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New UK immigration system: what you need to know

Contents

  1. What is points-based immigration?
  2. New immigration categories
  3. How will the visa application process work?
  4. Skilled workers
  5. Global talent scheme
  6. International students and graduates
  7. Visiting the UK
  8. EU citizens living in the UK by 31 December 2020
  9. Crossing the UK border
  10. Proving immigration status in the UK

All EU and non-EU citizens will need a visa to live and work in the UK from 1 January 2021, once freedom of movement with the European Union (EU) has ended.

Visa applications for the new UK points-based immigration system opened on 1 December 2020. Anyone who is not a British or Irish national must apply, including EU, EEA and Swiss citizens who did not need to go through the visa or work permit process prior to Brexit.

The new immigration rules will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and aims to attract people who can contribute to the UK’s economy, such as ‘skilled workers’. Irish citizens will continue to be able to enter and live in the UK as they do now.

So, what is points-based immigration and how will the new immigration system work?

What is points-based immigration?

The UK Government is introducing a new points-based immigration system from 1 January 2021 for non-British or Irish citizens who want to live and work in the UK and businesses wanting to hire from outside the UK and Ireland.

Under a points-based immigration system, you must fulfil certain requirements and if you do, you are awarded points. The points are then added up and, if your total is high enough, you will receive a visa.

You must achieve a total of 70 points to be eligible for a UK Skilled Worker Visa. As well as the Skilled Worker visa, a number of other visas are also available, for example, for people with ‘exceptional talent’ or those looking to set up a business in the UK.

New immigration categories

As well as the introduction of a points-based system and changes to immigration requirements, the names of the visa categories themselves are changing, including:

Current visa categories Visa categories from 1 January 2021
Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) Start Up/Innovator
Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) Global Talent
Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) Graduate
Tier 2 (General Visa) Skilled Worker
Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) Intra-Company Transfer
Tier 4 (General) Student
Tier 4 (Child) Child Student
Tier 5 (Youth Mobility) Youth Mobility Scheme

The Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) Visa is returning in the form of Graduate Visa after being abolished in 2012.

Most of these immigration routes will largely stay the same from January 2021 with the exception of the Tier 2 General Visa route/Skilled Worker immigration route.

How will the visa application process work?

New immigration routes have now opened for applications to work, live and study in the UK from 1 January 2021.

Employers will be required to obtain a Sponsor Licence and become a Home Office licensed visa sponsor to hire the majority of their workers from outside the UK, with the exception of certain visas, such as migrants employed under the Global Talent route.

You’ll be able to apply and pay for your visa online. When you apply, you’ll be asked to provide your biometric information. The process for this is:

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens

For most visas you’ll provide a digital photo of your face using a smartphone app. You will not have to give your fingerprints.

For a small number of low volume routes (to be confirmed later this year) you’ll need to go to an overseas visa application centre to have your photo taken.

Non-EU citizens

You’ll continue to submit your fingerprints and a photo at an overseas visa application centre.

Skilled workers

The points-based system will include a route for skilled migrant workers who have a job offer from an approved employer sponsor. Skilled workers will typically be people undertaking permanent employment in the UK on the following types of UK work visa:

  • Tier 2 (General)/Skilled Worker Visa – for people coming to the UK to take up a new skilled role with a licensed employer
  • Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) Visa – for people transferring to a UK branch of their employer

Tier 2 (General)/Skilled Worker route

The immigrations rules for the Tier 2 (General)/Skilled Worker route are changing significantly:

Old Tier 2 (General) route rules New Skilled Worker route rules
The job role must be at a ‘highly skilled’ level, i.e. degree level or above (RQF6) The job role must be at a ‘medium skilled’ level, i.e. A Level or equivalent (RQF3)
‘Experienced workers’ must earn at least £30,000 or the minimum salary set under your sponsor’s SOC code ‘Experienced workers’ must earn at least £25,600 or the going rate for your job under your sponsor’s SOC code, whichever is higher.

 

If you earn less than this – but no less than £20,480 – you may still be able to apply by ‘trading’ points on specific characteristics against your salary. For example, if you have a job offer in a shortage occupation or have a PhD relevant to the job.

 

‘New entrants’ at the start of their career must earn at least £20,800 or the minimum salary set under their sponsor’s SOC code ‘New entrants’ minimum salary will be 30% lower than the ‘experienced workers’ SOC code minimum salary

You must speak English at least at a lower intermediate level (B1).

Other aspects of the Tier 2 (General) route are being abolished, for example:

  • There is no longer a minimum salary level to apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain
  • There is no longer a cooling off period where you must wait 12 months after the expiry of a Tier 2 (General) visa to apply for a new one

There will not be a general route for employers to recruit at or near the minimum wage.

If you’re not already a licensed sponsor and you think you’ll want to sponsor migrants through the skilled worker route from January 2021, you should apply now.

Skilled Workers need a total of 70 points to be able to come to the UK on this type of visa. Some characteristics are mandatory but others can be traded to get to the required number of points. For example, if the salary is lower than the minimum threshold (but not lower than £20,480), you may be eligible if you can trade it for a different tradeable characteristic.

The following table shows the characteristics, the number of points they are worth, and whether they are mandatory or tradeable:

Characteristic Mandatory (M)/Tradeable (T) Points
Job offer from approved sponsor M 20
Job at appropriate skill level M 20
Required level of English M 20
Salary of £20,480-£23,039 or at least 80% of going rate for your profession (whichever is higher) T 0
Salary of £23,040-£25,599 or at least 90% of going rate for your profession (whichever is higher) T 10
Salary of £25,600 or above or the going rate for your profession (whichever is higher) T 20
Job shortage occupation T 20
PhD in subject relevant to job T 10
PhD in a STEM subject relevant to job T 20

Global Talent scheme

The global Talent route will be opened up to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens. It will allow highly-skilled scientists and researchers to come to the UK without a job offer. This route will replace the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route. There will be also be a dedicated Global Talent points-based system that will grant highly skilled migrants on characteristics such as:

  • Academics
  • Age
  • Earning potential

Highly skilled migrants must also be endorsed by a Home Office approved UK body. So far, the approved endorsing bodies are:

  • The Royal Society (science and medicine)
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering (for engineering)
  • The British Academy (for humanities)
  • UK Research and Innovation (for science and research)
  • Tech Nation (for digital technology)
  • Arts Council England (for arts and culture)

International students and graduates

Student visa routes will be opened up to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens. You’ll be able to apply for a UK Student visa if you:

  • Have been offered a place on a course
  • Can speak, read, write and understand English
  • Have enough money to support yourself and pay for your course

You will be sponsored by a Higher Educational Institution (such as a university) or a school which holds a sponsor licence.

A new graduate immigration route will be available to international students who have completed a degree in the UK from summer 2021. You’ll be able to work, or look for work, in the UK at any skill level for up to 2 years, or 3 years if you are a PhD graduate.

Visiting the UK

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens and other non-visa nationals will not require a visa to enter the UK when visiting the UK for up to 6 months. There is a wide range of permitted activities for which you will not need a visa, including attending conferences, interviews, or training sessions. When arriving in the UK, all non-visa nationals need to do is present their passport to an Immigration Officer or go through the e-gates at the border.

People from outside the EU, EEA, Switzerland and some other countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia are classed as visa nationals. People from these countries must obtain a visa before visiting the UK.

All migrants looking to enter the UK for other reasons (such as work or study) will need to apply for entry clearance in advance.

EU citizens living in the UK by 31 December 2020

If you’re an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen living in the UK before 31 December 2020, you and your family can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021.

Crossing the UK border

Citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the United States of America, Singapore and South Korea – with a biometric chip in their passports – will continue to be able to use ePassport gates to pass through the border on arrival. EU, EEA and Swiss citizens will also be able to use ePassport gates (this will be kept under review).

Until at least January 2026, the UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration) will continue to recognise identity cards used for travel by EU citizens and their EU family members who are both resident in the UK before the end of the transition period and hold status under the EU Settlement Scheme. They will also recognise ICAO compliant identity cards from this group beyond 2026.

For newly arriving migrants, the UKVI intend to phase out the use of insecure identity documents and will set out further details on this in due course.

Proving immigration status in the UK

EU citizens

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens will use an online service to view their immigration status and to prove their status to others.

Employers, landlords and public service providers will continue to accept EU citizens’ passports and identity cards as evidence of their immigration status until 30 June 2021.

Guidance for employers is available on carrying out right to work checks on EU citizens and their family members in the UK.

Non-EU citizens

Non-EU citizens can continue to use a physical document to prove their immigration status.

Those with a valid, current Biometric Residence Permit, Biometric Residence Card or status granted under the EU Settlement Scheme can also prove their right to work to an employer using an online service. Guidance for employers is available advising how to carry out a physical document check or online check.

Contact our immigration lawyers for advice about the new points-based immigration system

For assistance and guidance with the above or if you would like to instruct one of our expert immigration solicitors in London and Croydon, contact us today for advice and assistance. You can email us directly at enquiries@bhdsolicitors to arrange a consultation, or you can alternatively contact us via the blue contact us boxes above.

We are a firm specialising in immigration law with offices situated in Croydon and Central London and we are continuing to work throughout the Coronavirus pandemic.

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