Further details have been published by the Government regarding the UK’s new points-based immigration system, due to come into force in January 2021.
In a document entitled ‘The UK’s points-based immigration system: policy statement’ dated 19 February 2020, the Government confirmed that some of the plans outlined will be phased in from Autumn 2020, with the new immigration system being fully operational from January 2021. At this stage, there are no details as to which of the plans will be phased in from Autumn.
The plans are generally in line with recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC).
This policy statement deals primarily with plans for sponsored workers.
It recommends that employers ‘not currently approved by the Home Office to be a sponsor should consider doing so now if they think they will want to sponsor skilled migrants, including from the EU, from early 2021′.
The key points are:
- all organisations needing to recruit both EU and non-EU workers via the sponsored worker route will need to become a UKVI approved sponsor licence holder;
- in order to be sponsored, the individual will need to be able to speak English and will need to obtain prior approval to come to the UK under the route;
- roles that are to be filled by sponsored workers will need to be skilled to at least Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) Level 3. This broadly equates to A-levels. Under the current system, the role must be skilled to degree-level (RQF 6);
- most individuals needing to be sponsored under the new system will need to be paid at least £25,600 per year, as opposed to the current threshold of £30,000. If the role is to be filled by an individual who meets the ‘new entrant’ definition (this currently includes international students and those aged 25 or under) the salary requirement will be 30% lower;
- there will be no resident labour market test and monthly restrictions on numbers will be ‘suspended’;
- it will be possible to trade points for roles paying a salary of between £20,480 – £25,600 per year if the role is a shortage occupation, as defined by the MAC, or the individual has a PhD relevant to the role. For example, a nurse who will be paid £22,000 will qualify because nurses appear on the shortage occupation list;
- employers will need to factor in expenses such as visa fees, the Immigration Skills Charge and Immigration Health Surcharge. These are not insignificant;
- at this stage, we understand that there are no plans for the Tier 2 cooling off period to be removed. This is the rule whereby those who hold leave under Tier 2 (ICT) cannot move into Tier 2 (General) for a period of 12 months, unless an exception applies.
Other points to note
Whilst focusing mainly on the new sponsored worker route, the policy statement also confirms that:
- The Global Talent route will be extended from 2021 to include EU citizens. The paper describes this as being for ‘the most highly skilled’ who can achieve the required level of points. A job offer will not be needed if they are endorsed by a relevant and competent body.
- A broader, but capped, non-sponsored route for a smaller number of the most highly skilled workers will be created within the points-based system to run alongside the employer-led system. Example characteristics for which points could be awarded include academic qualifications, age and relevant work experience. However, the paper states that the route ‘will take longer to implement; we want to learn from previous experience of similar schemes’. Previous schemes, such as Tier 1 (General) and the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, have been withdrawn by previous governments amidst allegations of ‘abuse’.
- International students are to be covered by the points-based system. They will need to have an offer from an approved education provider and demonstrate that they can achieve the required points.
- Specialist routes that currently exist, such as innovator and temporary work routes under Tier 5, will be extended to include EU citizens.
- There will be simplified rules and guidance for visitors to the UK, EU citizens will be ‘unilaterally’ allowed to continue to use e-gates and most EU citizens will enrol facial biometrics using smartphone self-enrolment. Fingerprints will not initially be required and most EU citizens will be issued with an e-visa to confirm their right to be in the UK.
- ‘Mode 4’ commitments will be catered for in the new system, in line with existing and future trade agreements.
- There will be no new options for self-employed persons. It is already possible for self-employed persons to be sponsored under Tier 2 in certain cases, and we would expect this to continue.
- Controversially, there will be no route for ‘low skilled’ workers, leading to potentially serious difficulties for construction, hospitality and care sectors.
Further information and comment
Nichola Carter, Carter Thomas Solicitors Head of Immigration, says of today’s developments:
“The next 12 months will bring about the most significant changes to the UK’s immigration system since 2008. We are advising employers to carry out a detailed review of their recruitment needs. If they may need to recruit newly arrived EU workers, or non-EU workers, from January 2021, they should follow the recommendation in the policy statement to consider applying to become an approved sponsor now. We very much hope to see plans to streamline the sponsorship process through technological enhancements soon’.