Immigration Updates: Possible Brexit Delay, Changes to UK Immigration Rules

March 18, 2019

With the current UK withdrawal agreement voted down again, a possible Brexit extension is on the horizon. In addition, the UK Home Office has updated the immigration rules with two new startup and innovator categories, and increased fees for immigration and nationality applications. The EU has announced a pre-travel authorization system, and Ireland will grant spouses of critical skills permit holders the right to work. 

Brexit Update

The UK prime minister’s Brexit withdrawal agreement was rejected by the UK Parliament again on March 12. The UK Parliament voted against leaving the EU without having a deal in place, and also voted to request that the Article 50 notification to leave the European Union be extended, with the date of the United Kingdom’s exit to be delayed.

The UK Parliament will vote for a third time on the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement on March 20. If the agreement is approved, the UK government will seek a Brexit extension until June 30, 2019. If the agreement is voted down again, the UK government will seek a longer extension to allow the government and Parliament to determine the United Kingdom’s future course of action.

An extension to the Article 50 notification requires unanimous approval from the remaining 27 EU countries, and such approval is not certain. The extension request will be formally discussed on March 21 at the meeting of the European Council. If the EU countries do not approve the extension, a no-deal Brexit will occur on March 29 unless Parliament agrees to the existing deal or an amended deal before that date, or the Article 50 notification is withdrawn.

UK Immigration Updates

On March 7, a statement of changes to the United Kingdom’s Immigration Rules was announced. A summary of the most relevant changes for employers follows.

Tier 2 (General)

This category allows UK companies to sponsor non-European Economic Area (EEA) nationals to work in skilled roles in the United Kingdom. The main changes of which employers should be aware include the following:

  • An increase in the minimum salary rates set out in the UK Home Office’s Codes of Practice for Skilled Work. The new rates will apply where the certificate of sponsorship is assigned on or after March 30, 2019.
  • For Tier 2 (General) restricted certificates of sponsorship, the current salary bands for awarding points under the Tier 2 (General) cap will be removed so that one point will be scored for each extra £1,000 of gross salary. This will apply from March 30, 2019, and will increase the number of certificates that can be granted in each monthly allocation.
  • A number of additional roles will be exempt from the Tier 2 (General) £30,000 minimum salary threshold, including nurses, medical radiographers, paramedics, and secondary school teachers in certain subjects.
  • Students with Tier 4 (General) visas will be able to apply to switch into Tier 2 (General) up to three months before the expected completion date of their courses.
  • The minimum annual salary threshold will be £38,800 for Tier 2 (General) visa holders applying for indefinite leave to remain applications made from April 6, 2023, and £40,100 from April 6, 2024.

Startup and Innovator categories

Two new categories will replace the existing Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) and Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) categories from March 29.

The Startup category will be for those starting a new business for the first time in the United Kingdom. Applicants will not need to be graduates and will not need to have secured any initial funding. Successful applicants will be granted two years’ leave (as opposed to one year under the current category) and will be able to progress into the Innovator category to continue developing their business in the United Kingdom after that time.

The Innovator category is intended for more experienced businesspersons. Applicants will require an endorsement in addition to £50,000 to be invested in their business from any legitimate source (as opposed to £200,000 for most applicants under the current category). The funding requirement will be waived for those switching from the Startup category who have made significant achievements against their business plans. The Innovator category may lead to settlement in the United Kingdom.

The key requirement under both these new categories is that individuals will need to obtain an endorsement from a relevant body. These bodies will include UK higher-education institutions that meet specific requirements, and organizations with a proven track record of supporting UK entrepreneurs. Such bodies will need to be approved by the Home Office.

Increased Home Office Application Fees

The Home Office has published new application fees for immigration and nationality applications made on or after March 30, 2019. The majority of categories, including all points-based system applications and settlement applications, have no changes at all.

Notable changes include visitor visa application fees and priority services for both overseas and in-country applications, which have increases of 2% or 3%. The most significant change is to in-country super-priority processing—this is now a 24-hour service and the fee has increased from £610 to £800.

Introduction of ePassport Gates

From June 2019, the UK government will begin to abolish landing cards for non-EEA travelers, and nationals from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States will be able to use the ePassport gates at UK airports and Brussels and Paris Eurostar terminals.

Global Updates

EU and UK Announce Pre-Travel Authorization Systems for Visa-Exempt Visitors

The European Union has announced plans to introduce a pre-travel authorization system for third-party non-visa nationals traveling to the Schengen Area and some additional countries, including Croatia, Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Romania. The new system, called the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), is scheduled to launch in 2021. Nationals who do not need visas to visit Schengen Area member states will be required to use an online tool to provide information regarding their proposed travel and pay a fee of 7 euros. If approval is granted, the approval is good for two years. It is envisaged that the system will be similar to the US ESTA program. The United Kingdom has also announced that it intends to introduce an Electronic Travel Authorisation for visitors, although further details are not expected until after Brexit negotiations conclude.

Ireland: Partners of Critical Skills Permit Holders to Be Given “Direct Access” to Irish Labor Market

The Ireland Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) confirmed recently that eligible spouses and de facto partners of critical skills permit holders will be granted immigration permission with an automatic right to work. They will be given permission to reside in Ireland on Stamp 1 conditions, which allows direct access to the labor market without needing to obtain an employment permit.

The change aims to streamline existing processes and make Ireland a more attractive offering for both investors and international talent. Ireland was one of the only countries in the European Union that did not allow spouses or partners of highly skilled workers to have direct access to employment and self-employment.


If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this LawFlash, please contact any of the following Morgan Lewis lawyers:

Jennifer Connolly
Yvette Allen