On 19 February 2020 the UK Government published its policy statement setting out its proposals for a new points-based immigration system. Following the UK’s exit from the EU, free movement of workers will cease and all EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally from 1 January 2021. The Government will introduce a new immigration system which will be a points-based system giving priority to highly skilled migrants. This arguably has particular implications for certain industry sectors such as construction, hospitality and social care where many people employed by those sectors are low-paid workers and a significant number of them are from the EU.
Points based system and skilled workers
In terms of skilled workers, the UK will utilise a Points Based System. All applicants under that system must:
- Have a job offer from an approved sponsor. The job offer must be at the required skill level. This skills threshold is brought down from RQF6 to RQF3 meaning that it will include those educated to A-level/Scottish Highers equivalent not just graduate level which is currently the case; and
- Speak English at the required level.
These characteristics are “non-tradeable” and will add up to a total of 50 points. Other characteristics will be “tradeable”. For example, in addition to those characteristics above and, in order to obtain the additional 20 points to reach the 70 points required, the applicant must, in most cases, earn more than the salary threshold of £25,600. This threshold has been lowered from the £30,000 threshold. However, earning a salary of less than £25,600 (but more than £20,480) may still earn the individual points if the applicant can also show that their job offer is in a “specific shortage occupation” as designated by the Migration Advisory Committee (the MAC) or that they have a PhD relevant to the job.
The UK Government has indicated that there will be no regional salary thresholds and that only base salary will be used to determine if the salary threshold is met (i.e. this will not include location or other allowances and pension contributions). In addition, there will no longer be an overall cap on the number of skilled workers who could come into the UK and the resident labour market test will be abolished.
From January 2021, the Government proposes to extend the current Global Talent route on the same basis as non-EU citizens and so such migrants will be able to come to the UK without a job offer if they are endorsed by a relevant body. This scheme has recently been expanded to be more accessible for those from STEM backgrounds.
In the future, in line with the recommendations by the MAC, the UK will also create a broader unsponsored route within the PBS to run alongside the employer led system. This route would be capped and take longer to implement.
The area which has had the most press attention is the decision by the UK Government not to introduce a general low-skilled or temporary work route. Their view is that the focus should be moved away from cheap labour from Europe. Employers in the UK must adjust and invest in technology and automation and rely on the retention of the existing workforce via the EU Settlement Scheme (which has already received 3.2 million applications) to meet the requirements for low-skilled workers. The only area of change is that the Government has quadrupled the places under the scheme for seasonal workers in agriculture to 10,000. The Government also points to “youth mobility arrangements”, which allow 20,000 young people to come to the UK each year. However, there is no suggestion in the Policy Statement that this be extended over and above the current 8 countries to which it applies.
This decision not to implement a route for lower-skilled workers will cause concern for a number of industries (e.g. food manufacturing, hospitality, warehousing, low skilled construction) which are all reliant on lower skilled EU migration. It is unlikely that the removal of the migration cap, and the lowering of the salary and skills thresholds will ease this for employers in these sectors to the extent which may be required. The UK Government’s view is that the gap can be plugged by training what it suggests are the 8. 5 million people categorised as “economically inactive”.
The visa process
In terms of the visa process, other than short term visitors and short term students, migrants will need to obtain a visa. Applications will be made on-line using smart phone self-enrolment (non-EU citizens will still need to visit a Visa Application Centre) and most EU citizens will be issued with an e-visa.
For employers sponsoring migrants, the process is to be made simpler and quicker for employers (the Policy Statement refers to a reduction in time of up to 8 weeks to sponsor a migrant which will be welcome news for employers). Importantly, the Policy Statement suggests that employers who are not currently approved by the Home Office to sponsor migrants should consider doing so now if they think they will want to sponsor skilled migrants from 2021.
The UK Government has said the it intends to open the key routes by Autumn 2020 to enable people to apply ahead of the system coming into effect.
Further details of the new system will be published throughout the year.