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The Post-Brexit Immigration System - What Do Pharma Businesses Need To Do?

on Tuesday, 05 May 2020.

The Government has reminded employers of the need to prepare for proposed changes to the immigration system - to be introduced in autumn 2020.

While the majority of the Government appears to be, quite rightly, focussing on responding to the coronavirus pandemic, parts of the Government are still quietly preparing for that other issue which has dominated much of our lives recently - Brexit.

Further to the Government's policy statement in February 2020 on the proposed 'new' points-based immigration system (which we previously reported on), the Home Office has now published an introductory guide to the new system for employers.

While the new guide does not contain any new announcements, it is a timely reminder for pharma businesses of several key points regarding the proposed new immigration system:

  • From 1 January 2021 EU nationals will need to apply in advance for permission to come to the UK for any purpose other than visiting.
  • Employer sponsorship of skilled workers (similar to the current Tier 2 arrangements) will continue to be the main route for workers coming to the UK.
  • There will be no immigration route specifically for so-called lower-skilled workers.

The guidance also confirms that, unlike migrants from outside the EU, EU nationals will be granted digital status. EU nationals will therefore be required to prove their status via an online checking service, rather than using a biometric residence permit or an endorsement in their passport. This allows for the fact that there will be some EU nationals who already reside in the UK and are therefore eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme, who have until 30 June 2021 to submit their applications. Employers can continue to accept EU passports and national identity cards as evidence of an EU national's right to work up until 30 June 2021.

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Requirements for Sponsored Workers

Migrants looking to work in the UK under the sponsored worker category will need to show that:

  • they have a job offer from a Home Office approved sponsor
  • the job offer is at the required skill level – RQF 3 or above (A Level and equivalent)
  • they can speak English
  • they will earn at least £25,600. If they will be earning less than that, but no less than £20,480, they may still be eligible if they have a job offer in a shortage occupation or a PhD relevant to the job

Pharma businesses are already able to sponsor researchers, chemists, pharmacists under the current Tier 2 immigration categories, and those roles generally meeting the current minimum skill level requirement of RQF 6. The proposed new system will lower that minimum skill level requirement though, meaning that other roles within pharma businesses will be opened up to sponsorship. These are likely to include roles such as laboratory technicians, pharmaceutical technicians (where working at NHS Band 4 or equivalent) and quality assurance technicians.

Additionally, some roles outside of the production and R&D functions may also be available for sponsorship, such as logistics managers and - roles that are likely to become even more important following the end of the Brexit transitional period - import agents and export controllers.

Updated Guidance for Sponsors

In addition to the new promotional material, the Home Office has updated the guidance for Sponsors of Tier 2 and Tier 5 migrants. The updated guidance includes a new annex encouraging employers who are not currently Tier 2 sponsors to apply now if they intend to sponsor skilled migrants - including those from the EU - from early 2021. The new annex summarises the main requirements for sponsorship under the new immigration system, including the requirement that employer sponsors will need to demonstrate that they are able to offer genuine employment skilled to RQF level 3 or above. However, there is a warning that the list of roles which are currently considered to be RQF level 3 and above may change before the new system goes live.

Other Immigration Options for Workers in the Pharma and Life Sciences Sector

Pharma sector employers may already be able to rely on alternative immigration routes for some chemists and other scientists. In particular, the Global Talent category (previously known as Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) allows "the most highly skilled… to enter the UK without a job offer if they are endorsed by the relevant competent body." Most chemists and other scientists would need to apply to the Royal Society for an endorsement which, if received, would permit the applicant to apply for a visa that allows them to work in the UK without any restrictions or any need for sponsorship.

The Government is also planning to introduce an additional unsponsored immigration category for "a small number of the most highly skilled workers". The requirements for such a category - which is likely to be introduced sometime after the changes referred to above - have not yet been finalised, but the new category is expected to award points for criteria such as qualifications, age and work experience.

What Steps Should Pharma Businesses Be Taking Now?

The majority of the proposed changes to the immigration system will be introduced in autumn 2020 to allow applications to be made using the new rules by those who wish to work in the UK from 1 January 2021.

Therefore, employers who are not currently sponsors, but believe they may need to sponsor skilled workers under the new system, are encouraged to apply for a sponsor licence as early as possible. Please contact us for more details if you would like assistance with an application to register as a sponsor.

If you require specialist legal advice in relation to the post-Brexit immigration system, please contact Tom Brett Young in our Immigration team on 07393 148352, or complete the form below.

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