Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak wants to transform the UK to the leading immigration destination for outstanding talent | Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak wants to transform the UK to the leading immigration destination for outstanding talent | Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

The UK is to launch a new visa system designed to make legal immigration easier for highly educated migrants, in particular those working in fields like finance, science, research and technology. The plans were, however, also criticized for being too elitist.

Upon declaring the UK's budget, the chief financial minister Rishi Sunak (Chancellor of the Exchequer) declared on Wednesday (March 3) that he intended to make Britain the "best place in the world for high-growth, innovative companies" by attracting outstanding talent working in tech and science as well as entrepreneurs.

"I'm announcing ambitious visa reform aimed at highly skilled migrants," said Sunak, stressing plans to make post Brexit-Britain "internationally competitive."

Sunak highlighted that his would be a "new unsponsored points-based visa to attract the best and most promising international talent in science, research and tech, new, improved visa processes for scale-ups and entrepreneurs, and radically simplified bureaucracy for high-skilled visa applications."

The new visa scheme chiefly differs from other recent changes to immigration to the UK in not requiring a sponsoring company; however, applicants will still have to meet the minimum requires points to apply.

Scoring points for immigration

While details are still unknown on the rules and limitations of this elite visa system, Britain's overall move to a points-based system will take aspects into consideration such meeting minimum salary thresholds, linguistic ability, age, education and other qualifiers. 

Depending on the details of the visa, immigrants under the points-based system may in most instances also be expected to pay an "Immigration Health Surcharge" to finance contributions to Britain's public health system, the NHS. 

The new overall points-based visa system has been compared to similar immigration rules applied in countries such as Australia and Canada, and was introduced in response to the 2016 UK referendum to leave the EU, scrapping the European Union's freedom of movement principle for a more controlled mechanism of immigration.

Further details are expected to be published in July, and the changes are anticipated to be made law in the course of the next 12 months.

Read more: UK government promises fast track ‘NHS visa’ for migrant doctors and nurses

Outstanding talent welcome

As part of the changes to be introduced to the UK's immigration system in coming months, Sunak also mentioned a relaunch of the so-called Global Talent Visa program. This system was introduced earlier to attract people who are leaders in academia and research -- as well as those excelling in arts and culture. 

Application numbers for that scheme have, however, been slow as it requires usually an endorsement from a recognized UK governmental organization such as Arts Council England or The Royal Academy of Engineering, among others. 

The system will now be changed to automatically qualify people who they have received outstanding recognition in their fields by certain international bodies as well. In practice, this would mean that a Nobel Prize laureate or Academy Award winner would automatically qualify for the visa. 

The Global Talent visa program has this far mostly attracted migrants with exceptional talents in creative fields like music, architecture, and entertainment, as there are various other avenues for immigration in place for academics and research workers.

Read more: Could post-Brexit Britain increase the risk of modern slavery in the UK?

Upskilling the UK -- but what about the average Joe?

Among the criticisms the new visa schemes received was the fact that there were no provisions for attracting skilled workers, who would be needed for the country’s recovery phase following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UK is one of the worst-affected countries in the world, after the virus resulted in the deaths of nearly 125,000 people in its first 12 months. Sunak announced a total of £65 billion in funds to be made available to recover from the crisis, without specifying how exactly the funds would be allocated.

No new information on asylum

While the UK Home Office has already started to apply changes to its overall immigration system since EU rules stopped applying to Britain following a Brexit transition period ending at the beginning of the year, most of the changes only appear to address the top-end of immigration.

Since the UK no longer has to align its laws with EU legislation, it is also expected to change asylum laws and guidelines to recognize those presenting as refugees. Many migrants have attempted to cross the English Channel to Britain from France in the past year in hopes of having their asylum requests still recognized in the UK before laws may change.

While the EU's Dublin regulation will no longer apply to the United Kingdom, there won't be any changes to the UK remaining a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the status of refugees. However, interpretations to that convention can vary.

Many refugees and migrants still hope to reach the UK before any changes to the asylum system are made law after being fed rumors by traffickers about having access to more social welfare than they would elsewhere in Europe, among other reasons.

The British government has dismissed reports that chances for getting asylum in the United Kingdom might improve in the future, stressing meanwhile that, if anything, the opposite was true.

Read more: Brexit: What changes for migrants on January 1?


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