30 April 2015

Immigration Update – April 2015

The beginning of the new financial year often heralds changes in UK immigration law and procedures, and this year is no exception.  Two changes that are likely to affect employers seeking to employ overseas workers in the UK are the roll-out of Biometric Residence Permits (BRPs) for all visas with durations in excess of six months issued to non-EEA nationals, as well as the introduction of the "NHS Surcharge".

Biometric Residence Permits

Until recently, applicants applying from outside of the UK for a UK visa have received vignettes in their passports which are valid for the full duration of the immigration leave granted to them.  This process is changing to ensure all applicants for UK visas which grant them permission to stay in the UK for more than six months are issued with BRPs – identity card-style permits which bear the migrant's photograph, immigration status and validity of leave – as soon as they arrive in the UK, providing that they enter the UK within the 30-day validity of the entry clearance visa.  If the intended travel date is postponed after the visa application has been submitted and will fall outside the 30-day validity of the entry clearance visa, it will be necessary to re-apply for the visa. 

The Post Office is the designated partner of the Home Office to distribute BRPs.  Within 10 days of arrival in the UK, the migrant must attend the designated post office stated in the notification letter to collect his or her BRP in person.  A migrant who fails to collect his or her BRP within 10 days of arrival in the UK may be subject to a financial penalty or may have his or her permission to remain in the UK curtailed.

The BRP will be the migrant's proof of his or her right to live, work or study in the UK and it will be necessary for the migrant to travel with both his or her current passport and BRP going forward.

Timetable for Implementation

The introduction of this process is to be phased in by country of application in four stages. The first and second stages are already in place, with Pakistan being the first country to participate from 18 March 2015, and India, China and 29 other countries participating from 15 April 2015.  The full scheme is to be implemented by 31 July 2015.

Issues for Employers and Employees

Employers and employees who require visas should be aware of the changes to the visa process and the implications if travel to the UK is delayed for any reason.  

Employers should also bear in mind that legal right to work checks will be affected by the roll-out of BRPs to overseas workers.  Employers should take steps to ensure that processes are implemented for secondary right to work checks to take place for any employee who is visa restricted and commences employment immediately upon arrival in the UK before receiving his or her BRP.

NHS Surcharge

The Immigration Act 2014 which came into force in May 2014 contains provisions for NHS cost recovery through the implementation of an "NHS Surcharge".  The secondary legislation to enact the surcharge provisions has now been passed and from 6 April 2015, nationals from outside the EEA who wish to enter the UK for more than six months are required to pay a health surcharge before making their visa applications to enter the UK.  Those already in the UK and subject to immigration control must pay the surcharge when they extend their leave to remain in the UK.

Until 6 April 2015, migrants coming to work, study or join family members in the UK received free NHS treatment in the same way as a UK permanent resident. The introduction of the NHS surcharge is to ensure that all migrants make a financial contribution to NHS and the surcharge is expected to recoup up to £1.7 billion over the next ten years to contribute to the cost of NHS treatment given to overseas visitors and migrants, which is currently estimated to cost the UK up to £2 billion a year in England alone.

The Cost of the Surcharge

The surcharge will be payable at a rate of £150 per year for students, and £200 per year for all other applicants.   It is payable up-front at the visa application stage and must cover the duration of the visa being requested.  Each dependant of the main applicant will be charged at the same rate as the main applicant.  Therefore, the cost of the surcharge, which is payable in addition to the visa application fees, for a main applicant for a Tier 2 (General) visa applying for the full five-year visa with two dependants would be £3,000.

In the event a visa is required for period of time which incorporates only part of a year, 50% of the surcharge will be payable for six months or less, and the full annual surcharge will be payable for periods over six month.  For example, where a Tier 2 (General) visa is required for a period of four months, £100 would be payable, but where it would be required for seven months, the full £200 would be payable. 


In instances where the visa application is refused, the NHS Surcharge paid up-front will be refunded in full.  If the visa is granted, but the migrant does not travel to the UK or the migrant leaves the UK before the end of his or her visa, the monies paid in respect of the surcharge will not be fully or partially refunded.  Additionally, if the migrant does not use the NHS while in the UK, no refund will be given.


Among other exempt categories, the surcharge will not apply to applicants for Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) visas.  It will also not apply to Australian or New Zealand nationals applying in any UK visa category. 

Visit visa holders are also not subject to the surcharge, however should a visitor receive NHS treatment in the UK, the visitor will be liable to pay 150% of the cost of any treatment received on the NHS.  Holding private medical insurance will not exempt an applicant who is required to pay the NHS surcharge from the surcharge. 

Issues for Employers

The introduction of the NHS surcharge will raise the costs of bringing new hires to the UK and also to extending the visas of employees already in the UK.  As no refunds of the surcharge are given if the migrant does not remain in the UK for the full validity of the visa granted, employers who meet the costs of an employee's immigration requirements may wish not to apply for the maximum possible visa duration initially, and extend the visa once the migrant is in the UK should his or her employment in the UK be set to continue.