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New Plan for Immigration 2: Electronic Boogaloo


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The Home Office published a New Plan for Immigration “strategy statement” earlier today. It is mostly about legal immigration and economic migrants, as opposed to the New Plan for Immigration document published in March that focused on illegal immigration and asylum seekers. Home Secretary Priti Patel marked its publication with a speech which you can read here, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The statement is 38 pages long, but with plenty of padding: the “key deliverables for 2021-22” take up about 10 pages, mostly stuff that has previously been announced. There are some nuggets of new information, including — inevitably — more meddling with business visas.

We are also treated to the department’s “vision for the border and immigration system beyond 2022”, which is basically to digitise everything that moves.

Electronic Travel Authorisation

What we might call New Plan for Immigration 2 includes the renewed promise of electronic pre-clearance for people travelling to the UK without a visa, which was heavily trailed in the press over the weekend. This would be similar to the ESTA scheme for the United States and the ETIAS scheme planned by the European Union:

Visitors and transit passengers who do not currently need a visa for short stays, or who do not already have an immigration status prior to travelling, will be required to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation as an additional security measure.

The idea is that everyone coming to the UK will need permission to travel in one form or another — whether a full-on visa or an Electronic Travel Authorisation — except for British and Irish citizens. ETAs will reportedly cost £9 but will not be in place for a few years yet: “by the end of 2024” is the target. Given that ETAs were announced last February and again last July, we can probably expect them to be reannounced every few months up to 2025 (or whenever they are actually in place).

Digitising the border and residence permits

There is a lot of chatter about other digital wheezes, both at the border and in-country. A Border Crossing, or BX, computer system “has been successfully piloted and is being rolled out nationally”. (We pause here to note that, according to Policy Exchange, this system was “due to be fully operational in 2019”.) E-visas will replace physical vignettes in passports, some day. Those interested in the medium-term digitisation of the border can read all about it in the 2025 UK Border Strategy published last December.

A more concrete commitment is:

By summer 2021, all Border Force staff will have the ability, if required, to check whether an individual has applied for, or been granted status under the [EU Settlement Scheme], should they need to do so.

Border guards being able to ask their computer whether an EU citizen seeking entry has pre-settled or settled status would be welcome, given the problems that such people are already experiencing at the border for lack of a physical residence permit. “Summer” in Whitehall-speak means any time between now and November, though.

At present, non-EU residents do get physical proof of status in the form of a Biometric Residence Permit. But not for long: the strategy tells us that the Home Office is “moving away from providing physical documents” altogether, with a “fully digital system” in place by the end of 2024. So it is not just visitors that will be given e-visas: long-term residents will be going digital too. 

Points based system

Business visas

The strategy says that “we will continue to simplify our Immigration Rules and make them as user-friendly and accessible as possible”. As practitioners will know, simplification involves the criteria for each visa route being rewritten and put into a standalone appendix to the Immigration Rules. This revision process has the additional advantage, from the Home Office point of view, that each revised route can be reannounced as a brand new visa. Hence we are to get a sexy cutting-edge “International Sportsperson” route later in 2021, as opposed to the boring old Sportsperson and Temporary Sporting routes.

Similarly, there are plans for a “Global Business Mobility” route, mashing together several existing routes: intra-company transfer, representative of an overseas business, contractual service supplier and independent professional. It would also cater for “import and export-related secondments”.

One thing that would be an advance on what we have already is the unsponsored work route promised last year, but to no timetable. We are now told that this will open in “Spring 2022”, with

a particular emphasis placed on the very high skilled and academically elite. Within this route we will create a ‘scale up’ stream that will allow those with a job offer at the required skills level from a recognised UK scale-up to qualify for a fast-track visa, without the need for sponsorship.

A “scale-up” being the evolved form of a “start-up” business.

There is nothing at all on the unreformed Investor route, fuelling our suspicion that it may ultimately be for the chop.


There are various improvements to the sponsorship experience for employers in the works. These include “expanding the use of our secure ChipChecker service” and “introducing automated checks with HMRC and Companies House to identify sponsors and users that can have fast track approval”. HMRC will also provide payroll data so that the Home Office can check that people are being paid the right salary, introducing an exciting new way to flunk sponsor compliance.

For student visa sponsors, there may in future be “separate immigration routes for higher education and further education”. More on sponsorship changes is promised in a “roadmap” due this summer (caveat as above).

Family immigration and settlement

There is a brief mention of plans to upend family migration:

We know that there are several family routes and many paths to settlement and navigating these can be confusing.

You can say that again. The document says that the “Family, Private Life, Settlement and Returning Residents routes” will all be simplified, as will application forms and decision notices. Also “more consistent evidence requirements so that applicants are clear what they need to demonstrate and how”. There’s a first time for everything.

All measures planned in 2021 and 2022

This is taken verbatim from the strategy document — table 2 on page 23 — except for our brief comments in square brackets.

GraduateA new Graduate route to be launched in summer 2021, providing international students with the opportunity to stay in the UK to work or look for work after they graduate. Undergraduate and master’s degree students will be able to stay for two years under the route, whilst PhD students will be able to stay for three years. [The rules for this have already been published.]
Global TalentIntroducing a new pathway for individuals with highly prestigious awards or prizes. This will remove the requirement, for holders of specified awards and prizes, to have the approval of a Home Office endorsing body. [This has already launched.]
UnsponsoredIntroducing a new, unsponsored points-based route with a particular emphasis placed on those with the skills the UK labour market needs.
Creating a new International Sportsperson route that replaces the current T2 Sportsperson route and the sporting worker aspects of the T5 Creative or Sporting Worker route.
Providing a fully digital process with the ChipChecker facility for EEA nationals for the remainder of the temporary work (previously T5 (Temporary work)) routes. This will include dedicated Temporary Worker routes for creative workers, religious workers, and a range of Government Authorised Exchange schemes

Creating a single, sponsored Global Business Mobility route that will bring together, reform and expand a number of existing routes including:

– Provisions for intra-company transferees;
– Arrangements for implementing UK trade commitments in respect of contractual service suppliers and independent professionals;
– Arrangements for employees of an overseas business assigned to the UK to establish a branch or subsidiary;
– Provisions to accommodate import and export related

SimplificationSimplifying and consolidating the rules and making questions on forms easier to answer, with more flexibility around the required evidence on the Graduate, International Sportsperson, family, private life, settlement and returning residents routes.

Redesigning the sponsorship system to speed up end-to-end processing, improve sponsors’ experience and prevent abuse of the system.

Providing additional support to SMEs as they adjust to using the sponsorship system.

Rolling out new technology at the border, which improves the quality and timeliness of information available at the primary control points (PCP) for Border Force officers.
Electronic Travel AuthorisationLaying the groundwork for introducing an Electronic Travel Travel Authorisation scheme as part of a wider universal ‘permission to Authorisation travel’ requirement which will mean everyone wishing to travel to the UK (except British and Irish citizens) will need to seek permission in advance of travel.
Ending ID
cards for EU,
EEA and
EU, other EEA and Swiss citizens who were not residing in the UK prior to the end of the transition period or who are not covered by the terms of the Citizens’ Rights Agreements will require a passport to travel to the UK from 1 October 2021.
Applying UK

Applying mandatory grounds for refusal on grounds of criminality to serious and persistent criminals whose presence is not conducive to the public good, to ensure the UK is protected from those who pose the greatest threat to society.

Refusing entry to anyone seeking to enter as a visitor or coming to the UK for less than 6 months if they have received a custodial sentence of less than 12 months or a non-custodial sentence or out-of-court disposal such as community service, unless a period of at least 12 months has passed.

status service

Allowing individuals to view their immigration status and to prove their status to others, such as landlords and employers. By summer 2021, we plan to have delivered an enhanced support offer for those who are reliant on this service (in the main EEA nationals and BN(O)s), including for those who are less digitally able.

Building on the success of the EUSS, we are putting in place system to system services that will allow other Government departments and public bodies to check immigration status information direct with the Home Office, instead of the individual having to prove these rights via the online service when accessing public services

Providing a “grace period” until 30 June 2021, the deadline by which EU citizens who arrived in the UK by 11 pm on 31 December 2020 may apply to the EU Settlement Scheme.


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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.