New visa routes: helping employers to bring workers to the UK

2nd November 2021

Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, the ending of freedom of movement for EU workers and much tighter immigration rules, the impact on UK businesses and worker shortages has forced the government to be proactive and introduce new visa routes to help employers bring workers to the UK.

Here we explore the most common visa routes which have been brought into force already, as well as those which are in the pipeline for the future.


Frontier Worker permit

The ending of freedom of movement has perhaps had the most notable and significant impact on those EU workers who travel to the UK for work and return home.

As a result, in December 2020, the Frontier Worker permit was launched to allow such EU workers to continue working in the UK without having to make applications under the new points-based system which was effective from 1 January 2021.

Broadly speaking, a frontier worker is a person from the EU who began working in the UK on or before 31 December 2020 and has done so continuously since, and who is employed or self-employed in the UK but lives elsewhere. Where this is the case and the work being undertaken is genuine and effective, the EU worker may be eligible for a Frontier Worker permit.

Whilst the Frontier Worker permit is a potential lifeline for EU workers who used to travel to the UK for work, the nature of the requirements mean that the scope of this permit is very limited and could not be used by new entrants to the UK.


Graduate visa

Where an international student wishes to work in the UK after their studies, they may be eligible to apply for a new Graduate visa which opened for applications on 1 July 2021.

With the aim of the UK retaining the brightest and best international students to contribute to society and the economy post-study under the points-based immigration system, to be eligible for a Graduate visa the international student must:

  • be in the UK.
  • have a current Student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa.
  • have studied a UK bachelor’s degree postgraduate degree or other eligible course for a minimum period of time with their Student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa.
  • have been told by their education provide (for example, their university or college) that they have successfully completed their course.

Applications must be made before the expiry of the international student’s current Student visa or Tier 4 (General) student visa. However, if successful, the Graduate visa commences from the day the application is approved and most successful applications can stay for two years, with PhD graduates able to stay for three years.

Whilst Graduate visas cannot be extended, international students may be able to switch to another visa (such as a Skilled Worker visa) to continue living and working in the UK.

International students in the public healthcare sector may wish to consider the Health and Care visa, which is cheaper to apply for and does not require payment of the annual immigration health surcharge. Here is further information about the Health and Care visa, including eligibility criteria.


Temporary visa schemes

It cannot have gone unnoticed that there have been workforce shortages within the agricultural sector, in terms of the loss of migrant workers to harvest crops, as well as, more recently, a lack of HGV drivers and poultry workers. In an attempt to ease such workforce shortages, the government has introduced temporary visa schemes.

Under the Seasonal Worker visa, which is currently running until the end of 2021, up to 30,000 temporary workers will be recruited to come to the UK to work. However, the visa is limited to roles within the edible horticulture sector, with up to 800 visas only ringfenced for foreign butchers, so it is extremely limited in scope. Further, migrant workers must apply through, and be sponsored by, an operator that has been approved by Defra and the Home Office. If successful, the worker can only come to the UK to carry out the work for up to 6 months.

In September 2021, in order to ease global supply chain issues in the run up to Christmas, temporary and time-limited visas are being offered to 4,700 HGV drivers and 5,500 poultry workers.

Both are temporary visa routes, brought into force to resolve problems which have been exacerbated by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. Neither are long-term solutions and will come to an end at some point.


The future

Whilst a number of new visa routes have been introduced over the last year or so, following government plans to Build Back Better and its commitment to innovation-led growth, there are three new visa routes on the horizon set for launch in 2022, namely the “High Potential Individual”, “Scale-Up” and “Global Business Mobility visa” routes.

The High Potential Individual route will initially be open to individuals who have graduated from a top global university and demonstrate high potential to come to the UK. Whereas the Scale-Up route will allow talented individuals with a high skilled job offer from a qualifying scale-up at the required salary level to come to the UK. The Global Business Mobility visa will permit overseas businesses greater flexibility to transfer workers to the UK to establish and expand their businesses.

As can be seen from the new visa routes referred to, the government has already had to respond and be proactive to relax some of the Brexit immigration rules. Whilst Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, wants to “see an emphasis on high wages, high skills”, business leaders are warning that the situation in respect of worker shortages could get much worse if the government does not do more and modernize its immigration processes.