A new points-based immigration system for the UK

The UK Government has released a Policy Statement containing details about the new points-based immigration system which will come into force on 1 January 2021.  The proposals largely build on the recent recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee, which we considered here, and provide for a unified set of rules to cover EEA and non-EEA nationals alike.    

Under the points-based system, applicants will require a minimum of 70 points to qualify for permission to work in the UK.  Some characteristics are mandatory, with others being ‘tradeable'.   

The mandatory characteristics are:

  • Job offer by an approved sponsor (20 points)
  • Job at an appropriate skill level (20 points)
  • English language skills (10 points)

The ‘tradeable' characteristics are:

  • Salary of £23,040 to £25,599 (10 points)
  • Salary of £25,600 or more (20 points)
  • Job in a shortage occupation (20 points)
  • Education qualification – PhD in a subject relevant to the job (10 points)
  • Education qualification – PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job (20 points)

The tradeable characteristics will enable some individuals who do not earn a salary of £25,600 to qualify for sponsorship, provided they are paid the minimum of £20,480 and have other qualifying attributes (eg, a shortage occupation role, or a PhD).  This will mean that some highly skilled roles that attract a relatively low salary (eg, post-doctoral researchers) will qualify, as will some lower skilled roles (RQF Level 3 and above) that attract a sufficiently high salary.

As expected, the resident labour market test will be abolished and there will be no cap on the number of visas that can be issued each year.  This will help reduce recruitment lead-in times.  Controversially, there is no provision for roles deemed to be low skilled, including in social care, construction, retail or hospitality.  The Policy Statement refers to needing to “shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation.”  There is some sector specific provision for agriculture and this may lead to other sectors petitioning for similar treatment in the coming months.

The Government intends to open the key routes from Autumn 2020 so that migrants can lodge applications ahead of 1 January 2021.  So what actions should employers be taking now?

  • Employers who are not currently Tier 2 sponsors and who are likely to need to recruit EEA or other foreign nationals from 1 January 2021 should consider applying for a sponsor licence now.  There is likely to be a significant increase in applications over the coming months, which may result in significant delays.   
  • Employers who are already Tier 2 sponsors should consider whether their current licence reflects future requirements.  For example, do further sites need to be added, or subsidiary companies linked as a branches?
  • Employers who rely on unskilled / low skilled EEA migrant labour should begin to plan for how these roles will be filled in future.   

Further details are expected to be published in the coming months.

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