Points-Based Immigration System: What It Means For UK Employers And Migrants
From 1st January 2021, the UK will be subject to a new points-based immigration system. Marking the effective end of free movement with the EU. The new system includes several changes that will affect both migrants and, in the case of certain classes of visa, the employers that sponsor them to come to the UK.
As time marches on, our position remains that UK employers that wish to hire from abroad, particularly staff from the EU, should apply for a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence as soon as possible.
In this article, we explain the changes made by the new points-based immigration system and what they mean for those affected.
What is the UK points-based immigration system?
The launch date of the new points-based system is no coincidence, as it falls after the end of the UK’s Brexit transition period with the EU. As the new rules come into effect, EU migrants will be treated in the same way as those from the rest of the world.
The points-based system will work by assigning points that reflect various factors, such as a migrant’s professional skills and their grasp of the English language. To be eligible for a visa, an applicant will need to qualify for at least 70 points.
The new system will not apply to EU citizens already living in the UK by 31st December 2020. Those who fall under this bracket (as well as their family members) must apply under the EU Settlement Scheme and have until 30th June 2021 to do so.
In the meantime, UK employers may continue to accept the passports and national identity cards of EU citizens as evidence of their right to work in the country. Similarly, the system will not affect international students who wish to study in the UK. With a new graduate visa set to be launched during summer 2021, it is expected that students who have completed a degree will be permitted to stay for a further two years, or three if they’ve attained a PhD.
What are the requirements to work in the UK from January 2021?
Under the new system, applicants who wish to come to the UK to work will need to score a minimum of 70 points to qualify for a visa.
On a basic level, applicants will be required to show that:
- they speak English
- they have a job offer from a sponsor approved by the Home Office
- the job offer is at the necessary skill level (Regulated Qualifications Framework level 3 or above – equating to A Level or equivalent)
The job offered to the applicant must also meet the minimum salary threshold, which is the higher figure of either:
- the general salary threshold set by the Government at £25,600; or
- the specific salary requirement for the individual occupation – known as the “going rate”.
By meeting these criteria, applicants will earn a maximum of 50 points. The remaining 20 points can be made up from so-called “tradeable” characteristics, usually based on the salary for the role offered to the applicant, or their educational qualifications. The points system in its current form is set out in the table below:
|Characteristics||Mandatory / Tradeable||Points|
|Offer of job by an approved sponsor||Mandatory||20|
|Job at an appropriate skill level||Mandatory||20|
|Speak English at the required level||Mandatory||10|
|Salary of £20,480 to £23,039 or at least 80% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher)||Tradeable||0|
|Salary of £23,040 to £25,599 or at least 90% of the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher)||Tradeable||10|
|Salary of £25,600 or above or at least the going rate for the profession (whichever is higher)||Tradeable||20|
|Job in a shortage occupation as designated by the Migration Advisory Committee||Tradeable||20|
|Education qualification: PhD in a subject relevant to the job||Tradeable||10|
|Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job||Tradeable||20|
Using these criteria, applicants can “trade” characteristics such as their qualifications against a lower salary to get the required points total of 70. If the job offered has a salary less than the minimum salary requirement but not less than £20,480, the applicant may still be eligible if they have:
- a job offer in an occupation which has been specifically listed as having a shortage of workers
- a PhD qualification that is relevant to the job
- a PhD in a STEM subject that is relevant to the job
What does the points-based immigration system mean for sponsors?
From 1st January 2021, UK employers that wish to recruit EU and non-EU citizens will need a sponsor licence. Under the new system, these will be known as “Skilled Worker Licences”, whilst licenses for intra-group transfers of employees within a wider international company group will be renamed “Intra-Company Transfer licences”.
When applying for a sponsor licence, checks will be implemented to ensure that the organisation is solvent, whilst key senior individuals within the sponsoring employer will be subject to a criminal record and potentially other security checks.
Employers will continue to be subject to charges of £1,000 per skilled worker (Immigration Skills Charge) for the first 12 months of their employment, with a further £500 charge for each subsequent period of six months. These charges will apply to the vast majority of sponsors, although discounts may be available for smaller employers and charities.
Aside from the scrutiny discussed above, the Government has committed to delivering “radical changes” to the sponsorship process. These changes are aimed at streamlining the sponsorship application process and reducing the amount of time it takes to bring in a new migrant worker.
Examples of changes due to be implemented include the suspension on the current cap on migrant numbers who can come to the UK and removing the requirement for employers to advertise roles in certain ways before hiring a migrant worker, known as the resident labour market test
Will there be routes for highly skilled and non-skilled workers?
In line with the new points-based system, the Government has expressed its intention to create an unsponsored route to attract the most highly skilled workers to the UK even if they do not yet have a job offer. This route will not commence on 1st January 2021, and further details are expected to be announced in due course.
As mentioned previously, further information has been provided on the route for Graduates. Students that complete an undergraduate or master’s degree can apply for a two-year Graduate visa to remain and work in the UK. PhD students will be eligible for a similar route, albeit for three years.
Regrettably, the new points-based system does not currently make provision for non-skilled workers. Whilst the tradeable points system is arguable more flexible than the current regime (reducing the minimum salary threshold from £30,000 to £20,480, for instance), it is unlikely that many of the roles for which employers currently recruit EU, and non-EU workers will qualify. The Government have, however, drawn attention to the youth mobility scheme, which currently sees 20,000 young people come to the UK from eight countries each year.
Getting ready for the new immigration system
As we get closer to the end of the Brexit transition period and the beginning of the new points-based system on 1st January 2021, there is much for employers to do if they wish to continue recruiting from overseas.
Companies that have an existing sponsor licence do not necessarily need to take action, but they should monitor announcements from the Government for any changes that may apply to them. This period also presents a good opportunity to update records and procedures to ensure that the sponsorship process works efficiently.
For one thing, the right to work checks are changing under the new system, and applicants will be able to use an online platform to demonstrate and verify their right to work. This means that employers will be permitted to conduct right to work checks remotely – including via video call.
For those companies that do not have a current sponsor licence, applications should be made sooner rather than later. Although the standard time for processing a sponsor application is 8 weeks, the Home Office may take considerably longer than this as they rush to deal with the influx of new applications at the same time as combatting the effects of COVID-19. Whilst it is not necessary to apply for a sponsor licence when employing UK citizens or EU citizens registered under the EU Settlement Scheme, companies will require a sponsor licence to employ workers under any other circumstances.
At W H Solicitors we understand that the new points-based immigration scheme raises many questions and stand ready to support UK employers and migrants alike. As a specialist firm of immigration solicitors, we have an in-depth knowledge of the sponsorship process and can guide you past the pain points towards an effective employment outcome. From conducting right to work checks through to making detailed representations on behalf of our clients, we are experienced in all areas of UK immigration law. We are equipped to help clients of all sizes to hire high-quality personnel from overseas.
To secure continuity for yourself or your business, contact our expert team today on (+44) 01483 608 786 or by emailing [email protected]. Whether you are an individual or a large corporation, we will listen to your concerns, work with you to achieve your goals, and find the solution to any immigration problems you face