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Spring budget migration announcements


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Yesterday’s Spring Budget 2023 announced upcoming changes to the business visitor visa requirements and the addition of construction workers to the Shortage Occupation List. Additional language support for Ukraine Visa Scheme holders was also announced. 

Business visitor visa

The changes expected in autumn 2023 will include expanding the range of short-term business activities that can be carried out for periods of up to six months, as well as a review of permitted paid engagements. A wider range of activities linked to negotiations with trade partners will also be considered by the government in the coming months.

The changes will also apply to non-visa national business visitors, such as those from the EU or America.

Construction workers

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) review of the shortage occupation list will conclude later this year. An interim report on the construction and hospitality sector was published yesterday.  

The construction and hospitality sectors account for 6% and 7% of all workforce jobs respectively. Currently, 30% of all jobs in construction are also self-employed. Self-employed workers are not eligible for the Skilled Worker visa route.

Five construction occupations be added to the shortage occupation list sometime before the summer parliamentary recess, which will allow sponsoring companies to pay workers in the roles 20% less than the mandatory minimum salary for sponsorship; £20,960 rather than £26,200. The roles are:

  • Bricklayers and masons
  • Roofers, roof tilers and slaters
  • Carpenters and joiners
  • Plasters and dryliners; and
  • Construction and building trades not elsewhere classified.

But aside from a slightly lower application fee of £479, rather than £625 (or £719 if you are extending your visa from inside the UK), there is little additional benefit. Employers will still be subject to the Immigration Skills Charge (up to £1,000 per year). And there is no exemption from the English language requirement, which for many people is the real barrier to the visa, not the costs or salary.

Ukraine Visa Scheme employment support

There was also an announcement of an extension of the support provided to Ukrainians who arrived in the UK under the Ukraine Visa Schemes. £11.5 million will be provided for intensive English language courses and employment support for up to 10,000 people.

The government say that “this new funding is expected to boost the number of Ukrainians entering the labour market for the first time, as well as helping those already employed into higher-skilled roles”. With past reputation in mind, it is unclear whether government departments are working together to effectively provide long-term support for Ukrainian nationals, with ongoing visa scheme support being announced in the future, or whether this is a short-term goal ahead of an election year.

Given that Ukraine scheme visas last a maximum of three years and the government line is that they will have to leave the country at the end of that period, many are only likely to be able to access fairly low-skill roles involving relatively short term employment. Employers are unlikely to invest in staff they know they are going to lose in the fairly near future. Whether the government really will enforce departure at the end of the three years remains to be seen. Some further clarification now would be useful both to Ukrainians and to employers.

Home Office budget cuts

Meanwhile, the Home Office budget is being cut from £16.9b in 2022-23 to £15.4b in 2023-24. The Home Office is responsible for a lot of stuff other than immigration and we do not know where the cuts might fall.

On the face of it, the Illegal Migration Bill looks very expensive. It would seem to require considerable sums to enforce removals to Rwanda through building detention facilities in the UK and making large payments to the Rwandan government. Or, if removals do not take place, it would require ongoing support for those refugees who arrive anyway but will never be granted status. But those support costs may never materialise because future arrivals will probably disappear into the community rather than remain living forever in limbo but at some remote risk of removal to Rwanda. And as the existing backlog gradually reduces, that will presumably save the Home Office some money in hotel bills.

Some cost cutting seems likely in the sphere of immigration, though, which would require the Home Office to be doing less of something. Or would require further revenue-raising. Like higher visa fees, for example.

As with all government announcements of this kind, we will have to wait and see how they work in practice, and whether their implementation will be useful to those utilising these visa routes.

We will have to wait until at least the end of 2023 to see whether the number of construction workers choosing to apply for Skilled Worker visa’s increases with the addition of these roles to the Shortage Occupation List, though with the English language requirement still in place, it is likely that many will still find they cannot enter the trade as a sponsored worker.

The changes to the business visitor visa parameters might be more immediately welcomed, as more people are having to battle with the visitor visa work limitations post-Brexit. The visitor visa rules remain up to broad interpretation for now, and we await to see how these will be amended in the autumn statement of changes to the immigration rules.

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