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New law: Government publishes policy statement on upcoming points-based immigration system

Employers who recruit non-UK workers should consider the potential impact on their business of the government’s policy statement ‘The UK’s points-based immigration system: policy statement’ setting out its proposed points-based immigration system for all non-UK workers, from both within and outside the EU, due to come into force from 1 January 2021.

In the statement, published on 19 February 2020, the government summarises the aim of the points-based system as follows:

‘We will replace free movement with the UK’s points-based system to cater for the most highly skilled workers, skilled workers, students and a range of other specialist work routes including routes for global leaders and innovators.

‘We will not introduce a general low-skilled or temporary work route. We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation. Employers will need to adjust.’

A basic premise is that EU and non-EU workers will be treated the same under the new system.

The most common route for non-EU migrants coming to work in the UK under the current system is the Tier 2 route for non-EU skilled workers. The rules require them to obtain 70 points, based on criteria that include having a certificate confirming that:

  • they have been offered a job by a licensed sponsor – their proposed UK employer;
  • for a suitably skilled role at a particular salary;
  • speaking English to a specified level of competence; and
  • having enough money to maintain themselves for their first month in the UK.

Under the new system all would-be skilled migrants, both EU and non-EU, must also score 70 points, but the criteria are slightly different. They must still have been offered a skilled, sufficiently highly-paid job, but the requirement to show they have the funds to maintain themselves for a month has been dropped.

The minimum salary requirements will be more flexible – for example, provision has been made for workers in a ‘shortage occupation’ or who meet certain academic criteria. Also, the skills required have been lowered – migrants can be taken on to do jobs which only require the equivalent of ‘A’ levels, rather than the degree level required under the previous system. However, the list of specific roles to be treated as meeting the new requirement has not yet been finalised.

Key points for employers in the new system for skilled workers include the following:

  • EU nationals without settled or pre-settled UK status will find it significantly harder to work in the UK.
  • The number of employers requiring a sponsor licence will increase.
  • The minimum salary required for workers will be £25,600 (not £30,000, as originally proposed) or £20,480 if the employee is in a ‘shortage occupation’ or holds a relevant science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) PhD. There are also concessions for migrants with other relevant PhDs.
  • There are no regional salary variations, and the minimum salaries cannot be pro-rated for part-time workers.
  • The current requirement to advertise jobs for at least 28 days in order to show there is no existing settled worker candidate for the job is abolished.
  • The new rules will be published in autumn, so applicants can apply in time to start work from 1 January 2021.
  • The process of obtaining a visa will be several weeks faster.
  • The current quota restricting how many (Tier 2) skilled migrants could come into the UK is abolished.

The policy statement also sets out the government’s proposals in relation to highly-skilled workers and students (where the current rules will be widened to apply to EU nationals).

There will be no system for admitting unskilled migrants to work in the UK other than a proposed expansion of the existing scheme for seasonal agricultural workers to allow 10,000 migrants into the UK to do farm work. The government says it expects that EU migrants already in the UK, their families, and those coming into the UK under youth mobility schemes will be enough to fulfil demand for unskilled workers.

The new system does not provide for self-employed workers coming to the UK, except that the current Start-Up route and the more experienced Innovator routes introduced in 2019 will continue, as will the current regime for artists, entertainers and musicians visiting the UK.

Operative date

  • 1 January 2021

Recommendation

  • Employers should:
  • Download the policy statement from the gov.uk website.
  • Consider whether they will need a Sponsor Licence.
  • Encourage existing EU workers who have not already done so to obtain settled or pre-settled status before the new regime is introduced from 1 January 2021.
  • Consider the impact of the proposals on future recruitment, remuneration, etc, and assess and budget for those additional costs not passed on to the migrant worker.
  • Plan changes to their recruitment procedures and systems.

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