Tier 1 General was introduced to allow highly skilled migrants to live and work in the UK without requiring an offer of employment. This category replaced the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme.
The advantage of this UK immigration category was that it gave mobility to an internationally qualified and experienced workforce, allowing them to take up work as independent contractors, employees, or even business owners.
The perceived disadvantage was that it allowed a large pool of migrants ‘permit-free’ employment with no controls over the type, level or frequency of work. As the initial visa was granted for 2 years, this meant that some migrants were left unable to find employment , or taking up multiple, unskilled jobs at the same time to boost their earnings, which was not what the scheme was designed to achieve.
However, this category was closed to new applicants from overseas with effect from 23rd December 2010. This was followed by the closure of the scheme to new applicants from within the UK after 6th April 2011. Now that this category has been removed, this has affected both individuals and UK employers, signalling an end to a popular immigration route to settlement.
This has marked a fundamental shift in government attitudes to skilled migration; away from uncontrolled self-employment and towards controlled employment.
For those migrants already in the UK as a Tier 1 General, it is possible to make an extension application from within the UK as long as the relevant points criteria have been met. This means providing evidence of previous earnings for the last 12 months and proving that sufficient funds have been maintained for the 90 days prior to the date of application.
Towards the end of five years continuous and lawful stay as a Tier 1 General migrant, it may be possible to make an application for Indefinite Leave to Remain. This application will also require you to show original evidence of previous earnings in the same way as a Tier 1 General extension. It also requires you to be free of any unspent criminal convictions (including traffic offences) at the time of application.
Some migrants may not have sufficient points to extend, owing to the recent economic downturn, which has reduced their earning power. This has been picked up by UK employers, who are keen to establish whether the person has a realistic chance of extending his/her visa at the time when an offer is originally made.
Where an existing employee (who has Tier 1 General status) cannot extend his / her stay, this could leave UK employers facing a skills shortage for short term, high value contract work (e.g healthcare and IT professionals) where sponsorship is neither feasible nor appropriate.
Where a Tier 1 General extension application is unlikely to be successful and Tier 2 General sponsorship is considered a possibility, the UK employer must hold a valid sponsorship licence and be able to assign a certificate of sponsorship to…