HSMP visa holders win back old extension rules

Media Center » Tier 1 Fully Implemented June 2008

After a decisive win against the UK Border Agency by an advocacy group (called the HSMP Forum), some Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) visa holders will have easier rules for extending their stay in the United Kingdom. HSMP visa holders who were granted an HSMP approval letter before 07 November 2006 will be subject to separate requirements when applying for an extension to their HSMP visa.

The HSMP was an immigration scheme that allowed non-European Union professionals to immigrate to the United Kingdom. Applicants were scored against a points based system with criteria such as age, past earnings, and qualifications. Successful applicants were allowed to work for any employer -- or for themselves -- without needing to have a work permit for each place of employment, among several other benefits. From 30 June 2008, the HSMP scheme has been fully replaced by Tier 1 (General), part of a new five-tier immigration system that covers all work, training, and student based immigration into Britain.

Before 07 November 2006, people who held an HSMP visa needed only to show that they had made every effort to become economically active in the UK when it came time to renew their visa. On 07 November 2006, the UK suspended the HSMP for a month.

After the HSMP was reintroduced on 05 December 2006, migrants wishing to extend their HSMP visa were required to score themselves again under a points test that was more difficult than the one under which they applied for the HSMP in the first place.

For many migrants (estimated by some to be up to 40,000), the stricter requirements made the difference between being allowed to remain in the UK and having to pack their bags and take themsleves -- and in many cases, their family -- back to their home country. Many faced other severe hardships, such as having sold their homes in their original country and investing in new homes in the UK, which they were no longer eligible to live in.

The British government took the position that people in this situation could try to obtain a normal work permit, but the reality of that 'solution' drastically limited many options that most immigrants under HSMP were relying upon to earn a sustainable living.

The HSMP Forum filed a judicial review in response to the changes, stating that HSMP visa holders had a "legitimate expectation" that the new extension rules would not apply to them. They also argued that by immigrating to the UK, migrants could expect to be able to achieve a path towards permanent residence in the UK.

On 08 April 2008, a UK High Court ruled in favor of the HSMP Forum. In reaction, the British government is now amending its policy for extending HSMP visas under the new Tier 1 (General) rules.

The new policy affects all HSMP visa holders who received an HSMP approval letter under the requirements in place before 07 November 2006, and who were granted entry clearance or an extension of stay based upon that letter. These individuals will be subject to the same requirements in place before 07 November 2006 when applying for an extension.

For HSMP visa holders who were granted an approval letter after the changes introduced on 05 December 2006, the Tier 1 (General) extension rules will still apply.