Following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union back in 2016, free movement between the UK and the EU ended on 31 December 2020.
As of 1 January 2021, a new points-based immigration system applies to all migrants wishing to come to the UK – whether they are EU citizens or not. This system means that all non-UK citizens will now need to meet specific requirements in order to work or study in the UK. Irish citizens’ status continues to be protected as a result of the Common Travel Area and so Irish citizens do not require permission to come to the UK.
Any EU citizens resident in the UK on or before 31 December 2020 are still eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme – the deadline for such applications is 30 June 2021.
Any visitors coming to the UK for up to 6 months may do so without a visa – but will not be able to work. This will assist those whose aim for visiting the UK includes short term study and business-related activities, such as events and conferences. Everyone else will need to apply for a visa under the new points-based immigration system.
What is the points-based system?
In order to qualify for a Skilled Worker Visa, a migrant worker will have to accumulate 70 points.
Points can be accumulated by a migrant worker as follows:
- they have a job offer from a Home Office-licensed sponsor at the required skill level = 40 points
- the job is paid at the relevant minimum salary threshold (normally £26,500 or the going rate for the particular job, whichever is higher) = 20 points
- the migrant worker can speak English at the intermediate level at B1 = 10 points
Where the job will be paid less than £26,500 (but no less than £20,480), a migrant worker can gain extra points in the following ways:
- they have a job offer in a shortage occupation
- they have a PhD in a subject relevant to the job
- they are a new entrant (the salary requirement for new entrants will be 30% lower than the rate for experienced workers in any occupation, to a lower limit of £20,480)
Certain jobs in health or education will still merit 20 points even if the salary is less than £25,600. The applicant must be paid at least £20,480, and in line with set amounts for particular jobs in the UK's four nations.
There is a fast-track process (with reduced application fees and dedicated support through the application process) for those working in an eligible health occupation. This is done via the Health and Care Visa. Applicants will need to: be a qualified doctor, nurse, health professional or adult social care professional; work in an eligible health or social care job for a UK employer approved by the Home Office; be paid a minimum salary for the role, and have the minimum English knowledge requirements.
Other routes to the UK
Those considered highly skilled can gain the required level of points to enter the UK without a job offer through the Global Talent visa in areas such as science, humanities, arts (including film, fashion design and architecture), engineering and digital technology.
There are also a range of other visa routes available for working in the UK, such as the Start-Up and Innovator visas.
It will also still be possible to come to the UK to study under the Student Visa route (and to undertake some limited work). To be eligible for the student route, a migrant will need to demonstrate:
- they have been offered a place on a course by a Home Office-licensed student sponsor
- they can speak, read, write and understand English
- they have enough money to support themselves and pay for the course
- they genuinely intend to study in the UK
If a migrant successfully completes a degree at undergraduate level or above in the UK, they will be able to apply for a Graduate visa to stay and work, or look for work, for a maximum period of two years (three years for PhD students) after completing their studies. The Graduate visa will open in summer 2021 to international students who were sponsored by a Home Office-licensed student sponsor which has a track record of compliance with the UK Government’s immigration requirements. It may be possible to move from a Graduate visa into the different visa routes, depending on a suitable job offer and meeting the other requirements of the visa.
The government has taken a firm stance against offering visa options to those considered to be “low skilled”. There is a concern therefore in certain sectors, such as in care and hospitality, that the ability to recruit will be hit hard by the new points-based system.
If they have not done so already, employers would be advised to review their staffing requirements as a matter of urgency, especially if they would normally rely on a large number of EU workers. It is certainly the case that the pandemic may well have impacted this project for the time being (for example in sectors with large numbers of EU workers which have been particularly affected). Employers should however be considering whether to set themselves up as sponsors by making a sponsor licence application so that they can be ready to hire migrant workers once the need arises.