The government have announced that from 1 January 2021 the UK will adopt a points-based immigration system that will see EU and non-EU citizens treated equally when applying for visas. We summarise the changes below.
The new system will assign points for specific skills, qualifications, salaries and shortage occupations and those seeking entry to the UK to work will only be granted visas once they can demonstrate that they have accumulated enough points to enter.
Those wishing to enter the UK to work as a skilled worker will therefore need to demonstrate:
- Job Offer – that they have a job offer from a Home Office approved sponsor;
- Skill Level – that the job offer is at the required RQF 3 or above skill level (i.e. A-Level or equivalent);
- Language – that they can speak English;
- Minimum Salary Threshold – that they earn more than the required minimum salary threshold of £25,600 or the appropriate rate for that specific job as set by the Government; or
- Shortage Occupation – if they cannot demonstrate that they earn more than the required minimum salary threshold but can demonstrate a salary of at least £20,480, approval may still be granted where the job offer is in a specific shortage occupation (e.g. civil engineering, medical practitioner, nurses, scientists, graphic designers etc).
For example, a graphic designer seeking to enter the UK under the new points-based system earning £23,000 per annum can expect to receive: 20 points for their job offer from a Home Office approved sponsor; 20 points for their RQF 3 qualifications; 10 points for demonstrating a good command of the English language; 0 points for failing to meet the Minimum Salary Threshold; and 20 points for working in a shortage occupation.
The 70 points that the graphic designer would accumulate would be enough for them to be awarded a work visa despite not satisfying the criteria in its entirety.
What does this mean for employers?
Employers will need to apply to the Home Office to become an approved sponsor if they wish to recruit workers from outside the UK after 1 January 2021. Until this date the current immigration rules will apply but businesses are urged to make their applications as soon as reasonably practicable to avoid any disruption or delay.
To make an application to the Home Office to become an approved sponsor, businesses will need to:
- Eligibility – demonstrate that they do not have any unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences, fraud, money laundering and other specific crimes;
- Skill Level – check that the job meets the required skill level which can be done using the Standard Occupational Classification (“SOC”) code and Appendix J of the Immigration Rules;
- Type of Licence – consider whether they need to apply for either a Tier 2 licence (skilled workers with long-term job offers) or a Tier 5 licence (skilled temporary workers);
- Appoint – appoint specific people to manage the sponsorship process using the Sponsorship Management system (“SMS”). The roles included an Authorising Officer, a Key Contact and a User; and
- Apply – pay a fee, the cost of which will vary depending on the type of licence being applied for and the size of the businesses.
What about those not considered “skilled workers”?
There have also been reforms in how other types of workers can obtain entry to the UK on a work visa.
- Highly Skilled Workers – the Global Talent route currently open to non- EU citizens will be extended to EU citizens from 1 January 2021. This means that the most highly skilled workers from around the world will be able to enter the UK without a job offer providing that they have been endorsed as a recognised leader or an emerging leader in their chosen industry or that they are endorsed by the UK Research and Innovation.
- Students – a new Graduate Immigration route will become available to international students allowing them to attend UK universities and other education institutions.
- Other – initiatives are still being created for certain sectors such as scientists, graduates and those who wish to work in the NHS. It is expected that more specific details of these initiatives will be launched throughout 2020.
It is also noteworthy that EU citizens that are already living in the UK will be eligible to apply for a work visa under the EU Settlement Scheme and will have until 30 June 2021 to submit their application. This will mean they are omitted from the new points-based system and will have the right to remain in the UK subject to the conditions of the Scheme being met.
However Lower-Skilled Workers, being those who do not meet the skills or salary threshold for the skilled worker route identified above, will not have an immigration route open to them via work.
What should employers do now?
Employers who are expecting to seek to employ people from outside the UK are strongly urged to make an application to become a Home Office approved sponsor.
The Home Office have advised that the wait time between submitting the application and a decision being made currently stands at 8 weeks, but businesses are encouraged to apply as soon as reasonably practicable for their licence.
A failure to do so may result in lengthy delays before a business is able to offer employment to those outside of the UK or obtain visas for their top overseas talent, which could cause disruption to and missed opportunities for their business.