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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Working overseas: Entry requirements

With increasing unemployment in the UK, the government has been eager to appear tough on immigration. The government announced changes to the entry requirements earlier this year in one of the main categories actuaries use to enter the UK.

The Tier 1 (General) visa, previously known as the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, operated on the basis of a points system. One of the basic entry requirements was to have a Bachelor’s degree. However, effective from 1 April 2009, the basic entry requirement for first-time applicants was increased to a Master’s degree or equivalent qualification. This has led to confusion among those actuaries without Master’s degrees but who have excellent skills that are in high demand in the UK. So what are the alternatives?

Applicants who do not possess a Master’s degree should check if their qualifications are equivalent to a UK Master’s degree. This is something that many applicants overlook. There is a formal process to assess the equivalency of your qualification. In the case of actuaries, if a candidate is a fellow of the UK Institute or Faculty of Actuaries, it is considered equivalent to a UK Master’s degree. This also applies to other overseas qualifications granted by professional bodies for actuaries.

So, even if you do not hold a Master’s you may well find that your existing actuarial qualification is more than sufficient. If the candidate does not have the equivalent of a UK Master’s degree, they should consider the Tier 2 visa for sponsored skilled workers. This allows employers who hold a sponsor licence through the new ‘Register of Sponsors’ to issue a certificate of sponsorship for an overseas employee. Dr Geraldine Kaye, managing director of GAAPS Actuarial, recommends that all employers who think they may want to employ workers from overseas should apply for a sponsor licence as their insurance policy. She says it is not a difficult process and GAAPS successfully applied for one in 2008.

With proper planning, the process of issuing the certificate of sponsorship and the subsequent application for a work visa can be relatively smooth. The Tier 2 visa allows the overseas worker to work in the UK for three years and is renewable after this time. However, the Tier 2 visa has the disadvantage of restricting the applicant to working only for the sponsoring employer, unlike the Tier 1 visa which allows freedom to switch employers or indeed to work on a self-employed basis.

Actuaries in demand
Despite the shortage of actuaries in the UK, the occupation is not included on the government’s shortage occupation list. This means that UK employers need to show that they have tried to recruit from within the domestic workforce before sponsoring an overseas worker. Recently the government introduced an additional requirement that all positions should be advertised through Jobcentre Plus. As most UK employers will have advertised for their actuarial positions in appropriate print and online media such as The Actuary, the additional requirement of advertising through Jobcentre Plus is unlikely to attract a surge of qualified applicants. Therefore, this latest requirement is best viewed as more applicable to other occupations.

In summary, the recent changes will impact most on applicants looking to apply through Tier 1. Clearly, actuaries are not alone in this — the changes impact applicants in all professions. However, with the demand for actuaries continuing, those without a Master’s degree or equivalent will want to seek entry through Tier 2.

Despite these recent changes to visa rules, GAAPS Actuarial says that UK-based employers are still keen to tap the international market for the right skills. Dr Kaye affirms: “GAAPS believes that in normal circumstances the new regulations should not prove a problem for non-EU actuaries and their career progression.” Hopefully when economic conditions improve and the employment market picks up, the government will revert back to the minimum requirement of a Bachelor’s degree for Tier 1. In the meantime, applicants need to consider their options carefully to obtain a UK work visa.

Tim McMahon is an immigration adviser with Commonwealth Immigration Consultants. www.commonwealthimmigration.com