Guest comment: Changes to the UK's immigration laws

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Ben Sheldrick, partner at law firm Magrath & Co on the winners and losers from changes to the UK's Highly Skilled Migrant Programme.

Are you a non-EU national hoping to work in the UK financial services industry? If you are, it's worth being aware of some recent changes to the country's Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP).

Announced by Liam Byrne, Minister for Immigration, Nationality and Citizenship in November, the new rules vary the criteria for entry under the scheme. It is now necessary to earn 75 points, whereas in the past the threshold was set at 65.

Some individuals will continue to benefit under the new system. For example, additional points are still available if you have a PhD or are aged less than 27.

Equally, however, some individuals will lose out. In particular, the new rules will make it more difficult to come and work in the City of London if English is not your first language. Under the changes, the government has introduced a requirement specifying that in order to qualify for the HSMP, people must prove that they have a good level of English language knowledge, both written and oral - and provide evidence to confirm this. This is part of the government's policy to ensure integration of all newcomers to the UK.

Acceptable evidence includes an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) report form, or proof that your Bachelors degree was taught in English.

And if you can't provide this evidence, you won't be allowed in - at least not under the HSMP. Regardless of any other points scored, if the language criteria is not met, the new rules say an application will be refused.

So what can you do if your English isn't up to scratch? The obvious answer is to start learning, fast. Another alternative may be to find an employer who will sponsor you under the work permit scheme, for which fluency in English isn't mandatory.

How to earn HSMP points:

1. Qualifications:

PhD:50

Masters: 35

Bachelors: 30

2. Previous earnings:

Points can be obtained from gross earnings before tax for a period of 12 months out of the 15 months prior to submission of the application whether in salaried or self employment. Earnings do not have to be with a single employer and can be totalled from several part time jobs.

The number of points awarded for previous earnings will depend upon your country of origin. If you've been working in a 'Band A' country (eg. Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, or the US), points will be awarded on the following basis:

40,000+: 45

35,000+: 40

32,000+: 35

29,000+: 30

26,000+: 25

23,000+: 20

20,000+ 15

18,000+: 10

16,000+: 5

3. UK experience

5 points can be claimed by an applicant who has previous experience of living in the UK if either they have successfully scored points under the previous earnings category and earnings were in the UK; or they have studied and graduated at Bachelor degree level or higher in full-time higher education in the UK, or at a UK-based overseas educational institution, for at least one full academic year.

4. Age

27 or under: 20

28 or 29: 10

30 or 31: 5

32 or over: 0

5. MBA provision:

An applicant must prove he or she has graduated from an eligible MBA programme; and provide evidence that clearly demonstrates this. If they qualify, 75 points are automatically awarded.

Ben Sheldrick is a partner at Magrath & Co. He can be reached via email: ben.sheldrick@magrath.co.uk

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