Recent changes in immigration law: how will it affect your faith based organisation?

It has been a year of constant changes to the UK’s immigration system and there are several key changes that could impact faith based organisations.

Recent changes to Tier 5 Temporary (Religious Workers) category

The recent Immigration statement of changes laid significant to the Tier 5 Religious workers category. These changes came into effect on 10 January 2019 and the key ones are as follows:

12 month cooling off period

Migrants currently in the UK under the Tier 5 (Religious Worker) category will now be subject to a 12 month cooling off period and will not be allowed to enter the UK under the same category until the 12 months have lapsed.

The reasoning behind this change is to prevent migrants from applying for consecutive visas and living in the UK for extended periods through this visa category. However the old rules may still apply in certain situations. 

Limitations on work

Tier 5 (Religious Workers) are no longer permitted to do preaching or pastoral work under this category. If migrants wish to undertake these activities, they must apply under the Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) category instead.

The reasoning behind this change is to prevent migrants from using the Tier 5 Religious Worker category to fill positions as Ministers of Religion without needing to demonstrate an ability to speak English, which is a requirement under the Tier 2 (Minister of Religion) category.

Strike action and parental leave

Tier 5 (Religious Workers) are now able to engage in lawful strike action and take unpaid parental leave without it affecting their immigration status.

This means that migrants in this category will now be able to benefit from a wider range of employment rights without prejudicing their status in the UK.

Other relevant changes

Immigration Health Surcharge

With effect from 8 January 2019, the immigration health surcharge has doubled from £200 per person per year to £400 per person per year.

Right to work checks

With effect from 28 January 2019, employers have an additional option when conducting the right to work checks as they will also be able to rely on online right to work checks as well as manual right to work checks. The process involves the prospective employee first viewing their own Home Office right to work record. They may then share this information with the employer if they wish, by providing a ‘share code’, enables the employer to access the information and gain confirmation that the individual is entitled to work in the UK.

However the service is currently limited to those who hold a biometric residence permit, biometric residence card and status issued under the EU settlement scheme.

Another change is an addition in the right to work checklist which now includes the ability to use a short form birth certificate and proof of a national insurance number from a previous employer or government department, as evidence of right to work.

Upcoming changes – the immigration White Paper

In December 2018, the government released a White Paper which set out the details of the government’s post-Brexit immigration system. At present, these are only proposals which have not been approved by Parliament and any changes are unlikely to be implemented before 2020. There are several proposals that could have an impact on the faith based sector.

Changes to current categories

–       Lowering the skill level to RQF level 3 (A-levels or equivalent), whereas the current system only includes job at RQF level 6 (degree or equivalent). This is a positive step and means that new roles will become eligible for sponsorship previously deemed to be low skilled. However, there are currently no plans to remove the £30,000 minimum salary threshold.

–       Removal of the cap on skilled workers applying under the Tier 2 (General) category. In 2018, the cap was reached for eight months running and this meant that only those with significantly high salaries were successful in coming to the UK. This is a positive step, as it indicates that the government is moving away from its focus on numerical targets on net migration.

–       Removal of the ‘Resident Labour Market Test’ (RLMT).

–       Lighter touch sponsor license system – the Government plans to review the existing sponsorship requirements to reduce unnecessary and bureaucratic barriers. This will also include a review of the impact on small and medium sized employers, like many in the faith based sector.

–       Increased focus on sharing and utilising cross departmental government data to reduce the administrative burden on employers.

–       A tiered system of sponsorship which would make it significantly easier for smaller organisations to get a sponsor licence.

New 12 month visa for temporary short-term workers

This visa will allow workers to come for a maximum of 12 months to carry out low skilled work, with a cooling-off period of a further 12 months to prevent people working in the UK permanently. This temporary visa will only be open to nationals of certain countries (there is no indication which countries at this stage).

This visa will not carry entitlements such as access public funds, rights to extend a stay, switch to other categories, bring dependants or lead to permanent settlement.

Proposal to expand youth mobility arrangements

Currently many employers have the advantage of employing individuals who are in the UK under the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme), a 2 year visa held migrants from certain countries. The Government has indicated in the White Paper that they are willing to add more countries to the list.


With Brexit looming, our immigration system looks to change significantly and we can provide strategic advice to employers currently employing EU nationals or those interested in what the immigration landscape will look like in the future.

This information is necessarily of a general nature and doesn’t constitute legal advice. This is not a substitute for formal legal advice, given in the context of full information under an engagement with Bates Wells.

All content on this page is correct as of February 22, 2019.