A new UK points-based immigration system for work visas is to apply from 1 January 2021.
As the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December 2020, and with it EU free movement, the new system is to apply to both EU and non-EU citizens coming to the UK from 2021.
For UK employers, the impact of the reforms cannot be underestimated. The new system has been designed to move the UK economy away from what the Government’s policy paper refers to as a “reliance on cheap labour from Europe”, and will drive fundamental shifts in how workforce needs are met across sectors and skill levels. The government message to employers is that they have no choice but to “adjust” to the new world.
A new UK points-based system
The Government’s overriding vision is “to reduce overall levels of migration and give top priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talents”.
The changes will affect anyone coming to the UK from 2021 to work. Non-UK residents from EEA and non-EEA countries looking to come to the UK to work from 1st January 2021 must attain the required points and apply for a visa under the new immigration system. EU citizens currently in the UK are required to register under the EU settlement scheme to secure their immigration status.
With changes to the definition and scope of skilled workers and removal of any lower-skilled work visa, there is a lot for employers to absorb and respond to, and a fast-approaching deadline of 1 January 2021 to be ready by.
We summarise the changes employers need to be aware of.
UK work visas
The new points-based system will offer immigration routes for highly skilled workers, skilled workers, students and other specialists such as global leaders and innovators.
Employers wanting to hire non-UK national workers after 1 January 2021 will need to hold a sponsorship licence. With new routes already opening to allow workers to come to the UK under the new regime, it makes sense for UK employers to apply as soon as possible for their licence to avoid disruption to operations and their recruitment pipeline.
Visitors will in most cases be able to come to the UK for up to six months without a visa, but will not have the right to work. Those who come to the UK as a visitor will need to leave the country before making an application for another route.
Non-UK nationals will have to attain 70 points to qualify for a UK work visa.
There are three mandatory requirements: having an offer of a job with a sponsored employer; having a job at the appropriate skill level; speaking English to the required level. These total 50 points, and applicants must then make up their points to the 70 points threshold from the remaining characteristics, which include salary level, shortage occupation and education qualification.
|Offer of job by approved sponsor
|Job at appropriate skill level
|Speaks English at required level
|Salary of £20,480 (minimum) – £23,039
|Salary of £23,040 – £25,599
|Salary of £25,600 or above
|Job in a shortage occupation (as designated by the MAC)
|Education qualification: PhD in subject relevant to the job
|Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job
The government policy guidance has also indicated that points allocations will remain subject to review and may be “refined” to improve flexibility, such as including new characteristics or amending tradeable attributes.
Under the plans, the definition of skilled workers is being expanded and the skill level reduced from level 6 (degree) to level 3 (A-level), ie those educated to A-level/Scottish Highers-equivalent standard and not just graduate level, as is currently the case.
In a welcome move, there will no longer be a cap on the number of skilled worker visas that can be issued to qualifying individuals.
The minimum salary threshold for skilled workers is to be lowered from £30,000 per annum to the higher of either £25,600 or the “going rate” for the role. The salary requirement is lower for shortage occupations at £20,480, which currently include nurses, civil engineers and individuals with a PhD relevant to a specific job.
The Migration Advisory Committee is being commissioned by the Government to devise the shortage occupation list for the new skilled worker route.
Low skilled workers
There will be no work visas for general low-skilled or temporary workers under the new points-based immigration system. This means roles that do not require A-level qualifications or higher will not qualify under the new rules.
This will be hugely problematic for UK employers that rely heavily on ‘low-skilled’ and/or low paid workers such as farms, restaurants, hotels and care homes.
While sectors such as health & social care, agriculture, construction, retail and leisure have been vocal in their concerns about cutting off the supply of low skilled migrant labour, the Government has stated its position with the new rules is to shift the economy away from a dependence on unskilled European workers, in favour of the domestic labour market and innovation, automation and technological solutions.
This will be a painful transition, particularly for employers reliant on human resources to perform critical work deemed unskilled under the new system.
The Government has said the EU settlement scheme has provided employers with some reprieve in allowing EU citizens who have applied to stay in the UK to help meet short-term labour demands.
In addition, it has also referred to additional sector-focused schemes to alleviate labour shortages, for example seasonal agricultural workers and youth mobility programmes (currently under Tier 5) allowing 20,000 young people to come to the UK each year.
Affected employers will, however, need to take action now to reassess and remodel their recruitment strategies and workforce planning to take them into 2021 and beyond.
The paper confirms that international students will also have to apply under the points-based system. Points will be awarded where the applicant has an offer from an approved educational institution, speaks English and is able to support themselves during their studies in the UK.
Freelancers & self-employed
There will be no route for freelancers or those who are self-employed. Such individuals who are without an employer or sponsorship will need to consider non-points-based routes such as the innovator visa, any new unsponsored routes and existing routes such as the Permitted Paid Engagement visa.
How much is going to change with the new points-based immigration system?
The biggest shock to the system – both economically, culturally and socially – will be the end of EU free movement coupled with no general UK work visa for lower skilled roles.
The Government has been clear that employers who wish to employ non-UK resident workers coming to the UK after 1 January 2021 will be required to hold a valid sponsor licence, and to apply early to ensure this is in place for when the new rules take effect.
Recruitment programmes from 2021 should therefore be reviewed by employers to ensure they give full consideration to the immigration and visa implications of hiring non-UK resident workers, including what this means for budgets, timescales, candidate selection and onboarding.
Existing EU national workers should also be prompted and supported to ensure they have registered under the settlement scheme, and as such will remain in the UK lawfully after the deadline of 30 June 2021.
While there may have been initial hopes that the Government may become creative in providing sector or role-specific concessions, particularly for use as leverage in trade negotiations, we have yet to see such pragmatism reflect in the rules.
The Home Office has worked hard to distance the new rules from the existing points-based system for work visas. Policy papers avoid referring to ‘tiers’ as per the current system and the routes themselves also differ in the detail, such as skills levels being altered.
However, the functional aspects of the new system, from the detail so far released, appear not to be too dissimilar to how the current UK points-based system for work visas operates. While the policy documents to date indicate that sponsor applications and applications are to be reviewed and improved, this has yet to materialise into specifics. In any event, the reform certainly does not go as far as the Australian-style system which affords considerably more flexibility for work visa applicants in attaining the required points.
If you are concerned about the impact of the changes on your company and its ability to meet its workforce needs from 2021, DavidsonMorris can help.
As employer solutions lawyers, we bring together specialist UK immigration lawyers with experts in employment, HR and global mobility to provide advice, strategy and implementation support across all your people requirements.
UK points-based immigration system FAQs
How does a points based immigration system work?
Individuals wanting to come to the UK work after 1 January 2021 will need to apply for a visa by showing they have enough points to meet the requirements of the immigration route. Work visa applicants will need a minimum of 70 points, from a combination of mandatory and tradeable characteristics.
Does the UK have a points based immigration system?
The UK currently operates a points-based system applicable to non-EEA workers. From 1 January 2021, a new immigration system will be introduced requiring all non-UK nationals to apply for a visa to work in the UK. To be eligible for a UK work visa, applicants will need to attain a minimum of 70 points.
Can I move to the UK without a job?
Free movement rules still apply to EU nationals until 31 December 2020. After this date, all EU citizens and non-EEA nationals will have to apply for permission to work in the UK under an appropriate immigration route. Under the new points-based immigration system, applicants will need to be sponsored by an employer, in addition to meeting other requirements to attain the required 70 points. Unsponsored routes are also available eg Global Talent visa, for individuals possessing specific skills or level of standing within their profession.
How can DavidsonMorris help with the new points-based immigration system?
DavidsonMorris’ specialists bring together expertise in UK immigration law, employment, HR and global mobility. We are working with companies across all areas of the UK economy to advise on the implications of the new points-based system on recruitment, onboarding and workforce planning. We also advise individuals on immigration routes and applications, alleviating the stress and improving your prospects of securing a visa.
The full policy paper can be found here.
Last updated: 20 August 2020