 (General). If any individual will cease to be eligible after the changes, we would urge them to proceed in making their application as soon as possible.

While liaising with the UK Border Agency, we have also received clarification on some of the following questions:

  • Will the overall minimum required points score be increased or decreased?

-The Border Agency has confirmed to us that the threshold will stay at 75 points.

  • Will a person under 28 with a non-UK Masters degree and earnings at the 20k level, (but without 5 points for UK earnings or education) now score enough points to qualify?

-The Border Agency has confirmed that a person in the above scenario would not score enough points (which is also the case now). In order to qualify, an individual in that situation would need to ‘make up’ an additional five points (probably through higher earnings) in order to qualify.

  • Are earnings levels of £20k completely mandatory? (A person holding a PhD under the age of 28 will currently not require any points under the earnings category)

-The Border Agency has confirmed that the £20k requirement is not completely mandatory. Where an individual meets the points threshold without relying on earnings, they will not need to have earned £20k in the last twelve months.

In line with the questions that have been clarified above it has been indicated that points will be awarded for each of the four main scoring areas according to the same scale that is currently in place.

We are now seeking written confirmation and clarification on these and a number of additional queries, to gain maximum clarity as quickly as possible. When we gain more information on the changes, we will pass this on.