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Post Brexit: What Are The Major Changes To The UK Immigration System For 2021?

At the time of writing (the end of January 2021), new years day already seems a long and distant memory. Not only have we exited the EU fully, but a new US president has also been inaugurated, and the UK has now vaccinated over ten per cent of its population from COVID-19. From an immigration standpoint, the UK is now operating under an updated system designed for the post-Brexit world. In this article, we will summarise the main changes which have been made to the UK’s immigration system for 2021.

The New Points-Based Work Visa Scheme

Throughout 2020, the UK’s Home Office published a series of changes it was proposing in readiness for our full departure from the EU, at the end of the transition period. Central to these changes was the new points-based immigration system for workers coming to the UK, which were implemented in December 2020. This new system for migrant workers applies equally to EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens as it does to citizens from outside of Europe. This new programme of visas is closely based on the predecessor Tier 2 routes, and includes the following:

Skilled Worker Route

The Skilled Worker route incorporates a number of key changes to the old Tier 2 skilled work visa, which employers and international employees should be aware of. There is now no cap on the number of migrant workers who can come to the UK on this visa; previously there were limits set by the Home Office. The requirement for employers to complete a Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) has now been abolished, meaning that the level of administration and time to employment is significantly reduced – benefitting both employees and employers. The minimum salary required to secure a work visa has now been reduced by a sizeable amount from £30,000 to £25,600. In addition, the skill level threshold has been reduced from RQF level 6 (the equivalent of degree level) to RQF level 3 (the equivalent of A-level). This does not mean that applicants need to an RQF level 3 qualification, rather that they have skills required for their role in the UK which are equivalent of RQF level 3.

Crucially, under the Skilled Worker route, applicants now have to score a minimum number of points based on a set of criteria. Specifically, they must score 50 points from a set of mandatory criteria, including:

  • An offer of a job by an approved sponsor: 20 points
  • Having a job at the appropriate skill level: 20 points
  • Meet the English language skills requirement at level B1 (intermediate): 10 points

Where an applicant meets the mandatory requirements, they must also score another 20 points from a set of ‘tradeable’ criteria:

  • Salary of at least £20,480 At least 80% of the going rate for the profession (70% if a new entrant): 0 points
  • Salary of at least £23,040 At least 90% of the going rate for the profession: 10 points
  • Salary of at least £25,600 At least the going rate for the profession: 20 points
  • Salary of at least £20,480 Listed health/education job and meets the relevant national pay scale: 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
  • Job in a shortage occupation (as designated by the MAC): 20 points
  • Applicant is a new entrant to the labour market (as designated by the MAC): 20 points

This means that applicants can trade points; for example, if their salary is at the minimum of £20,480, it is still possible to secure a visa if they have a PhD or a role in a shortage occupation.

Beyond these key changes, work visa applicants still need to have a job offer and a Certificate of Sponsorship from a sponsor license holder in the UK.

Other Changes To The Immigration System

The bulk of changes to the immigration system relate to the Skilled Worker route. In addition, the Global Talent and the international study routes have been expanded to include EU, EEA, and Swiss nationals. This now means that EU citizens wishing to study in the UK will now need to have a student visa. It is very important to note here that EU students already studying in the UK before the end of 2020 may be eligible for UK settlement under the EU settlement scheme, hence they will not need to apply for a visa.

In another change for 2021, the Home Office has also implemented a two-year graduate visa for international students who have completed a course of study in the UK, and wish to remain for up to two years to find work. It is expected that this new visa option will first be made available to international graduates who complete their studies in Summer 2021. Graduate visa holders can use this time to travel, look for work, and work. And while it won’t be extendable, it will be possible to secure a full Skilled Worker visa once a graduate has been offered employment by a sponsor license holder.

Another significant change for 2021 means that EU nationals coming to the UK for more than six months may now require a visa (EU nationals travelling to the UK will not require a visa if they are coming for six months or less).

Final Words

The main crux of the immigration system changes for 2021 centres around the ending of free movement. EU nationals already in the UK are highly recommended to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme if they have not already done so, this will avoid the need to apply for future visas, and provide an easy route to citizenship. All applications for the EU Settlement Scheme must be received by the end of June 2021. If you need any assistance with securing a UK visa for 2021, speak to an immigration Solicitor in the UK who will be able to explain the options available to you, and if you prefer, they can manage the application process for you and your family members, allowing you to focus on your work, business, studies, and other important matters.

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