New UK visas help migrant finance workers

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Solicitors say UK government plans to introduce a new points-based immigration system will make it easier for non-EU financial services employees to work in the country.

Julia Onslow Cole, a partner at law firm CMS Cameron McKenna, says in future most banking employees will be able to enter the UK without lining up a job in advance.

Under the new system, migrants who amass more than 75 points after meeting a set of criteria that include age, education and pay, will be designated 'tier-one' migrants. After applying for and achieving the status while still overseas, tier-one migrants will then be free to enter the UK and look for a job.

Due to be introduced in 2008, the new system will replace the current dual immigration system, in which foreign employees can either enter under work permits after being sponsored by a particular employer, or as 'highly skilled migrants' who can work where they like.

Similar to the proposed new system, the highly skilled migrant programme requires that would-be employees based in the UK amass a total of 75 points from criteria such as age and education. However, the new programme will make it easier to amass the requisite points, particularly for people aged 32 and under.

At present, McKenna says most foreign bankers she deals with enter under the work permits programme and are therefore tied to a particular employer. She says the proposed abolition of work permits should make it easier to move jobs: "In theory, this could make for a much more mobile workforce."

Once in the country, foreign workers who enter as tier-one migrants will be able to apply for permanent residency in two years, instead of the current four.

Oliver Harris, head of the temporary recruitment team at recruiter Robert Walters, says the new system won't make much difference to people who come into the country on working holiday visas. "60% of our contract staff are antipodeans," he says. "Most of them come in on working holiday visas and then apply for highly skilled migrant status."

How they compare: Highly skilled migrants vs. the new system

Highly skilled migrants:

PhD: 30 points

Masters degree: 25 points

Bachelors Degree: 15 points

Aged less than 28: 5 points

Earning 40,000 in previous job: 35 points

Total points required: 75

Tier-one migrants:

PhD: 50 points

Masters degree: 40 points

Bachelors Degree: 35 points

Aged less than 27: 20 points

Aged less than 29: 10 points

Aged less than 31: 5 points

Earning 40,000 in previous job: 45 points

Total points required: 75