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The new points-based immigration system: how will it work?

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Following the UK’s exit from the EU on 31 January 2020, the Government has published its policy statement on the proposed immigration system which will operate from January 2021 under which all EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally. 

In our latest insight, we look at the key proposals; the impact on you as employers and what you can be doing now to prepare yourselves for the new system.

The basic premise for skilled workers

All migrants wishing to come to work in the UK will require 70 points under the new system to be eligible to apply for a visa.

Applicants will need to demonstrate that they have a job offer from an approved sponsor; that the job offer is at the required skill level and that they have English language skills. Doing so will achieve 50 points. If earnings are at least £25,600 a further 20 points will be achieved. 10 points are available for having a PHD or 20 points for a PHD in Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths (STEM). Finally, 20 points are available for a job in a shortage occupation.

What are the exact salary requirements?

The general salary threshold for those applying for a visa will be lowered from £30,000 to £25,600. This will still be subject to the “going rate” specified by the Home Office being paid if this is higher in any occupation. 

The salary requirements for new entrants (for example those under 26 or recent graduates) will be set at 30% less than experienced workers. 

If applicants earn less than the required minimum salary threshold but no less than £20,480 they may still be able to apply if they can show that they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation as determined by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) or that they have a PHD relevant to the job. In effect, salary and qualifications can be “traded” so long as a maximum of 70 points is achieved. 

What about the skills threshold?

The skills threshold to apply for a visa will be reduced from RQF6 (graduate level) to RQF3 (A-level). In addition, the current cap of a maximum of 20,700 visas being granted per annum will be “suspended” (although this leaves open the possibility of the cap being re-introduced).

The resident labour market test i.e. the requirement to advertise roles for 28 days to demonstrate that no suitable worker can be found without resort to a sponsored visa will also be removed meaning that the immigration process which can take up to 3 months will become a lot quicker and less protracted. 

What are the options for Highly skilled workers wanting to come to the UK?

The Global Talent visa (formerly the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa) will be extended to highly skilled EU nationals who will be able to enter the UK without a job offer providing they are endorsed by a relevant and competent body. 

A broader and unsponsored route will run alongside the employer sponsored route within the points-based system. Points for the unsponsored route may be awarded for academic qualifications, age and relevant work experience – this looks a lot like the previous Tier 1 (General) visa.

What about lower-skilled workers? 

The Government is not proposing a route for lower skilled workers or a temporary a visa. Instead the Government is encouraging employers to adjust and focus on investing in, and training, its UK work force. Employers within the construction, retail, tourism, social care, warehousing, transportation, restaurant and café sectors are most likely to be affected without a specific route for lower skilled workers. 

What does all this mean for employers?

It is estimated that 3.2 million EU nationals have applied under the EU Settlement Scheme since March 2019 to continue to live and work in the UK. These EU nationals will not be impacted by the Government’s proposals. However, employers who are heavily reliant on an EU workforce will inevitably be impacted by the changes.

What can you do to prepare your businesses for the changes? 

  • Consider your workforce needs in the foreseeable future to see whether any of the roles which you employ may not qualify for sponsorship. In relation to such a review, our team of experts has created a tool to help you identify which of your roles may not meet the requirements of the points-based system from January 2021.
  • Continue to encourage your existing EU workforce to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme. EU nationals residing in the UK before 31 December 2020 will have until 30 June 2021 to make an application under the EU Settlement Scheme.
  • Apply for a sponsor licence - the Government’s own policy statement suggests that employers not currently approved by the Home Office as a sponsor should consider applying to become a sponsor now if employers consider they will want to sponsor skilled EU migrants from early 2021. Key routes will be open from Autumn 2020 so that migrants can start to apply ahead of the system taking effect in January 2021.

Further detail on the points-based system will be published in due course and we will continue to provide employers with an update when more detail becomes available.

Use our tool to ensure you're prepared

In anticipation of these new changes, we developed a tool that allows employers to screen employer data and receive instant feedback on job roles in the company that would fall below the recommended changes to Tier 2. For information please contact the team on the details below.

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