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The new points-based immigration system: a detailed overview

15 April 2020
The new points-based immigration system: a detailed overview

From 1 January 2021, free movement will end and the UK will introduce a points-based immigration system. The new system will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and change how all migrants come to the UK to work.

Under a points-based immigration system, points are assigned for specific skills, qualifications, salaries and shortage occupations. Visas are then awarded to those who gain enough points.

The points-based system will provide simple, effective and flexible arrangements for skilled workers from around the world to come to the UK through an employer-led system.

This is a big change for employers in the UK, who will need to adapt.

EU citizens already living in the UK

The new system will not apply to EU citizens living in the UK by 31 December 2020. They and their family members can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme and have until 30 June 2021 to make an application.

As a transition measure, employers can continue to accept the passports and national identity cards of EU citizens as evidence of their right to work up until 30 June 2021.

Skilled workers

From 1 January 2021, anyone coming to the UK to work will need to demonstrate that:

  • they have a job offer from a Home Office approved sponsor
  • the job offer is at the required skill level – RQF 3 or above (A Level and equivalent)
  • they speak English

In addition to this:

  • if they earn more than the required minimum salary threshold they are eligible to make an application
  • if they earn less than the required minimum salary threshold, but no less than £20,480, they may still be eligible if they can demonstrate that they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation or a PhD relevant to the job

Anyone coming to work in the UK will need to be paid the higher of the specific salary threshold for their occupation – the ‘going rate’ – and the general salary threshold. However, some applicants will be able to trade characteristics, such as their qualifications, against a lower salary. The general minimum salary threshold will be £25,600.

Identifying whether a job meets the required skill level

All jobs have a corresponding Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code.

The Immigration Rules will be updated in order to expand the list of occupations that will be eligible for the Skilled Work route.

A total of 70 points is needed to be able to apply to work in the UK.

Highly-skilled workers

From January 2021, the current Global Talent route will open to EU citizens on the same basis as non-EU citizens. This means the most highly skilled, who can achieve the required level of points, will be able to enter the UK without a job offer if they are endorsed by the relevant competent body.

In the longer term, an unsponsored route for highly skilled workers will be introduced, which will allow a small number of the most highly skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer.

Lower-skilled workers

There will not be an immigration route for those who do not meet the skills or salary threshold for the skilled worker route.

The new immigration system provides more flexibility for employers with changes to salary and skills thresholds. Employers can also benefit from the youth mobility scheme. The UK has arrangements in place with eight countries and territories to enable around 20,000 young people to come to the UK each year.

Other routes

Initiatives are also being brought forward for scientists, graduates and NHS workers, which will provide businesses with additional flexibility. A new Graduate Immigration Route will be available to international students who have completed a degree in the UK from summer 2021. This will enable international students to remain in the UK and work at any skill level for two years after they have completed their studies.

Becoming an approved sponsor

Employers not currently approved by the Home Office to be a sponsor should consider applying now if they think they will want to sponsor skilled migrants, including from the EU, from early 2021.

You will need to apply to be a sponsor if you want to recruit workers from outside the resident labour market from 1 January 2021. Until then current immigration rules will apply.

The standard processing time for an application is usually 8 weeks.

You do not need to be a sponsor to employ someone from the resident labour market with an existing right to work in the UK. This includes EU citizens with settled or pre-settled status, and non-EU citizens with indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

You will need to:

1. Check your business eligible
To get a licence, you must not have unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other crimes, such as fraud or money laundering.

2. Choose the type of licence you want to apply for
This will depend on what type of worker you want to sponsor:

  • Tier 2 – skilled workers with long-term job offers
  • Tier 5 – skilled temporary workers

You can apply for a licence covering either tier or both.

3. Decide who will manage sponsorship within your business
You need to appoint people within your business to manage the sponsorship process when you apply for a licence. The main tool they will use is the sponsorship management system (SMS). The roles are:

  • authorising officer – a senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the SMS
  • key contact – your main point of contact with UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
  • level 1 user – responsible for all day-to-day management of your licence using the SMS

These roles can be filled by the same person or different people.

4. Apply online and pay a fee

Type of licence Fee for small or charitable sponsors Fee for medium or large sponsors
Tier 2 £536 £1,476
Tier 5 £536 £536
Tier 2 and Tier 5 £536 £1,476
Add a Tier 2 to an existing Tier 5 No fee £940
Add a Tier 5 to an existing Tier 2 No fee No fee

The fees stated are current as of March 2020. Fees are kept under review and may be subject to change.

You are usually a small business if:

  • your annual turnover is £10.2 million or less
  • you have 50 employees or fewer

The visa process

New immigration routes, such as the skilled worker route, will open from autumn 2020 for applications from those who wish to work in the UK from 1 January 2021. Applicants will apply and pay for their visa online. Anyone who comes to the UK as a visitor will not be able to apply for a visa to work once in the country.

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