As most non-EU financial services professionals will be aware, there have been big changes to the UK’s immigration policy in recent years. The UK government is attempting to reduce the number of migrants into the country, and has made it more difficult to move to the country if you’re from outside the EU. This is problematic for the UK’s financial services industry, which is reliant on overseas workers - many of whom are both better educated and better paidthan their UK peers. This month, there have been two major changes to UK immigration rules. They both look good for people who want to work in UK financial services – although there are still some problems. The bad news, however, is that there may be more problems in future.
At the moment, you can usually get indefinite leave to remain in the UK after five years as long as you’re in work and your employer says you are still needed to do your job. However, from April 2016, the government plans to grant ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in the UK after five years only to people who earn more than £35k ($56k). This looks like good news for people working in financial services, almost all of whom should earn that amount.
At the moment, non-EU students atUKuniversities or business schools can stay in the UK for up to two years after their course finishes, using a post study work visa. From April 2012, however, non-EU students will only be able to stay in the UK after graduation only if they have an offer of a job paying £20k or more from a, ‘reputable employer accredited by the UK Border Agency.’ Most graduate and MBA jobs in financial services in London pay a lot more than £20k,so on one hand this looks like good news. On the other hand, however, immigration lawyers point out that it will be a problem for students who haven’t got job offers yet. “You’ll need to have a job offer [paying more than £20k from an accredited employer] before your right to be in the UK expires,” says Jonathan Davies at law firm Fox Williams. In the past, he points out that students could spend up to two years looking for work in London– now they’ll typically have four months or less to find work after their course finishes. And if they can’t find anything, they’ll have to leave. If you’re a non-EU student studying in theUKand graduating this year, and you still don’t have a job in financial services to go to, this looks like very bad news.
Bad things are also being stored up for the future. Ever since the UK government clamped down on immigration, the number of migrants coming into the company on an ‘intra-company transfer’ programme (ie transferring within their current employer), has increased dramatically. In the year ending September 2011, there were nearly 30,000 immigrants who came into the country via this route. This is up from 22,000 in 2009. Intracompany transfers are particularly popular in financial services. If you’re working for HSBC in Singapore, you can easily come and work for HSBC in London. There is no limit on the number of non-EU citizens who can come and work in the UK for an employer they’ve been working for overseas. However, these people must have been working for that employer for more than 12 months AND they must earn more than £40k a year. The success of the intra-company transfer (ICT) scheme is in danger of becoming its own problem. With so many more people using it than anticipated, the UK government’s Migration Advisory Committee has said the government needs to keep the intra-company transfer policy, ‘under review.’ If ICT rules are tightened, fewer financial services professionals will be able to use this route into the UK in future. And that would, clearly, be a bad thing.