On 3 March 2021, the government announced as part of the 2021 Budget that they are focusing on modernising the UK’s immigration system to assist the UK to attract and retain the most highly skilled, globally mobile talent. The spotlight is particularly focused on the areas of academia, science, research and technology with the idea behind the focus is to “drive innovations, and support UK jobs and growth”.

To assist with the modernisation of the system, the government will:

  • By March 2022 introduce an elite points-based visa. The visa will include a ‘scale-up’ stream which will allow those with a job offer from a recognised UK scale-up to qualify for a fast-track visa.
  • Reform the Global Talent visa, including to allow holders of international prizes and winners of scholarships and programmes for early promise to automatically qualify.
  • Conduct a review of the Innovator visa to make it easier for those with the necessary skills and experience to found an innovative business to obtain a visa.
  • Launch a new Global Business Mobility visa for overseas businesses to establish a presence or to transfer employees to the UK. The government said the aim was to do this by Spring 2022.
  • Provide practical support to small firms that are using the visa system for the first time.
  • Modernise the immigration sponsorship system to make it easier to use. The government will publish a delivery roadmap for this ‘promise’ in Summer 2021.
  • Establish a global outreach strategy by expanding the Global Entrepreneur Programme, marketing the UK’s visa offering and explore building an overseas talent network.

These changes will likely be welcomed with open arms by many. In particular, any streamlining of the Global Talent visa route with automatic qualification will remove the current administrative-heavy application and individuals will be approved faster.

Another encouraging aspect of these reforms is the review of the Innovator visa. To date, this visa has not had much uptake from established entrepreneurs due to the need for them to allow outside investment into the business. Also, the Innovator visa can only currently be accessed by small group of individuals and adds taxing hurdles in place for those wanting an extension or settlement, which makes it a lesser attractive option. It may be that despite the reforms suggested, these individuals may go down the Skilled Worker route, especially as it removes the need for their business to be classified formally as ‘innovative’.

One of the key promises from the government is the modernisation of the system. Until we see the ‘delivery roadmap’, it is difficult to know the extent of these reforms. The system is however calling out for more modern technology, particularly in relation to the sponsor management system. The roadmap will hopefully confirm when any changes will be made and details explanations of how changes will made.

All talk, no action? With the UK now having left the EU, this may have provided the government with the necessary push to consider the UK’s immigration system in a new light. These reforms outlined above will not happen imminently and the government will likely implement any changes through statements of changes to the Immigration Rules – there is some certainty that won’t change.