In recent years there has been a significant drop in the numbers of applications for Intra Company Transfer visas. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC)’s report on Intra Company Transfers sets out a number of reforms that, if implemented, should ensure the route remains relevant to businesses with globally mobile workforces, and to the UK’s labour market more generally.
The report also gives some indications of what the new global business mobility visa might have in-store. This should be ready to go by next spring and will place the ICT amongst its global mobility visa bedfellows, the Representative of the Overseas Business visa and the Temporary Worker International Agreement, to create an overarching route for workers on assignment to the UK. Included in the price will be a new visa, aimed at companies wanting to send teams of workers to the UK to set up a subsidiary.
Eligibility requirements for the ICT visa
In terms of the eligibility requirements for the visa, the MAC has recommended that the current skill level of RQF level 6 should be maintained. This means that a role will need to demonstrate that it is at 'degree level' to qualify for the visa. Rejecting calls to decrease the salary thresholds for the ICT route, the MAC have instead recommended a slight increase in the salary threshold from £41,500, to £42,000, for the main ICT route. For the ICT graduate trainee route they are recommending a slight decrease from £23,000, to harmonise it with the new entrant rate of the skilled worker route at £20,480. They also recommend continuing to allow employers to include cash employment allowances in the total salary package.
They also think the high earner should remain, so that individuals who earn above £73,900 do not need to show a minimum period of employment overseas. Anyone who earns below this will need to have worked for the overseas entity for 12 months to qualify for the ICT route.
The MAC's view is the ICT route was designed originally for specialists and senior managers and should not be used for lower skilled roles. Reducing the skill and salary thresholds would broaden the scope of the visa route too far beyond its original aims.
Currently, an applicant for an ICT visa does not need to demonstrate that they can speak English to qualify for the visa. This was repeatedly cited by respondents to the reports as one of the key advantages of the ICT route over the skilled worker route, so there was no appetite for introducing one. The MAC recommends, though, that the Home Office looks at the administration of English language tests to ensure the sponsorship visa process is as smooth as possible.
Settlement and length of stay in the UK for an ICT visa holder
The MAC has decided that the restrictions on the total length of time a ICT visa holder can remain in the UK should stay in place. This is currently set at 5 years, in every 6, for an individual earning below the high earner threshold of £73,900, and 9 years in every 10 for those who earn above it.
Arguably, the biggest change suggested by the MAC is to allow ICT visa holders to apply for settlement, and enable the time spent on ICT to be combined in other routes for Indefinite Leave to Remain purposes. As workers do not often know their future intentions when they apply for their visa, or the extent to which their family will settle in the UK, the MAC thinks it is only fair that ILR is an option for them, particularly as ICT workers are big contributors to the UK economy. Some employers fear that this could lead to higher attrition rates, but the MAC thinks this can be managed by employment contracts.
The lack of an option to apply for ILR is the main reason for the ICT's unpopularity. If the Home Office follow’s the MAC’s recommendations, this will certainly reinvigorate the route and avoid unnecessary and costly switching applications.
Global mobilityThe MAC also looked at the Home Office's ‘mobility offer’ for businesses looking to set up in the UK, or looking to send secondees to UK businesses who are party to a high value contract. These recommendations are likely to be help create the framework for the Global Business Mobility Visa due to be launched next spring,
Firstly, the MAC recommends keeping the Representative of an Overseas Business Visa. This is a non-sponsored work route, enabling an overseas company to send a senior executive to the UK to help set up a business. The MAC thinks that sending one person is sufficient for these purposes, and points to the revealing stat that 77% of subsidiaries set up in the UK since 2018 have one or fewer employees.
The Home Office is keen to set up a ‘Team Subsidiary’ route to transfer a group of workers into the UK. The MAC suggests that companies should have to secure a sponsor licence based on a flexible set of criteria, allowing only five applicants per business who have to meet the eligibility criteria for the skilled worker visa. The visa should also be capped at two years in length.
The MAC also suggests creating a clear route for businesses wanting to send secondees to the UK who have high value contracts with UK businesses. As this will only apply to contracts of more than £50 million, the MAC urges the Government to look at the feasibility of a visa option for short-term assignments, for workers who currently fall between the stools of the ICT and the visit visa rules.
The MAC’s recommendations for the ICT, if followed by the Home Office, should ensure that the route maintains a degree of relevancy within the work based migration system. By placing the ICT route within a general global business mobility visa, it will be easier to understand the options available for a globally mobile workforce. We will have to wait to see whether the Home Office's final 'mobility offer' is in line with the current needs of multinational businesses looking to set up or transfer staff into the UK.
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