The New Points-based UK Immigration System
The Brexit transition period shall end on December 31, 2020 at 11 pm. With this shall end the free movement of EU citizens between UK and the EU countries. Thereafter, from January 01, 2021, a new skills-based immigration system shall be put into place which shall have a points-based criteria for shortlisting immigrant workers (applicable to all except those who’ve lived in the UK previously and thus qualify under the EU settlement scheme). In order to allow the employers familiarise themselves with the new rules well within time, the applications under the new rules shall open before the transition period expires.
The UK Government’s recently published The UK's Points-Based Immigration System Further Details provides additional information on the operation of new system. Key changes are listed as follows:
Skilled Worker/ICT Sponsor Licence
In order to recruit and sponsor skilled workers from the EU and elsewhere, employers will require a Skilled Worker / ICT Sponsor License. The original Tier-2 license shall be rebranded the Skilled Worker Route, wherein employers will be required to have a sponsor license to sponsor employees through the skilled worker route. Highly-skilled jobs and medium-skilled jobs shall be eligible for sponsorship within the skilled worker route. As compared to the existing scenario, a significantly larger range of jobs will be eligible for sponsorship which means that an increased number of employers shall be the stakeholders in the sponsorship process.
It is advised that employers who intend to sponsor workers from outside the UK should apply for a sponsor license now to avoid any last minute delays. As per UKVI guidance, existing sponsor license holders shall be automatically given a new Skilled Worker License. It is highly advised for employers to consider any impending transfers of any overseas group companies from the EU as a linked entity to a license, which can take a few weeks at the very least.
Suspending the Immigration Cap
The current immigration cap is set at 20,700 per year for Tier 2 (General). However, 2021 onwards, the number of skilled workers coming to the UK will have no immigration cap. This immigration cap suspension is a good news as far as employers are concerned, as any uncertain situation shall be avoided once the cap is full. This will also facilitate a quick and seamless application experience for a certificate of sponsorship for current employers who have to apply on a monthly basis.
Whenever immigration cap was full, employers had to apply during the following month and many of those applications subsequently failed. The new rules shall remove the distinction between restricted and unrestricted certificates of sponsorship which shall simplify the process of sponsoring a migrant worker.
Removal of the Resident Labour Market Test
The resident labour market test will be removed under the new system and shall no longer apply. Therefore, prior advertisement of the position to be filled shall be not be required from the employer’s end, which shall further increase the application processing speed. It is estimated that at least a period of 4 weeks shall be saved on a Certificate of Sponsorship application by curtailing the Resident Labour Market Test. This will also reduce the record-keeping requirements for employers who were required to retain specific documentation previously to be able to ascertain that the test requirements were satisfied as per UKVI guidance.
Eligibility Criteria for Skilled Workers
Workers are required, in addition to pass the relevant UK criminality checks, to meet the following requirements mandatorily:
having a job offer of appropriate skills level (from RQ6 at graduate level to RQ3 at broadly A level)
meeting the minimum salary requirements (as per standard rates for the job,)
being able to speak English to an acceptable standard
An applicant is credited a total of 70 points once these requirements are met. This is the threshold number required to be eligible for sponsorship.
An applicant earns 50 points if his/her role does not meet the minimum salary threshold but is greater than or equal to £20,480 (or the standard job rate). An additional 20 points may be awarded if the applicant holds an offer in a specific shortage occupation.
An applicant may be able to gain additional 20 points if he/she has a PhD relevant to the job.
Health and Care Visa
A specific health and social care visa shall be introduced by the UK Government as part of the Skilled Worker route, which shall entail fast-track entry and reduced application fees and the immigration health surcharge shall be removed.
Intra Company Transfer Applications
Intra Company Transfer applications are expected to remain the same. Applicants must have been employed by the organization for 12 months before the date of transfer in order to be eligible. Intra company transferees shall also be able to switch into a Skilled Worker route (on meeting requirements), which can pave the way for a possible route to settlement for individuals wishing to remain in the UK.
Cooling Off Rules
In special circumstances, the "cooling off" rules limit the ability of a worker to return to the UK within a 12 month period under a new Tier 2 visa. These rules will be relaxed further.
Under the new application, visa application fees will continue to apply. It will be amended under the new system. The Immigration Skills Charge of £1000 per year of the visa will be levied on EU citizens coming to the UK, same as currently applied to those from outside of the EU. Most overseas migrants coming to the UK for more than six months shall continue to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge.
Summer 2021 onwards, a new graduate immigration route will be available to international students who have completed a degree in the UK, provided the applicants switch into another immigration route before their graduate visa expires. Thereby, applicants will be able to work, or find work, in the UK at any skill level for up to 2 years (3 years in case of PhD graduate).
Highly skilled workers
The Global Talent route, to be opened up to EU citizens, will allow skilled scientists and researchers to come to the UK without a job offer. This system shall be capped.
Low skilled workers
Immigration route for lower-skilled workers (with the exception of the existing temporary routes under Tier 5) will not exist.
The Parliament is all slated to pass the Immigration Bill and will subsequently publish the details of the points-based system later this year.