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New Immigration Reforms - What Do Pharma Businesses Need to Know?

on Friday, 17 January 2020.

In the Queen's Speech following the recent general election, new government plans were set out for the coming year. Among other crucial topics such as Brexit, immigration reform featured prominently in the speech.

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill

A bill dealing with immigration and social security issues arising from Brexit will be put before Parliament, including the end of EU free movement laws in UK laws, and introducing new immigration laws for EU nationals from 2021 onwards, to bring these in line with existing laws for non-EU nationals.

The Bill will also enshrine in law the status of Irish citizens so that they are still able to live and work in the UK as they can now, as well as including measures to ensure that European citizens who are already resident in the UK have the right to remain here.

Other Planned Changes to the Immigration System

A new Australian-style points-based immigration system is planned to be in effect from 2021 (presumably to replace the existing Points-Based System).

The new system - we are told - will be based on skills and contributions to the UK, so that the UK can attract the "brightest and best" people from around the world. The new system will allocate points on a range of criteria in three broad categories, similar to those currently in use by the UK.

  • Exceptional Talent/Contribution
    This category appears very similar to the existing 'Tier 1' immigration categories (Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) and Tier 1 (Investor) plus the Innovator and Start-Up schemes which replaced Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) and Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) last year. The revised category is described as for migrants who have received world-leading awards or otherwise demonstrated exceptional talent, along with investors and sponsored entrepreneurs setting up a new business.

    The government intend to use this category to attract more top scientists, presumably through a reformed Exceptional Talent scheme. Within that scheme, the government plans to double the number of eligible fellowships which can offer accelerated endorsement for visas for scientists who want to conduct research in the UK (from 62 currently to "more than 120"). Pharma businesses which obtain grant funding for their research may therefore benefit from these reforms where a foreign-national scientist has been engaged to obtain this funding.

  • Skilled Workers
    This category will be for workers who meet the criteria of the points-based system and have a job offer, so sounds incredibly similar to the existing Tier 2 schemes. Employer sponsorship of skilled workers from overseas seems set to continue, albeit in far greater numbers given that from 2021 onwards it will be used to sponsor EEA nationals as well. It is within this category that the government plans to introduce a new fast-track 'NHS Visa'.

  • Sector-Specific Workers
    This final category will include schemes for low-skilled work, youth mobility and short-term visits and appears to be very similar to the existing Tier 5 categories. These categories will provide no route to permanent settlement and will be revised on an ongoing basis.

    The new immigration system seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to the existing one. Nevertheless, there will no doubt be some changes, so pharma businesses will need to pay close attention to any future announcements to ensure a minimal impact on the workforce.

For specialist immigration law advice, please contact Tom Brett Young in our Immigration Law team on 0121 227 3759, or complete the form below.

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