This briefing was updated on 20 July 2020.
Once the current Brexit transition period ends, EU free movement rules in the UK will also end. The UK Government has announced that a new points-based immigration system will apply from 1 January 2021. The new system will require EU nationals who move to the UK from January 2021 to qualify for visas under the same immigration rules as non-EU nationals.
The government has unveiled some details of how the new regime will look. This note sets out some of the key changes for employer sponsored visas.
Post-Brexit immigration – the new points based system
This briefing was updated on 20 July 2020.
In a significant change, EU nationals moving to the UK to take up work will require work visas. Employers will need a sponsor licence if they wish to sponsor the visas of any EU or non-EU employees. Existing registered sponsor employers will automatically have a 'Skilled Worker' and an 'Intra-Company transfer' licence added to their existing sponsor licence for use under the new system (these are broadly equivalent to existing Tier 2 visas – see below).
The government has confirmed that application fees for EU nationals under the new system will be at the same levels as those applicable to non-EU nationals now. The sponsor licence application fee is currently set at £1,476 for medium and large companies and visa application fees can amount to over £8,000 per person for a five-year visa. Lower fees will continue to apply to small companies and those sponsoring individuals for recognised skills shortage roles. In addition, the immigration health surcharge (IHS) which must be paid by all work visa applicants is still set to increase from October 2020 to £625 per person per year, although a discounted rate is being introduced for children.
New skilled worker visas
As mentioned above, existing Tier 2 categories will be broadly replicated by a new 'Skilled worker' route to cover new hires and a new 'Intra-Company transfer' route to cover intra group transfers. These will launch in January 2021 and will be points-based. In a move likely to be welcomed by employers, the Skilled Worker route will not require a resident labour market test and the general minimum salary threshold will be reduced to £25,600 (or the specified going rate for the job type, if this is higher). There will also be no annual cap on numbers and the minimum skill level will be reduced from RQF 6 (broadly bachelor's degree level) to RQF 3 (broadly A level) so as to include a wider pool of jobs than the current regime.
Under the new system, applicants must score at least 70 points from a set of 'characteristics' to qualify. Holding a job offer from an employer with a sponsor licence, meeting the minimum skill level and being able to speak English to a certain level will be mandatory to score the initial 50 points. Applicants must then score the remaining 20 points based on a tradeable set of characteristics including holding a PhD in a subject relevant to the job or the job being a recognised skills shortage occupation.
Other key changes
A 'Graduate' post study work route is set to launch in Summer 2021 to allow international graduates studying in the UK to stay in the UK work for the first two years after their degree.
'Switching rules' will be amended to make them more flexible. Currently applicants in the UK with short term visas are not permitted to switch into the Tier 2 work visa category in the UK and instead have to return to their home country to submit a visa application. Under the new system, these restrictions will be relaxed allowing greater flexibility to apply from the UK.
From January 2021, EU nationals moving to the UK will also be able to apply for status under the current Global Talent route. This route is for recognised or emerging leaders in specified fields such as science, engineering, technology, arts, and research. Applicants must be endorsed by one of the designated competent bodies to qualify. The government has also said that it intends to introduce, an unsponsored route to allow a small number of the most highly skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer.
What should employers do to prepare?
The introduction of the new regime is now less than six months away. We have been working with clients to help them prepare, including assisting with the following projects:
- applying for a sponsor licence if not already a registered sponsor – as we get closer to the implementation date for the new system processing times are likely to be impacted by higher application volumes expected so it is strongly recommended to apply sooner rather than later;
- mock compliance audit of records and systems for sponsorship compliance. Sponsors and potential sponsors are vetted by the UK Visas and Immigration ("UKVI") to ensure they have adequate systems in place to meet the often technical UKVI compliance requirements;
- providing training on right to work and sponsorship compliance to HR and recruitment teams responsible for undertaking checks and maintaining records;
- supporting strategic planning projects on recruitment processes and policies.
We continue to work with clients to support the full range of business immigration requirements including preparing for the new regime and more generally the immigration implications of Brexit so please do get in touch if you would like to discuss.
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