The UK Points Based System: A Guide

points based system

IN THIS SECTION

The United Kingdom’s Points Based System (PBS) sets the framework for those looking to apply for a UK work, study or business visa.

Introduced to coincide with Brexit, the Points Based System was designed to reshape immigration to the UK, aligning it more closely with the country’s economic and educational aspirations. By assessing applicants against a standardised set of criteria, including skill level, salary, and language proficiency, the PBS’s purpose is to ensure that only those meeting the UK’s specific economic and societal needs are granted entry.

For visa applicants, the PBS requirements can quickly become confusing, with complex rules on when points can be awarded, which are also subject to frequent change. For UK employers, the PBS sets a rigid framework under which foreign national workers can be employed, while also imposing strict compliance obligations.

In this guide, we explain the UK’s Points Based System, providing background and practical insights into the main PBS routes for workers and students.

If you have a specific query about a PBS visa or application, speak to our UK immigration specialists. At DavidsonMorris, we provide points-based visa application management services and strategic guidance to employers recruiting from overseas and to applicants seeking to come to the UK.

 

 

Section A: Points Based System Overview

 

1. What is the Points Based System?

 

The Points Based System (PBS) is an immigration framework employed by the United Kingdom to manage and assess the eligibility of individuals wishing to work, study, or settle in the UK.

At its core, the PBS assigns applicants points for various attributes and qualifications, such as professional skills, educational background, salary levels, and English language proficiency.

The total points an applicant accrues determines their eligibility for different types of visas.

This system allows the UK government to regulate immigration flows in a structured manner, prioritising individuals whose skills and talents are deemed most beneficial to the country’s economy and society.

 

2. Background to the Points Based System

 

The UK government first introduced a points-based immigration system in 2008 to reform the previous, more opaque immigration system.

Prior to the PBS, the UK’s immigration rules were criticised for being overly complex and difficult to navigate, both for applicants and the authorities managing immigration. The pre-PBS system was also seen as insufficiently flexible to respond to the rapidly changing needs of the UK’s economy and labour market.

Implementing the five-tier immigration system marked a strategic shift towards a more transparent, objective, and efficient approach to immigration. It was designed to simplify the UK’s immigration process by establishing a coherent, points-based framework that made the process clearer and more accessible for both applicants and employers. It was also intended to enable adjustments and amendments to immigration criteria to align with the UK’s economic needs and policy. The structured nature of the PBS was also intended to enhance security and compliance, affording immigration authorities powers of enforcement and to verify the information provided by applicants.

 

 

3. Post-Brexit Points Based System

Over time, the PBS evolved in response to political, economic, and social developments, most recently after Brexit. The current Points Based System came into effect on 1 January 2021 following the UK’s departure from the EU. It replaced the UK’s old five-tier immigration system with a range of visa routes designed to cater for different types of workers and employment.

 

4. Which UK Work Visas fall under the Points-Based System?

 

Workers coming to the UK under the following routes will be assessed under the Points Based System:

 

a. Skilled Worker Visa

b. Health and Care Worker Visa

c. Global Business Mobility Visas

d. Innovator Founder Visa

e. Graduate Visa

f. Creative Worker Visa

g. International Sportsperson Visa

h. Seasonal Worker Visa

i. Youth Mobility Scheme

j. Scale Up Visa

k. International Agreement Visa

l. Global Talent Visa

 

This list is subject to change as the UK Government amends the available work routes and their underlying criteria.

In addition to work visas, the UK’s Student visa is also operated under the PBS.

 

 

Section B: How Does the Points Based System Work?

 

The Points Based System (PBS) in the UK evaluates potential immigrants based on a structured set of criteria designed to assess their ability to contribute to the UK economy and integrate into society.

The system allocates points for various attributes and qualifications, focusing primarily on skill level, salary thresholds, and language proficiency, among others.

 

1. Criteria Used to Assess Applicants

 

a. Skill Level

Applicants are assessed based on the skill level of the job they are applying for. The UK government maintains a list of eligible occupations, categorised by skill levels that align with the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF).

For example, a job offer in an occupation classified as RQF Level 6 (equivalent to graduate level) might earn a set number of points.

 

b. Salary Thresholds

The salary offered for the position plays a crucial role in the assessment. The system sets minimum salary thresholds that vary by job type, reflecting the market rate for skilled professions.

Higher salaries can also earn additional points, incentivising the migration of highly compensated professionals.

 

c. Language Proficiency

Proficiency in the English language is essential for integration into the UK and is, therefore, a significant factor in the points assessment.

Most applicants will need to pass a Secure English Language Test (SELT) at a required level to evidence their proficiency by achieving a level B1 in reading, writing, speaking, and listening in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or an equivalent test awards a specific number of points.

 

2. Examples of Points Allocations

Points thresholds and criteria are subject to frequent changes to meet the needs of the UK labour market and economy. Professional advice on your application will ensure you work to the most recent rules.

The following are examples of some of the current points allocations under certain PBS routes:

 

a. Skilled Worker Visa Points

 

1. Job at an appropriate skill level: 20 points.

2. Job offer from an approved sponsor: 20 points.

3. Speaks English at the required level: 10 points.

4. Salary of £38,700 or above (or the ‘going rate’ for the job): Up to 20 points, with additional points for higher salaries.

 

b. Health and Care Visa (part of the Skilled Worker route)

 

Points for job skill level and sponsorship are similar to the Skilled Worker visa, but applicants in health and care professions may be eligible for reduced visa fees and expedited processing and a lower salary threshold.

 

c. Global Talent Visa

 

For leaders or potential leaders in academia, research, arts, and culture, points are not allocated the same way as for skilled workers; instead, applicants must be endorsed by a recognised UK body.

This systematic approach ensures that immigration is aligned with national interests, facilitating the entry of individuals who can contribute positively to society.

 

Section C: Applying under the Points Based System

 

Applying for a visa under the UK’s Points Based System involves several steps. The specific application process will depend on the visa category you are applying for, but in general, the stages are as follows:

 

1. Step-by-Step Guide on the Application Process

 

Step 1: Determine Your Visa Type
Identify the correct visa category that suits your circumstances, such as Skilled Worker, Student, or Health and Care Visa. Each category has specific requirements and eligibility criteria.

 

Step 2: Satisfy the Visa Requirements 
Understand the eligibility requirements you’ll need to meet, both the general criteria for visa applicants as well as the specific requirements under the route you’re applying under.

For example, for certain work visas, you’ll need a job offer from a UK employer with a licensed sponsor. This includes the Skilled Worker and Health and Care Worker visa, as well as most temporary worker visas.

Students, however, need an offer from a licensed educational institution and receive a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS).

The Innovator Founder visa requires endorsement by an authorised body before the visa application can be made.

 

Step 3: Gather Supporting Documents
Prepare all required documents to meet the visa requirements you are applying for.

 

Step 4: Complete the Online Application
Complete the visa application form on the UK Government’s official website.

You will be asked to provide personal information, details of your planned stay, and your Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) number for a sponsored work visa or Confirmation of Acceptance of Studies (CAS) as a student, where applicable.

 

Step 5: Pay the Visa Fee and Healthcare Surcharge
Pay the necessary visa application fee and the Immigration Healthcare Surcharge unless you are exempt.

 

Step 6: Schedule and Attend a Biometric Appointment
Book an appointment at a visa application centre to provide your fingerprints and photograph.

 

Step 7: Submit Your Application and Supporting Documents
Some applicants can upload documents online, while others may need to submit them at their biometric appointment. Follow the specific instructions provided during your application process.

 

Step 8: Await the Decision
Processing times can vary, but you’ll usually receive a decision within three weeks for applications made outside the UK.

 

2. Documents and Evidence Required

 

The checklist of supporting documents will depend on the visa you are applying for, but the following will be required as a minimum:

 

a. Passport: Valid travel document with at least one blank page.

b. Proof of Financial Means: Bank statements or sponsor letters proving you can support yourself (and dependents, if any) during your stay.

c. Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)or Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS): For work and student visas, respectively.

d. Evidence of English Language Proficiency: Such as test results or proof of a degree taught in English.

e. Criminal Record Certificate: For certain jobs or if staying longer than six months.

f. Tuberculosis Test Results: If you’re from a country where this is required.

 

3. Tips for a Successful Application

 

a. Double-Check Eligibility and Documents: Make sure you meet all the eligibility criteria for your visa category and have all the required documents.

b. Proofread Your Application: Ensure all information is accurate and consistent with your documents.

c. Meet the English Language Requirement: Prepare for and take an approved English language test if needed.

d. Show Sufficient Funds: Clearly demonstrate you have the financial means to support yourself during your stay.

e. Be Honest and Complete in Your Answers: Provide truthful information and complete answers to all questions.

f. Prepare for Your Biometric Appointment: Arrive on time and bring all necessary documents to your biometric appointment.

g. Seek Professional Advice: DavidsonMorris can assist with compiling, reviewing and managing the UK visa application process.

 

Section D: Key Categories under the Points Based System

 

A range of immigration routes are included under the Points Based System. Some of the more commonly used are the Skilled Worker Visa, the Health And Care Worker Visa and the Student Visa.

 

1. Skilled Worker Visa Requirements

 

The Skilled Worker category under the UK’s Points Based System (PBS) is designed for individuals who have been offered a job in the UK by a sponsor licence holder.

This category is essential for employers looking to hire foreign nationals in skilled positions.

Successful applicants are granted permission to stay in the UK for up to 5 years before they need to extend their visa. After five years, they may be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain, granting them permanent residency in the UK.

Key eligibility and procedural requirements for the Skilled Worker visa include:

 

a. Job Offer from an Approved Sponsor
Applicants must have a job offer from an employer who is licensed by the UK Home Office to sponsor skilled workers. The job offer should be for a role that matches the applicant’s skills and qualifications.

 

b. Appropriate Skill Level
The job offer must be at or above a certain skill level. The UK uses the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) to classify job roles. Most skilled worker visas require the job to be at RQF level 3 or higher, corresponding to A-level qualifications.

 

c. Minimum Salary Threshold
The salary for the job must meet or exceed a general salary threshold or the “going rate” for that particular occupation, whichever is higher. This is currently set to £38,700 per year but is set to increase further in 2024 under UK government plans. The minimum salary threshold can also vary depending on the specific job type and other factors such as the applicant’s experience and the region of employment.

 

d. English Language Proficiency
Applicants must prove their knowledge of English by either passing a Secure English Language Test (SELT) at level B1 or higher, having a degree taught in English, or being a national of an English-speaking country.

Read our detailed guide to the Skilled Worker visa here >>

 

2. Health and Care Visa Eligibility Requirements

 

The Health and Care Visa is a specific category within the UK’s Points Based System designed to attract medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers, to work in the National Health Service (NHS), the social care sector, or for NHS suppliers.

This visa aims to provide a fast-track entry and reduced visa fees for eligible healthcare professionals, recognising their critical contribution to the UK’s public health sector.

Eligibility criteria for the Health and Care Visa include:

 

a. Job Offer in an Eligible Profession
Applicants must have a job offer from licensed employers in the NHS, an NHS supplier, or in adult social care. The job offer should be in one of the eligible professions listed by the UK government, which primarily includes medical practitioners, nurses, and several healthcare professionals.

 

b. Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS)
Similar to the Skilled Worker visa, applicants need a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) from their UK employer. The CoS proves that the individual has been offered a role that qualifies for the Health and Care Visa.

 

c. Appropriate Skill Level
The job must be at the appropriate skill level. Most healthcare positions will meet this requirement as they often require a high level of qualification and expertise.

 

d. Minimum Salary Threshold
The offered salary must meet the general threshold or the specific going rate for the profession, ensuring that the pay reflects the skill level and qualifications required for the role.

Under current rules, for applications made on or after 4 April 2024, the minimum salary threshold for most Health and Care Worker visa applicants is £23,200 (up from £20,960) or the national pay scale for the role, whichever is higher. Workers applying for a role that is not on a national pay scale will have to meet a general annual salary threshold of £29,000. In some cases, you may still be able to apply for a Health and Care visa even if your salary is lower than the required level.

 

e. English Language Proficiency

Health and care professionals must demonstrate their knowledge of English, which is crucial for patient care and professional integration. This is typically proven by passing an English language test at the required level.

Read our detailed guide to the Health and Care Worker visa here >>

 

3. Student Visa Requirements

 

Under the UK’s Points Based System, the Student visa category is designed for international students who wish to undertake any post-16 education at a UK institution. This category plays a crucial role in promoting the UK as a global hub for education and cultural exchange.

Successful applicants can arrive in the UK before their course starts: up to 1 week before, if the course lasts 6 months or less, or up to 1 month before, if the course lasts more than 6 months. The length of stay allowed depends on the duration of the course and any additional study years granted for postgraduate research students or potential further study.

Key eligibility criteria include:

 

a. Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS)
To qualify for a Student visa, applicants must first receive an offer from a licensed student sponsor, which could be a university, college, or school. Following the acceptance of this offer, the institution will provide a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) number, which proves that the applicant has been accepted onto a course of study.

 

b. Course Requirements
The course must meet certain criteria depending on the level of education. For higher education, it must lead to a recognised qualification at RQF level 6 (equivalent to a bachelor’s degree) or above. Courses at lower levels must also meet specific requirements, such as being a full-time course leading to at least RQF level 3 or a recognised foundation program for postgraduate doctors or dentists.

 

c. Financial Requirements
Applicants must demonstrate that they have sufficient funds to cover their course fees for the first year of study and living costs.

 

d. English Language Proficiency
Students must prove their knowledge of English by passing a Secure English Language Test (SELT) from an approved provider. The required level of proficiency depends on the course and institution but is typically at the B2 level of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) for higher education courses.

 

Section E: Impact of the Points Based System on Immigration

 

The introduction of the Points Based System significantly altered immigration patterns in the United Kingdom, impacting various sectors, including the workforce and higher education.

 

1. Changes in Immigration Patterns

 

a. Skilled Migration Focus
The PBS has shifted the focus towards attracting skilled migrants, prioritising those who can fill specific gaps in the UK labour market. By assigning points based on skills, qualifications, and the need within certain sectors, the UK has been able to more effectively manage the flow of migrants according to economic demands.

 

b. Reduction in Non-Essential Migration
One of the system’s aims was to reduce the number of migrants coming to the UK for reasons deemed non-essential. By setting clear criteria and thresholds, such as minimum salary levels and language proficiency, the PBS has deterred lower-skilled migration and those unable to meet the stringent requirements, thereby focusing on individuals most likely to contribute economically.

 

c. Global Talent Attraction
The PBS has sought to enhance the UK’s ability to attract global talent, particularly in high-demand sectors such as healthcare, engineering, and technology. Special visa categories, like the Global Talent Visa, facilitate the entry of individuals recognised as leaders or potential leaders in their fields.

 

2. Impact on the Workforce

 

a. Filling Skill Gaps
The PBS has been instrumental in filling skill gaps in the UK workforce, particularly in sectors experiencing shortages, such as healthcare, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), and IT. By enabling more targeted immigration, the system helps maintain the competitiveness of the UK’s economy.

 

b. Challenges for Small Businesses
While the system benefits large employers and sectors in dire need of skilled professionals, small businesses have faced challenges in navigating the complexities of the PBS. The costs and administrative burdens associated with sponsoring overseas workers can be prohibitive for smaller enterprises.

 

c. Dynamic Response to Economic Needs
The flexibility of the PBS allows for adjustments in response to the UK’s economic needs and labour market changes. This dynamic approach helps ensure that the workforce evolves in line with economic shifts and priorities.

However, frequent changes do present a challenge for employers and applicants, who must ensure they are working to the most up-to-date requirements.

In addition, in recent years, many of these changes have sought to restrict immigration into the UK, such as increasing minimum salary thresholds.

 

3. Impact on Higher Education

 

a. Attraction of International Students
The PBS includes provisions for international students, making the UK an attractive destination for higher education. The ability of universities to attract talented students globally enhances the academic environment and contributes to the diversity of the student body.

 

b. Economic Contributions
International students make significant economic contributions, not just through tuition fees but also by spending in the local economy. Their presence supports jobs and services in university towns and cities.

 

c. Post-Study Work Opportunities
The reintroduction of the post-study work visa under the PBS allows international students to remain in the UK for two years (three years for doctoral graduates) after completing their studies, contributing to the skilled workforce. This opportunity makes the UK more attractive to students who wish to gain work experience post-graduation.

Read more about the Graduate Route here >>

 

Section F: Summary

 

The UK’s Points Based System represents a structured and strategic approach to immigration, aiming to attract individuals who can contribute positively to the nation’s economy, society, and educational institutions.

By assigning points for specific criteria such as skill level, salary, and language proficiency, the PBS ensures that only eligible applicants are able to work, study, or live in the UK.

This system covers various visa categories, including Skilled Workers, International Students, Health and Care Visas, and others, each designed to meet the UK’s diverse needs.

However, navigating the Points-Based System and its requirements can be complex, and details may vary based on individual circumstances and ongoing policy changes. Personalised advice can be the difference between a successful application and an unforeseen setback.

If you’re considering applying for a visa under the PBS, or if you’re an employer looking to sponsor overseas talent, our experts can help.

DavidsonMorris are UK immigration specialists, providing visa application services and tailored guidance to help you navigate the process and improve your prospects of success. Contact us for expert advice.

 

Section G: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About the Points Based System

 

What is the Points Based System (PBS)?

The PBS is a method used by the UK to manage immigration, where applicants receive points for various criteria, such as skill level, salary, and language proficiency. It applies to workers, students, and several other categories of migrants, helping to ensure that only those who meet specific criteria can move to the UK.

 

Who needs to apply through the PBS?

Non-UK residents wishing to work, study, or join family members in the UK typically need to apply through the PBS. This includes skilled workers, healthcare professionals, researchers, and international students, among others.

 

How can I find out if I’m eligible for a visa under the PBS?

Eligibility depends on the specific visa category you’re applying for. Generally, you will need a job offer from a licensed sponsor (for work visas), an offer from a recognised educational institution (for student visas), or meet other specific criteria related to your visa type.

 

Can I bring my family members with me under the PBS?

Most PBS visas allow you to bring dependents, including your spouse, partner, and children under 18 years of age, provided certain conditions are met. Each dependent must apply for their visa, and you must show you have the financial means to support them during their stay.

 

Is there a minimum salary requirement for the Skilled Worker visa?

Yes, the Skilled Worker visa requires you to be paid a minimum salary, which can vary depending on the job. Generally, you must be paid the higher of either the general salary threshold of £38,700 per year or the specific salary requirement for your job type, known as the “going rate,” unless a lower rate applies.

 

How do I prove my English language proficiency?

You will need to pass a Secure English Language Test (SELT) from an approved provider. The required level varies depending on your visa category but is typically at B1, B2, or higher on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

 

Can I switch from one visa category to another within the PBS while I’m in the UK?

In many cases, you can apply to switch to a different visa category from within the UK, such as moving from a Student visa to a Skilled Worker visa. There are specific requirements for each category, and you must apply before your current visa expires.

 

Are there any exceptions or waivers to the PBS requirements?

Some visa categories offer exceptions or waivers for certain requirements under specific conditions, such as shortage occupations for the Skilled Worker visa, which may have lower salary thresholds. Additionally, PhD-level roles and healthcare professionals on the Health and Care visa may benefit from different criteria. Always check the latest guidance.

 

How long does it take to get a decision on my PBS visa application?

Processing times can vary based on the visa category and where you apply from. Typically, decisions for applications made outside the UK are received within 3 weeks. For applications made within the UK, it can take up to 8 weeks.

 

Section H: Glossary of Terms Relating to the Points Based System

 

Points Based System (PBS): A system used by the UK government to manage immigration, where individuals earn points for various criteria, such as skills, salary, and language proficiency, to qualify for different types of visas.

 

Skilled Worker Visa: A visa category under the PBS for individuals who have an offer of a skilled job in the UK from an approved employer (sponsor).

 

Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS): A reference number given to immigrants by their UK sponsor, proving that they have a job offer and that the job meets the criteria for a visa under the PBS.

 

Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS): A reference number given to international students by their educational institution, confirming they have been accepted onto a course of study in the UK.

 

Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF): The UK framework that defines and categorises qualifications based on their level of difficulty and skill required.

 

Secure English Language Test (SELT): An approved test that assesses the English language ability of visa applicants to ensure they meet the required standard for speaking, listening, reading, and writing in English.

 

Health and Care Visa: A visa category designed for medical professionals who have been offered a job in the NHS, an NHS supplier, or adult social care, offering faster processing times and reduced visa fees.

 

Global Talent Visa: A visa designed for individuals who are leaders or potential leaders in academia, research, arts, and culture, allowing them to work in the UK without a job offer or sponsorship.

 

Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS): A fee paid by visa applicants to access the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) during their stay.

 

Biometric Residence Permit (BRP): A card containing an immigrant’s biometric data (fingerprints and photo) and immigration status information, used as proof of the right to stay, work, or study in the UK.

 

Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR): Permission to stay in the UK without any time restrictions, granted to individuals who have lived in the UK for a certain period under a temporary visa.

 

Immigration Salary List: Formerly the Shortage Occupation List, this is a list of professions for which there are not enough resident workers to fill vacancies, making it easier for individuals in these professions to apply for a Skilled Worker visa.

 

Section I: Additional Resources

 

Government Websites

 

GOV.UK – New immigration system
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/new-immigration-system-what-you-need-to-know
The official government guide on the new immigration system, covering the points-based system and its key features.

 

GOV.UK – Skilled Worker visa
https://www.gov.uk/skilled-worker-visa
Explains the Skilled Worker visa route, a major component of the points-based system.

 

Legal Resources

 

The Law Society
https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/en
Find qualified immigration solicitors who can provide legal advice on navigating the points-based system.

 

Citizens Advice
https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/immigration/
Citizens Advice offers free legal advice on various immigration issues, including the points-based system.

 

Author

Founder and Managing Director Anne Morris is a fully qualified solicitor and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

She is a recognised by Legal 500 and Chambers as a legal expert and delivers Board-level advice on business migration and compliance risk management as well as overseeing the firm’s development of new client propositions and delivery of cost and time efficient processing of applications.

Anne is an active public speaker, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

About DavidsonMorris

As employer solutions lawyers, DavidsonMorris offers a complete and cost-effective capability to meet employers’ needs across UK immigration and employment law, HR and global mobility.

Led by Anne Morris, one of the UK’s preeminent immigration lawyers, and with rankings in The Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners, we’re a multi-disciplinary team helping organisations to meet their people objectives, while reducing legal risk and nurturing workforce relations.

Legal Disclaimer

The matters contained in this article are intended to be for general information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice, nor is it a complete or authoritative statement of the law, and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct at the time of writing, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.

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