Tanya Laidlaw, Partner
Despite the UK house of parliament turmoil in the last few days (resignation of both Prime Minister and Home Secretary), the immigration law is still standing as planned and the recently introduced Global Business Mobility route is up and running.
On 15 March 2022, the Home Office published a Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules (HC1118), which provided further details of several new business immigration routes, including the High Potential Individual (HPI) route, the Scale-up route, and the new Global Business Mobility (GBM) routes. Open to applicants from 1 April, the GBM Visa comprises five routes, namely:
- Senior or Specialist Worker route – for senior managers or specialist employees assigned to a UK business linked to their overseas employer to undertake temporary work assignments. This replaces the Intra-Company Transfer route.
- Graduate Trainee route – for overseas workers on a graduate training course leading to a senior management or specialist position who are undertaking temporary work assignments in the UK as part of their training course. This replaces the Intra-Company Graduate Trainee route.
- UK Expansion Worker route – for senior managers or specialist employees who have been sent to the UK temporarily to expand an overseas-based business into the UK market. In practice, this replaces the provisions for Sole Representatives in the Representative of an Overseas Business route, however, those already granted leave under the old route can continue to apply for extensions and settlement as there is no requirement to switch to the Expansion Worker route.
- Service Supplier route – for overseas workers who are undertaking temporary work to provide services covered by one of the UK’s international trade agreements. This route applies to workers who are contractual service suppliers employed by an overseas service provider or self-employed independent professionals.
- Secondment Worker route – for overseas workers who are undertaking temporary work assignments in the UK, where the worker is being seconded as part of a high-value contract or investment by their overseas employer.
Any business wishing to use one of the GBM routes must be a licenced sponsor and meet the strict, ongoing Home Office compliance requirements.
Will the introduction of the GBM visa route help address the UK skills shortage and thereby assist in boosting the economy? Before answering this question, we need to examine the extent of the skill shortage problem.
The skill shortage challenges facing UK companies
Research shows that over half of UK companies faced challenges regarding skill shortages which resulted in organisations spending £1.2bn on temporary staff in 2020. Overall, the skills gap is costing companies a record £6.6bn a year on increased salaries, temporary staffing, recruitment fees and training. This approach to onboarding talent is expensive and unsustainable.
For companies to grow, a long term, strategic approach to talent management is required. However, adding to the problem are the Institute for Employment Studies estimates that there are 600,000 fewer people in work than before the Coronavirus pandemic, likely due to the loss of migrant workers, older people retiring, and more younger people in further education.
In addition to this increasing labour shortage, there are also growing gaps between new jobs being advertised, and the skills within the current workforce available to do them. Exasperating this issue is that the ‘great resignation’ is predominantly older workers who are departing the workforce with their skills and experience with no plans to return.
One of the key attractions for foreign direct investors (FDI) is the availability of a highly-skilled local workforce. Overseas-based companies looking to expand and/or invest in UK projects need a stable immigration route to send skilled and experienced workers to the country in order to establish a subsidiary or manage a particular venture. And FDI not only creates jobs for British workers (55,319 in 2020), the transfer of skills benefits human capital development.
How the Global Business Mobility routes help international companies looking to invest in the UK
In 2021, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its findings on the Intra-Company Transfer Visa routes. It found that the existing Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer Visa was predominantly used by ten firms and skewed towards males. It identified that international organisations required a more agile way to send skilled workers to the UK for temporary assignments.
Although none of the GBM routes leads directly to Indefinite Leave To Remain, successful applicants can switch to a different visa which provides a path to settlement. Options include:
- Innovator visa (settlement after 3 years)
- Skilled Worker visa (settlement after 5 years)
- Global talent visa (settlement after 3 or 5 years)
- Family visa (settlement after 5 years)
The GBM routes form part of the UK government’s overall objective to simplify business immigration routes. For example, there is now no longer a need for employers to conduct a Residential Labour Market Test when recruiting an overseas worker and there are plans to make the Sponsor Licence application process fully digital by creating a new sponsorship IT system and introducing automated checks against data held by other government departments such as HMRC and Companies House to accelerate the application process.
The UK economy is facing major challenges over the next few years and encouraging FDI will be essential to economic growth and addressing the current skill shortage. The introduction of the GBM visa routes will make it easier and more flexible for internationally-based organisations to send workers to Britain to launch subsidiaries and/or facilitate and manage investment projects.
Please note – this article does not constitute legal advice.