Latest Developments in the New Points Based Immigration System

The House of Commons released a report on the 12 May providing more information and analysis on the new points based immigration system due to come into effect on the 1 January 2021. In this blog we look at the new visa categories and answer your questions on why employers need to apply for a sponsorship licence.

UK immigration solicitors   

Whether you are a multi-national, SME or start-up business it is best to prepare for January 2021.UK immigration solicitors can best get your business prepared for post Brexit immigration and employment changes. Call the immigration lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us here.  Appointments are available by video conferencing, Skype or telephone appointment.  

Timescale for the new points based immigration system

The House of Commons report states that the “first phase” of the new system is scheduled to be in force from the 1 January 2021.

Some visa categories are due to open to receive applications from August 2020. Employers are therefore already being encouraged to begin the process of applying for a visa sponsorship licence if they anticipate recruiting overseas workers from next year and do not already hold a Home Office issued sponsor licence.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has made some business owners question whether the end of free movement will really take place on the 31 December 2020 the government has made it clear that businesses need to start planning for the end of free movement as it says that the UK won't ask the EU for an extension to the Brexit transition period. Therefore every UK business needs to be ready for the wide sweeping immigration and employment law changes that the government says will go ahead on the 1 January 2021 as planned.

The immigration and Social Security (EU Withdrawal) Bill will shortly have a second reading in the House of Commons. The Bill legislates for the ending of EU free movement in the UK. When the Bill becomes law, EU citizens arriving in the UK after the end of the Brexit transition period (the 31 December 2020) will become subject to the same immigration requirements and controls as non-EU nationals. The immigration law team at OTS Solicitors are encouraging all businesses to apply for a sponsor licence now in readiness for this. 

What will the immigration and Social Security (EU Withdrawal) Bill cover?

The immigration and Social Security (EU Withdrawal) Bill will not legislate and cover all the details of the new points based immigration system. Many of the visa categories and requirements will be brought in through wholescale changes to the immigration Rules. 

At the same time the government has said that the Home Office will review the existing complex and extensive immigration Rules and comprehensively overhaul them and the associated guidance documents. The Home Office intention is to provide a simplified set of immigration Rules ready for immigration solicitors to start advising on when the points based immigration system launces on the 1 January 2021.

In the meantime specialist business immigration solicitors are already ensuring that business owners plan for the forthcoming changes as a failure to plan could be as potentially devastating for some businesses as the financial fallout of Covid-19.

Does the new points based immigration system extend the current immigration Rules to non-EU nationals?

Many business owners have assumed that the end of free movement simply means that after the 1 January 2020 immigration controls will apply equally to EU nationals who enter the UK after the end of free movement and to non-EU nationals. However, business immigration solicitors say that the government plans do not simply extend the current immigration system to apply to EU nationals. Instead, the Home Office is carrying out a comprehensive review of visa routes and says that this will include a new points-based immigration system.

Will all future immigration applications be decided using a points based system?

 Although the government and the media refer to the ‘’new points based immigration system’’ the reality is that on the information currently available only two of the specific visa categories in the new system are fully points-based with flexibility and tradability of points. The two visa routes are:

  • The sponsored skilled work visa – the current equivalent visa is the Tier 2 (General) visa with the government introducing a new tradeable points test, reducing the minimum salary and skill thresholds and lifting the restriction on the number of visas available per year

  • The new highly-skilled workers without a job offer visa route the details of which are still being developed and this route is unlikely to launch by the 1 January 2021.

Will the new points based immigration system allow for regional variations?

The government has said that the new points based immigration system will not cater for regional variations in minimum salary thresholds or qualification or other thresholds. The points based immigration system will therefore be applied nationally. 

How will lower skilled workers get a visa under the new points based immigration system?

A key part of the government immigration strategy is to not provide lower skilled workers with a visa route. Many business owners have not realised that EU nationals who currently come to work in the UK to carry out lower skilled jobs simply won't have an immigration route available to them after the end of free movement.

The message from immigration solicitors is for businesses to view their current lower skilled EU national workers with settled status or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme as a highly valuable resource and potentially one that is incapable of replacement if your EU workers change job or retire or elect to leave the UK.

How will self-employed workers get a visa under the new immigration system?

The government has said that it doesn’t plan to create a visa for the self-employed. That means the flow of EU nationals who are qualified plumbers, electricians or bricklayers etc. will cease unless they decide to apply for a skilled work visa and take up paid employment with an employer who holds a sponsor licence. The visa options for entrepreneurs and those who want to set up business will continue, namely:

Those visa opportunities are for those who are leaders in a specialist field or who can secure endorsement from a sector specific Endorsing Body for their innovative business idea and scalable and viable business plan.

Will employers need a sponsor licence to employ EU nationals on work visas?

The current Home Office sponsor licence scheme that applies to employers recruiting non-EEA nationals will be extended to EU citizens. Many more employers will therefore need to apply for a sponsor licence. The government has said that it will streamline the sponsor licence management process and make it simpler for employers but they have not released details yet of how they intend to achieve this.

The Home Office has said that some visa categories will open up in autumn 2020.That is why the government and immigration solicitors are urging employers who don’t currently have a sponsor licence to apply for one.

Will EU citizens have to pay the immigration health surcharge?

EU citizens will have to pay the immigration health surcharge in the same way that non-EEA nationals are currently obliged to pay the surcharge. Employers worry that the extension of the immigration health surcharge to EU nationals will make the UK a less attractive place for EU citizens to decide to move to live and work.

Will employers have to pay the immigration skills charge for EU sponsored workers?

The policy documents say that the government plan is that employers will need to pay the immigration skills charge for all workers who are sponsored on a work visa. The cost of businesses applying for their first sponsor licence, sponsor licence management costs as well as the immigration skills charge will therefore increase the recruitment costs of many UK employers.

How can you sponsor a skilled worker?

The new skilled worker visa category is a points-based system. A visa applicant will need to score 70 points by meeting specific criteria. Some of the points are tradable but others are not. 

What skilled worker points are not tradable?

The government says that an applicant who applies for a skilled worker visa with effect from the 1 January 2021 will need to:

  • Have a job offer from an employer who has a Home Office issued sponsor licence (worth 20 points towards the 70 needed)

  • Have a job that meets the skill-level requirement  (worth 20 points)

  • Speaks English to a required level (worth 10 points)

Every skilled worker visa applicant will need to meet all these requirements and thus will have 50 out of the minimum 70 points needed under the points based immigration system. 

What skilled worker points are tradable?

In the skilled worker visa category there are some points or attributes that are capable of being traded, namely:

  • Job offer with a salary of £20,480 (minimum salary threshold) to £23,039  gives no points

  • Job offer with salary of £23,040 to £25,599 gives 10 points

  • Job offer with salary of £25,600 or above gives 20 points

  • Job offer in a shortage occupation gives 20 points

  • PhD in a subject relevant to the job offer gives 10 points

  • PhD is a STEM subject relevant to the job offer gives 20 points.

A visa applicant will need to meet general salary threshold set at £25,600 unless the visa applicant can trade points, for example, because they have a PhD or the job is on the Shortage Occupation List. The government will be removing the cap on the number of skilled worker visas issued and also the requirement for employers to conduct a Resident Labour Market Test before sponsoring an overseas worker.

As the government has said that the qualifications for a work visa will be reduced from graduate level to A level education standard the Migration Advisory Committee has been asked to review the Shortage Occupation List.

Working out eligibility criteria for a work visa on salary is potentially complicated as the visa applicant needs to be paid £25,600 or the "going rate" for the profession in question (whichever is the higher). The salary thresholds will be reduced by 30% for a new entrant. A new entrant is defined as someone under the age of 26, people switching from Student Visas, and recent graduate recruits. There will not be any regional variations in minimum salary thresholds.

What job is a skilled job in the skilled worker visa category?

The government has not provided a definition of ‘’skilled job’’ and instead a job is deemed to be skilled if it:

  • Meets the salary threshold for the skilled worker visa of £25,600 – unless points are traded so an applicant can still get a visa on a reduced salary of no less than £20,480 and

  • Meets the qualification criteria for a skilled worker visa of education to A level standard (the current standard for a Tier 2 (General) visa is degree level) and the job is identified in Appendix J of the immigration Rules through the corresponding Standard Occupational Classification code.

What do the latest developments in the points based immigration system mean for employers

The House of Commons report is a further ‘’wake-up call’’ to employers, large and small, that the ease of recruiting overseas workers, both skilled and unskilled, will radically change on the 1 January 2021 and employers therefore need to get ready for the changes by firstly applying for a sponsor licence.

UK immigration and employment law solicitors 

OTS Solicitors specialise in business immigration and personal immigration law and are recommended in the two leading law directories, The Legal 500 and Chambers Guide to the Legal Profession.

The specialist lawyers offer fast, efficient, easy to follow immigration and employment law advice looking at your best Brexit options and follow-up advice and legal services from applying for a sponsor licence, sponsor licence management services, settled status one day application service for existing EU citizen Employees and HR staff training on sponsor licence compliance and reporting duties

For expert immigration and employment law advice that you can trust, call the immigration and employment lawyers at OTS Solicitors on 0203 959 9123 or contact us here.

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