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Priti Patel Unveils Details of New UK Immigration System

At the time of writing, the UK is now only 16 weeks away from the end of the Brexit transition period. While we all hope for a favourable conclusion to the ongoing trade negotiations with the European Union, the Home Office has been preparing the UK’s new immigration regime which will come into force on 1st January 2021. This is necessary because having left the EU, once the transition period ends, so does the free movement of people from the continent. At present, EU citizens are free to ‘exercise their treaty rights, allowing them to work, live, and study in the UK as they can in any other country within Europe. The new immigration system will need to be widened to not only encompass migrants from outside of the European Economic Area (EEA) but also to include countries within the EEA and the EU.

A New ‘Points-Based System’

A core part of the strategy of the present Government for some time now has been to implement an Australian style ‘points-based system’ (PBS) to replace free movement. This was formally announced back in February 2020 in a policy statement which stated :

“From 1 January 2021, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally. We will reduce overall levels of migration and give top priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talents: scientists, engineers, academics, and other highly-skilled workers. Importantly we remain committed to protecting individuals from exploitation by criminal traffickers and unscrupulous employers. We will replace free movement with the UK’s points-based system to cater to the most highly skilled workers, skilled workers, students, and a range of other specialist work routes including routes for global leaders and innovators”.

This policy statement was followed by further details on the new post-Brexit immigration policy on 13th July 2020. The final shape of the new system is not yet known, but this further detailed statement provides much more clarity as to what we can expect.

What we Know of the New PBS for 2021

The new PBS is broadly based on the existing points-based scheme already in place for non-EEA citizens coming to the UK. The main points to be aware of are as follows:

Changes for migrant workers coming to the UK

  • the new PBS will apply to EU and non-EU nationals wishing to enter and live in the UK from 1st January 2021
  • the current Tier 2 work visa will now be referred to as the ‘Skilled Worker Route’
  • the minimum qualification level for skilled workers will lower from RQF level 6 (degree level) to RQF level 3 (equivalent to A-level)
  • the minimum salary required under the skilled worker route will be £25,600 (this is reduced from £30,000 under the current Tier 2 PBS)
  • points will be ‘tradeable’, meaning that if you don’t earn the minimum salary (but as long as you earn at least £20,480), you may still be able to apply if you have a job offer for a role in the shortage occupation list, or if you have a PhD which is relevant to your role
  • the immigration skills charge will continue to apply to UK employers of skilled workers – there is no longer an exemption for workers coming from the EU/EEA
  • the immigration healthcare surcharge will also continue to apply for migrants coming to the UK for more than six months, however, a reduced fee is planned for those under the age of 18.
  • Licensed sponsors will no longer be subject to caps on how many skilled workers can be hired from outside of the UK. As the Government’s policy statement explains, “this change alone will reduce the end-to-end process for sponsoring skilled workers by up to four weeks, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to simplifying the immigration system for employers”.
  • Licensed sponsors will no longer be required to carry out Resident Labour Market Tests (RLMTs) as they currently are required to (only for roles not on the shortage occupation list) to ensure that no settled worker is available to undertake the role being advertised. It is expected that this will speed up the process of hiring workers from outside of the UK by at least four weeks.
  • A limited number of highly skilled workers will be allowed to come to the UK without a job offer (this new route will not be ready for 1st January 2021 – further details are to follow from the Home Office).

Changes for international students in the UK

  • Under the new ‘Graduate route’, from Summer 2021, international students who complete a degree at a university in the UK will be able to remain for a period of two years for the purposes of work (this will be three years for those completing a PhD). This route will be unsponsored, meaning that a graduate will have a “one-time non-extendable leave period” to seek work of any skill level.
  • The ‘Student route’ will be based on the existing Tier 4 PBS – the announcement states, “the route will be improved, making it more streamlined for sponsoring institutions and their students, creating clearer pathways for students, and ensuring we remain competitive in a changing global market, particularly since the pace of change has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

There are more details on the future immigration system on the Home Office website covering other visa routes, including visitors, sportspeople, intra-company transfers, and intra-company graduate trainees, the Youth Mobility Scheme, creative workers, charity workers, ministers of religion and religious workers, and the Government authorised exchange.

Final Words

The new PBS announced by the Home Office is, in the main, an extension of the worker and student routes already in place. As such, it does not represent a radical shift in policy. It is noteworthy that the Home Office has felt the need to reduce the minimum salary threshold and remove the skilled worker caps and the need to complete an RLMT. Whether this is sufficient to encourage workers to come to the UK from 1st January 2021 remains to be seen. We will keep you up to date with any new information on this policy as it is announced.

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