The UK’s new points-based immigration system – what we know so far

This article is a synthesised summary of the government's 'The UK's Points-Based Immigration System – Further Details' document which was published on 13 July and can be downloaded here. Where we've referred to annexes in this article, these can be found at the end of the government publication.

If you have any queries regarding the information in this article or what it means for your workers, please contact me on [email protected]

When does free movement end?

Free movement between the UK and EU will end at 11pm on 31 December 2020 and be replaced with a points-based system.

Will new immigration rules apply to Irish citizens?

Irish citizens will be exempt from the UK's new points-based immigration system i.e. they will continue to have the right to freely enter, live and work in the UK without requiring permission

How will right to work checks function?

Most EU citizens will be issued an e-visa under the new system, to confirm their RTW via online checking. Non-EU citizens, including those who are the family members of EU citizens, will continue to be provided with Biometric Residency Permits.

Will EU citizens need to submit biometric information like fingerprints for visa applications?

From Jan 2021, most EU citizens will not need to give their biometrics. Instead they will have to provide facial images using a smartphone self-enrolment application form.  This should streamline the visa application process for EU citizens.

Will there be visa fees under the new UK immigration system?

Visa fees will continue to apply under the new system (Annex A provides an indicative view of fees under the new routes).

Will employers still have to pay the Immigration Skills Charge?

The Immigration Skills Charge will continue for UK employers of skilled workers.

Will the Immigration Health Surcharge still apply to EU and non-EU migrants?

The Immigration Health Surcharge will continue to be paid for by most overseas migrants coming to the UK for more than 6 months – increased to £624 a year on 1 October 2020. The government is working to exempt frontline NHS and social care sector workers from this requirement, however.

What is happening to the cap on Skilled Workers and the Resident Labour Market Test?

The annual cap on the Skilled Worker route is being suspended, but the government reserves the right to reimpose it as necessary. The Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) is being removed, which will hopefully speed up hiring time for migrants and alleviate some of the administrative burden they currently face.

What will happen to the old tier system?

Existing Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (ICT) sponsors will automatically be granted a new Skilled Worker licence or Intra-Company Transfer licence, with an expiry date consistent with their current licence and receive an automatic allocation of Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS). There are however concerns that routes and rules could be tightened up in the second half of 2021.

The government appears to have dropped the "Tier" terminology which exists in the current immigration system:

  • Tier 2 will become the Skilled Worker category – sponsorship needed
    • Tier 4 will become the Student category – sponsorship needed
    • The Tier wording will be dropped from the existing Tier 1 and 5 routes.

In a significant policy shift, in-country switching between immigration routes will be allowed in most cases, except where the migrant has entered the UK in a short-term route, such as a visitor or Seasonal Worker.

The government intends to confirm the final details later this year via guidance, Immigration Rules and secondary legislation.

Immigration routes under the new system

Skilled Workers

Most of the recruitment to the UK post January 2021 is likely to be via the new Skilled Worker category. This category will replace the existing Tier 2 (General) route. Those EU and non-EU citizens wishing to enter the UK to work as a skilled worker will need to show a total of 70 points made up from:

  • English Language – they can speak English to an acceptable standard (10 points);
  • Job Offer – they have a job offer from a licensed sponsor (20 points);
  • Skill Level – their job offer is at the required RQF Level 3 or above i.e. A level equivalent (20 points)
  • Minimum Salary or Shortage Occupation/PhD – that they earn more than the general salary threshold of £25,600 or the appropriate "going rate" for that job as set within the Government guidance, whichever is higher. However, if they cannot prove the required salary stated but can demonstrate a salary of at least £20,480, approval may still be granted where the job is in a specific shortage occupation or PhD level (20 points)

For instance, Freya has been offered a job as a lab technician (20 points) with a salary of £21,000. She can speak English (10 points) and this role is at the required RQF Level 3 or above (20 points). The "going rate" for a lab technician is £18,200, therefore the general salary threshold of £25,600 is higher, so would apply. Freya's offer doesn't hit the general salary threshold so she would receive 0 points for salary. However, as Freya's salary is more than the minimum of £20,480, she can rely on her relevant STEM PhD in biochemistry to obtain the final 20 points.

The 70 points Freya is awarded would be enough to gain a Skilled Worker visa despite not satisfying the general salary threshold.

Health and care visas

From 4 August 2020, health care professionals within Annex D will be able to apply for a fast-track "health and care visa" as part of the Skilled Worker route. Those professions will benefit from reduced application fees, dedicated support when applying, quicker processing times and be exempt from the Immigration Health Surcharge. However, care home staff have currently not been included in the list contained at Annex D.

Highly Skilled workers route

The government will create a broader unsponsored route with the points-based system to run alongside the employer-led system. For this route, job offers are not necessary. Numbers will be capped and monitored during any implementation – which is still under review. This route won't be open on 1 January 2021 and is likely to come into effect in 2022 at the earliest.

Graduate route

The government acknowledges that retaining graduates educated in the UK from overseas will benefit our economy and therefore in the summer of 2021, a new "Graduate" route is being launched.

Graduates will not require a sponsor, instead once they have completed their degree at an established provider, they can apply to stay in the UK for a one-off non-extendable period of two years to look and find work at any skill level. They will have the ability to switch into the Skilled Worker route if they find a suitable job. This launch will hugely benefit employers who haven't obtained a sponsorship licence in the early days of the new immigration system in order to maintain their workforce.

Global talent/start-up/Innovator routes

The existing Global Talent visa (i.e. for the "leaders of tomorrow") along with the Start-up/Innovator visas (i.e. for those entrepreneurial and innovator ideas) will continue as before but with the expansion to include EU citizens.

Visitors route

The Visitor route appears very similar. The most helpful point is that the Government intends for EU citizens to be able to apply for a visit visa at the UK border (i.e. not in advance of their arrival), provided their visit does not exceed 6 months.

The Youth Mobility Scheme (current Tier 5 YMS route)

The "Youth Mobility Scheme" will continue to operate allowing young people, aged between 18 – 30 at the time of their application, to experience UK culture by living and working in the country for a non-extendable two-year period. There are currently eight countries within the exchange scheme, but we remain awaiting details as to whether any EU countries will be added.

The Creative route

This applies to artists, entertainers and musicians in the creative industry entering the UK for short-term contracts/engagements for up to 12 months. They will need a confirmed job offer and their employment will need to be sponsored by a UK employer who is Home Office-licensed to work in an occupation in a creative industry.  

What should employers do now?

Businesses should continue to encourage their EU workers, already living in the UK before 31 December 2020, to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme. Applications can be submitted until 30 June 2021.

If your business already has a sponsorship licence under Tier 2 (General) or Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer), no new application is required, but we would recommend that you don't sit back and relax! The imminent changes to the rules mean that sponsorship will be possible for roles previously excluded and the shortage occupation list is likely to be expanded in the coming months. Now is a good time to check that your existing licence is up to date, containing the correct key personnel and all Home Office notification requirements have been met.

If your business doesn't currently have a sponsor licence but is likely to want to recruit from outside the UK from January 2021, the Government is actively encouraging businesses to make their applications now. Processing times for sponsor licences currently stand at 8 weeks but, with only 3% of UK employers currently holding a sponsor licence, there is likely to be surge in applications which could further delay processing times and the ability to recruit.

If you would like advice and support on hiring overseas nationals, please do get in touch with us. You can contact me on [email protected].