uk immigration rules, global talent
© Thomas Holt

Sophie Barrett-Brown and Joshua Hopkins, Laura Devine Immigration, describe the effect of the new UK immigration rules on how people are actually migrating

A lot has changed since the release of the previous quarterly migration statistics: the Conservative party convincingly won the general election, the UK left the EU, the new Global Talent category opened, and the Home Office released a policy statement outlining details of the new UK immigration system.

Following the release of the latest statistics, we consider how the developments have affected the numbers and highlight the statistics which should, in particular, be monitored going forward.

The latest EU migration statistics

The latest ONS EU migration statistics show an increase in net EU migration, from 48,000 (June 2019) to 64,000 (September 2019). Whilst this contrasts with the longer-term trend of declining numbers since the referendum in 2016, it should be noted that the increase is due to a drop in the number of EU citizens emigrating from the UK. This may be explained by a returning confidence in the UK amongst EU nationals and a stronger sense of security- the number of applications under the EUSS has now reached 2.7 million.

The number of EU citizens migrating into the UK has actually decreased again, albeit only by 3,000. This is again a foreboding of the skills shortages many employers are likely to face once free movement comes to an end on 31 December 2020.

‘Start-up and Innovator’ routes: Working or not?

As at December 2019, there had only been 236 Start-up applications and a meagre 57 Innovator applications. Since the previous quarter there has been a 330% increase in Innovator applications. Whilst this may appear encouraging, it starts from a low bar and the total numbers remain but a fraction of those under the predecessor category, the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) category. The much milder 22% increase in Start-up applications in the same period could be a warning that the rate of increase is likely to similarly plateau.

In the same period in 2018 (Q2 to Q4), there was a total of 1,506 Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) applications, five times more than the combined total number of Start-up and Innovator applications. Immigrants which would have qualified for the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) route have also not chosen to pursue the Tier 1 (Investor) route instead. Applications for Tier 1 (Investor) have decreased by more than 50%, with 241 applications in the first and second quarter in 2019 to 109 applications in the third and fourth quarter.

It’s been a tough year for the Start-Up and Innovator categories, with the numbers of applications in the first two quarters being embarrassingly low. Whilst initially low numbers may have been dismissed as the expected apprehension which comes with any new category, the latest low statistics reinforce what many practitioners worried about from the outset: the Innovator route is fundamentally flawed in its design.

the Innovator route is fundamentally flawed in its design

Near its first birthday, it is perhaps time for the Home Office to review the substance and procedure of the categories.

What about ‘Skilled’ workers?

With the end of free movement from 2021, the government has clearly stated that future EU workers will need to meet the same requirements as other migrants. Employers have now been encouraged to apply for sponsor licences in preparation, to enable them to sponsor EU nationals under the adjusted skilled worker category. Whilst there are no available statistics on the number of sponsor licence applications last year, the statistics do show that there was an increase of 1,238 Tier 2 and Tier 5 sponsors from 2018 to 2019.

Although this seems like a noteworthy increase, it can be anticipated that a far greater increase will be observed in 2021.

The main categories for skilled workers in the current UK immigration system are Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) – the number of applications for these categories also notably rose from 57,125 in 2018 to 63,751 in 2019. Once again, we would expect this number to skyrocket in 2020 as employers scramble now in their efforts to recruit non-EU staff as contingency for the inevitable skills shortages once free movement ends.

Global Talent and Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent): Functional?

The new Global Talent category replaced the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) category, which was previously criticised for possessing requirements which set the bar too high. It are these stringent requirements which have explained the historic low number of applications for this category – only 821 applications were made in 2019, once again failing to hit the 2,000 cap of visas which may be issued under this category.

[out of 2000] only 821 applications were made in 2019

Much of the rhetoric surrounding the introduction of the Global Talent category was an emphasis on the expanded routes and options available which would enable a greater pool of talent (in particular, scientists, researchers and mathematicians) to become eligible to apply. The 2,000 visa cap was also removed, which is suggestive of the number of applications the Home Office are expecting to receive for the new category.

However, a closer look at the new Global Talent category actually shows that there is very little change to the substance of Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent). Whilst it is worth keeping an eye on the numbers, we would expect little change to the number of applications under the Global Talent category for 2020 – it would be extremely surprising if the number of approvals got close to 2,000.

The new UK immigration rules are due to be enforced from January, 2021.


By Sophie Barrett-Brown, Senior Partner and Head of UK Practice and Joshua Hopkins, Paralegal, Laura Devine Immigration.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here