Complied by Judit Adorjan
On 13 July 2020 the government published a new document with further details on the UK’s new points-based immigration system. Once included within the new Immigration Act, it will be operational from January 2021.
The document does not reveal a lot more detail than the proposals released in February. It concentrates on economic migration routes, such as workers and students, with no changes in policy on other major routes such as Family Life.
What are the main points?
- There is no mention of the process for applying for a sponsor licence. Employers are still encouraged to obtain a sponsor licence if they need to recruit medium/high skilled workers from EU and non-EU countries for next year.
- The current points-based system is still in place, but the Tier 2 General route is being replaced with the Skilled Worker route. The Tier 2 ICT (inter-company transfer) route will become a different category.
- Applicants can still qualify under non-sponsored routes, such as Global Talent, Start-up and Innovator if they meet the requirements. However, the document does not mention the Investor route.
- A new Health and Care visa has been introduced as part of the Skilled Worker route. This will provide fast-track entry. Reduced application fees and dedicated support to individuals with a confirmed job offer in defined health professions, for a skilled role within the NHS, the social care sector or for those sponsored by the NHS.
The Health and Care visa will be available for applicants from the 4th August.
- The Graduate route will be launched in the summer 2021. For international students with a Tier 4 (General) student visa, a student at the time of application and who has successfully completed a degree at undergraduate level or above at a UK higher education provider. It is an unsponsored, points-based route granting a 2-year period for undergraduates, graduates and those with masters. Or 3 years if graduating with a PhD to work or look for work at any skill level. Although this route does not lead to settlement, it is possible to switch into work routes if requirements are met.
- A new visa route will be introduced for British Nationals (Overseas) citizens in Hong Kong. This will grant them 5 years limited leave to remain in the UK with the possibility to apply for indefinite leave to remain at the end of those 5 years. After a further 12 months with that status, they will be able to apply for British Citizenship.
- All EU citizens will be required to hold written confirmation of their immigration status as proof of their permission to live, work and study in the UK. During 2021, EU citizens will have to use a passport rather than a national ID card to cross the border. This will not apply to those with protected rights under the Withdrawal Agreement.
- The same criminality and deportation thresholds will apply to EU citizens as to non-EU citizens. Those with a criminal record including imprisonment for at least 12 months or an offence which caused serious harm, as well as persistent offenders and those whose presence due to character, conduct or associations is not conducive to the public good will be banned from entry to the UK. Those already in the UK sentenced to 12 months+ imprisonment and foreign nationals with a serious or persistent criminality will be considered for deportation.
How will it affect those with an offer of employment?
As in the policy statement published on 19 February, all applicants (EU and non-EU citizens) will need to demonstrate that they have a job offer from an approved sponsor, that the job offer is at the required skill level, the applicant earns more than the minimum salary threshold and that they speak English. This only applies to a points-based system application.
- Minimum salary & tradeable points: The general salary threshold for the Skilled Worker route is £25,600 or the going rate for the vacancy being filled. However, skilled workers with at least 80% or 90% of the relevant salary for their occupation could make up the points elsewhere by scoring points for working in a shortage occupation or having a relevant PhD. They still have to be paid at least £20,480.
The salary thresholds for some occupations may change between now and the new route being launched.
- New entrants to the Skilled Worker route can take a 30% lower rate of pay than the rate for experienced workers in any occupation. However, the minimum salary of £20,480 must always be met. This reduced salary threshold for 3 years can remain for three years.
- Skill level: A list of RQF level 3 (medium skill level / A-level style) jobs have been published within the document which qualify for the Skilled Worker route.
The Tier 2 (ICT) route differs from the Skilled Worker route. It will require applicants to be employed in occupations skilled to Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) level 6 and subject to the minimum salary threshold of £41,500. The worker will not be subject to English language requirements but he/she must have been employed by the sending organisation for a minimum period prior to the transfer (12 months in the case of intra-company transfers or three months in the case of intra-company graduate trainees).
Are there any other changes to the sponsored worker route?
Those admitted on the Tier 2 ICT route will be permitted to switch into the Skilled Worker route whilst still in the UK if they meet the qualifying requirements for that route.
The rules regarding the cooling off period have also been updated to provide a more flexible provision for shorter-term assignments. According to the existing rules a migrant cannot return under Tier 2 sponsorship within 12 months of holding this status. This will be replaced with the rule that an overseas intra-company transfer must not hold entry clearance or leave to enter or remain as an intra-company transferee for more than five years in any six-year period, except where they qualify to be granted up to nine years on the basis of their salary.
What about lower skilled workers?
There will be no new route for lower skilled industries such as hospitality. It is unclear whether the Seasonal Workers pilot scheme for agriculture will continue under the points-based system as it has not been included in the government’s latest policy document.
What should employers do now?
Employers who currently do not hold a sponsor licence should consider applying for one if they believe they will want to sponsor skilled migrants from the EU in the future. Migrate UK advise an application should be underway prior to the Autumn as the process can take on average two to three months. The Home Office fee for a sponsor licence valid for four years is not particularly high at the moment – £536 for small organisations or £1476 for medium / large organisations. The employer will then pay as they go for each sponsored employee. Please note that employers will need protect their licence and meet Home Office compliance guidance. Holding a licence is seen as a privilege. Young or micro businesses with genuine vacancies should not be put off applying for a licence as the scheme is available to all UK organisations. Migrate UK regularly assists with applications for businesses under 6 months old that have been approved.
Which sectors will be affected the most?
Businesses who employ workers in sectors such as hospitality, retail, manufacturing and construction will undoubtedly need to plan. Some jobs within these sectors could qualify for sponsorship e.g. senior health workers, health coordinators, restaurant & bar managers, bakers, builders and plumbers. The sticking point is the minimum salary required. These businesses could look at ‘new entrants’ with lower starting salary criteria to meet. These include Tier 4 General students in the UK wishing to switch status and those under the age of 26. Alternatively, employers will need to be looking at other categories of the immigration rules.
Those in the UK now and prior to 11pm on 31st December 2020 will need to apply to remain under the EU Settlement Scheme or another immigration status as appropriate. The EU Settlement Scheme will remain open until 30th June 2021.
Migrate UK highly recommends that those who only hold a national identity card apply for a passport. Some EU citizens are currently experiencing long waiting times to obtain passports, and this will only get worse. It is important to plan this as soon as you are able.
What happens next?
The new points based system policy still needs to be approved by parliament.
The rules themselves are also due for a general rewrite in line with the Law Commission recommendations on simplification of the immigration rules, to which the government will be responding shortly.
Migrate UK also expects the job (SOC) codes to be revised as well as shortage occupational skills. The Migration Advisory Committee’s 6-week consultation regarding the shortage occupation list ended on the 24 June 2020.
Migrate UK have extensive experience in this area of immigration law. We can answer your questions and provide advice for your situation.