Re-instatement of priority services

We start the New Year with good news for those who have already made family settlement entry clearance applications, (visas for the spouse/unmarried partner/fiancé or children of British nationals or those with Indefinite Leave to Remain status). These individuals were previously unable to pay for an optional priority service for an expedited decision on their respective visa applications. This was due to the suspension of priority services following the Ukraine crisis.

From 9 January 2023, those with outstanding applications would have started to receive emails to inform them that priority services have been re-instated. The email provides an offering to individuals to pay an additional fee of £573 in order to receive a decision on the outstanding application on a priority basis. The Home Office is sending these emails out in date order, with those with the oldest outstanding applications being contacted first.

Current standard processing times are 120 days, against the previous standard processing time of 60 days, whilst the Home Office has been dealing with its backlog. Those who opt in to use the new priority service offering should receive a decision within 15 days of payment being made, which is a reduction in the usual 30-day priority processing time.

For anyone submitting an application going forwards, the standard processing time remains at 24 weeks. However, the Home Office aim to reintroduce priority service for all applicants in early 2023.

Anecdotally, any applications the Home Office deem complex or that require additional security screening appear not to have been contacted to expedite their applications. No policy position on this has been formally communicated.

New year, new COVID restrictions

The New Year starts us off with a new COVID travel restriction. From 5 January 2023, passengers arriving to the UK from mainland China are once again being asked to have a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test. The test will need to be taken no more than two days prior to departure and will be checked by carriers prior to boarding.

In addition, on arrival in the UK, a random sample will be undertaken for a few individuals, who will be asked to re-test in order to enhance safety measures and detect any potential variants at the border.

The Government has stated that these are pre-cautionary and temporary, to protect us following an increases of cases in China and in readiness for the easing of their border control.

Travellers should factor this in and prepare for the increased risk of having to delay flights in case they are infected with COVID and the additional cost and time required to take
the test.

Passport application fees

For the first time in five years, on 2 February 2023, the Home Office will be introducing a new passport fee. The proposed fees, which are currently subject to Parliamentary approval, are as follows:

Application Current Fee New Fee Fee Change
Standard online application for adults £75.50 £82.50 £7
Standard online application for children £49 £53.50 £4.50
Postal applications for adults £85 £93 £8
Postal applications for children £58.50 £64 £5.50

So, for those who need a passport or have a passport up for renewal this year, it may be worth submitting an application early to avoid those extra government fees.

Global Business Mobility Immigration Skill Charge Exemption

From 1 January 2023, the Home Office has introduced a concession which will exempt employers paying the Immigration Skill Charge (ISC) for any worker who is covered by the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement, for those on the Global Business Mobility (Senior or Specialist Worker) visa (this was previously known as the Intra Company Transfer route).

This will apply in all of the following circumstances:

  • The Certificate of Sponsorship must be assigned on or after 1 January 2023;
  • The worker is a national of an EU Country (not including Ireland, Liechtenstein or Norway, or is a Latvian non-citizen);
  • The worker has been assigned to the UK by a business established in the EU and forms a part of the same sponsor group; and
  • The end date of the assignment, as specified on the Certificate of Sponsorship, is no more than 36 months after the start date.

It is to be noted that when this exemption applies, the sponsor will need to use an ISC exempt Certificate of Sponsorship, and will be required to provide an explanation of the exemption. For example, it should state, the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement application, and it should provide the location of where in the EU the business that assigned the worker to the UK is.

This is a welcome change, as the current ISC fee is at £1,000 per year, for large employers, and £364 per year for small employers. It is hoped that this measure will provide a financial benefit for businesses doing business in the UK and sending staff on assignment. This reduced cost will allow greater flexibility for transferring employees into the UK.

Seasonal Worker Route

The Seasonal Worker Route is for workers aged 18 or over to come into the UK on a scheme to undertake seasonal work in the horticultural or poultry production sector.

This route is subject to an annual quota, which is usually divided between the two sectors.

The quota for 2023 is as follows:

  • Horticultural Sector: 45,000 places (available for edible and ornamental roles)
  • Poultry production sector: 2,000 places

This increase in the total available quota (up from 38,000 in 2022) follows through on a promise made by Liz Truss during her short time as Prime Minister.

This route allows approved scheme operators to sponsor workers, and can be used exclusively for workers with a Certificate of Sponsorship with a start date in that year. 

It is to be noted that the Home Office is responsible for setting up the quota and apportioning it to scheme operators (rather than individual businesses providing direct sponsorship to workers).

This increase in quota should see the agricultural industry through another year – however it remains important to note that the Government's current policy position is that the quota will start to be reduced from 2024, with a review of the route as a whole at this time. This means the industry needs to work rapidly and collaboratively to identify tangible means of making roles more attractive/accessible to the domestic workforce and some businesses may also consider using the time registering to become an individually approved business sponsor for international worker visas in instances where workers can be sponsored on a permanent rather than seasonal basis.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.