The Government has published a policy statement setting out its plans for a new UK points-based immigration system, which will come into force on 1 January 2021 when free movement between the UK and the EU comes to an end. It will apply to the recruitment of EU and non-EU citizens.

The headline points are:

  • EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally but EU citizens will benefit from a more streamlined application process
  • The Government will not introduce a general low-skilled or temporary work route
  • Migrants to the UK will have to score 70 points under the new system to qualify for a visa
  • The skills threshold for roles that can be filled by migrant workers will be reduced to include “medium skilled occupations”
  • The cap on the number of people able to enter the UK under the skilled worker route will be suspended.

We look at the new system in more detail below.

Skilled workers

This route will stay broadly the same, except that the skills threshold will be reduced from RQF Level 6 (equivalent to degree level) to Level 3 (equivalent to A level), to include "medium skilled occupations". The resident labour market test will be abolished.

Applicants will have to score 70 points and will need to score 50 points in these compulsory criteria:

  • Job is at RQF Level 3 or above - 20 points
  • Employer has a sponsor licence - 20 points
  • Applicant speaks English to a good level - 10 points
  • Salary is a minimum of £20,480 and above the going rate for the type of job - 0 points (but compulsory)
  • Salary is at least £25,600 (or the going rate for the type of job, if higher) - 20 points

If pay is less than £25,600, an applicant can still qualify by scoring points in other ways, eg 10 points for a relevant PhD, 20 points for a relevant STEM PhD or 20 points for a job in a shortage occupation, which will be designated by MAC. Further rules apply to salary thresholds for new entrants.

There will be no regional variations in salary thresholds but different arrangements will apply for some public sector occupations, eg doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers.

Only basic salary will count towards the threshold, not allowances or pension contributions.

As is the case now, skilled workers will be able to be accompanied by their dependants.

Highly skilled workers

The Global Talent Route will be extended to EU citizens.  The most highly-skilled migrants who can achieve the points required will be able to enter the UK without a job offer if endorsed by a relevant body.  This is likely to change some time after January next year.

Lower skilled workers

There will be no low skilled or temporary work route into the UK. The Government's view is that employers will need to adjust and to invest in staff retention, productivity, technology and automation rather than recruiting cheap labour from the EU.

Visas

Anyone coming to the UK to work or study will need to apply for a visa and pay a fee.  This will not affect Irish nationals.  EU citizens will be able to upload a photo from a smartphone and will not initially have to provide fingerprints or attend a biometric appointment.  They will be issued with an e-visa.

Right to work checks

Employers can continue to accept passports and national identity cards held by EU citizens as evidence of their right to work in the UK until 30 June 2021, when applications to the EU settled status scheme close.

What employers need to do

There are various steps employers should start taking now to prepare for the new system:

  • Consider applying for a sponsor licence if they will be employing EU citizens who enter the UK after 31 December 2020.
  • Plan for an increase in recruitment costs, as the costs of employing foreign citizens will go up. The Immigration Skills Charge (up to £1,000 per employee per year) and the Immigration Health Surcharge (£400 per employee per year) will apply to EU citizens entering the UK for sponsored employment.
  • Factor in the time taken for EU citizens to apply for and obtain visas.
  • Consider how they will fill gaps in lower-skilled roles in future, particularly in sectors such as care, food and hospitality, retail and agriculture.
  • Look out for further Government announcements in relation to the new system, eg in relation to its impact on intra-company transfers.

There is no doubt that the points-based system will mark a major change in the UK's immigration system and it will take employers some time to prepare for it.  Further details will be published in due course and an Immigration Bill will be introduced to implement the new system. If you would like any assistance or advice, please contact Andrew Tingley, Partner and Head of Immigration.