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Is the UK’s Intra-company Transfer (ICT) Visa Scheme Due for Reform?

The Intra-company Transfer (ICT) visa scheme is now firmly established as a primary means of facilitating the global mobility of workers. The ICT visa enables a multi-national organisation to move staff from one part of their business in another country to work for a branch or subsidiary in the UK. The advantages of this are clear. Not only can workers with the necessary skills and experience of the business transfer their knowledge to other parts of the same business, but it also removes the need to hire staff when there are existing resources, thereby saving money ad time. In this article, we will take a look at the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) conclusions on how the Intra-Company Transfer visa scheme can be improved following a recent report written by them in October 2021.

Why were the MAC asked to look at the ICT visa scheme?

In September 2020, the MAC was commissioned by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to look at the ICT route, in particular in relation to:

  • Mode 4 provisions of free trade agreements, and to ensure these are fully implemented
  • Look at changes to enable overseas businesses to send teams rather than just individuals to set up a new branch or subsidiary in the UK. In particular, the Home Office want to know what eligibility criteria should apply to workers and sending organisations in such scenarios. This includes factors such as skills requirements and minimum salaries.

What changes did the MAC recommend to the current ICT visa scheme?

In its report, the MAC didn’t recommend a substantial overall by any means, rather a number of smaller changes that will improve the existing scheme. This reinforces the view that the ICT offers considerable value to international employers. Indeed, as the report points out, an ICT visa is a requirement of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

The report made 25 recommendations; the key ones being as follows:

Gaining settlement in the UK with an ICT visa

The report highlights that the ICT visa route, unlike the more widely used Skilled Worker route, does not offer a pathway to settlement in the UK. The MAC has now recommended that the ICT visa should provide a route to settlement and that time spent on an ICT visa should count towards the time needed to gain ILR. If implemented, this may represent a significant shift in immigration policy and will almost certainly improve the attractiveness of the scheme to potential applicants. Indeed, the lack of a settlement option does put people off using this route. This makes sense given the skills and experience such candidates will bring to the UK in the same way as Skilled Worker visa holders. Making such a change will also remove the need for migrant workers to switch to a different visa type when in the UK.

Immigration Skills Charge to payable by the employer

The MAC looked at whether it was still appropriate for employers using the ICT scheme to pay the Immigration Skills Charge, which it itself proposed in a report in 2015. The recommendation, for now, is that the charge will remain but that the government may need to consider reviewing this if the policy of reducing new migration changes. As the report states, “it should be noted that at the time of the 2015 report, there was an overarching government policy objective to reduce migration to the UK, including skilled migration, which the MAC had been asked to suggest ways of achieving. If the government had not had this objective, it is unclear whether the MAC would have recommended the introduction of the ISC. It was recommended as a way to achieve a reduction in skilled migration (while noting that skilled migration is, in itself, economically beneficial), that was less economically damaging than some alternatives”. As such, while these changes may not pave the way for this charge to be removed, they may at least sow the seed for such a development in the near future.

Skill and salary requirements

The MAC has not recommended any changes to the skill level threshold required for an ICT visa applicant. This is currently RQF level 6 or above (i.e., at least degree level), and they believe this should remain the case. The main rationale is that the scheme is intended for those with considerable experience or in managerial roles, and lowering the RQF level would broaden the eligibility beyond this purpose.

In terms of salary requirements, the MAC recommends minor changes, increasing this to £42,400 for the main ICT visa category and lowering it to £20,480 for those on the graduate trainee category; this would bring the latter in line with the lowest threshold for the Skilled Worker visa (which is intended for new entrants to the job market – i.e., graduates). They also state that these should be reviewed more regularly; “We consider that the historic inertia that the Home Office have displayed towards nominal salary thresholds, which no longer reflect prevailing labour market conditions when left in place for several years, is concerning and have, therefore, recommended that all thresholds for the ICT and other work routes are updated annually”.

MAC recommends keeping the Representative of an Overseas Business visa

In response to the Home Office’s request that the idea of sending teams to the UK to set up a new branch or subsidiary, the MAC took the views that the current overseas representative route should remain as is and that sending one person to the UK should be sufficient for this purpose. They did, however, suggest that a “team subsidiary” visa could be trialled for this purpose; “For overseas firms that wish to send a team of workers to establish a subsidiary, we suggest an alternative approach. We recommend that a new Team Subsidiary route be trialled over a 2-year period, and that data be collected to allow for subsequent evaluation of the impacts of the route and refinement of the criteria”.

Final words

The MAC’s recommendations are by no means ground-breaking, but the possible change to allow direct settlement under the ICT visa route will make the scheme more attractive for the benefit of both overseas workers and international businesses. We will keep you up to date with any changes which are implemented by the Home Office in response to these recommendations by the MAC.

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