July 17, 2020

United Kingdom: new points-based immigration system

On Monday, July 13, the UK government published further details on the new points-based system due to take effect from January 1, 2021, when the UK will start treating EU, EEA, Swiss and non-EU nationals equally. Individuals and family members with those nationalities who are residents in the UK before December 31, 2020, should apply under the EU Settlement Scheme by June 30, 2021, in order to continue living legitimately in the UK. Following successful registration, their status will remain unaffected.

What has changed?

The new immigration routes are expected to open later this year for applications to work, live and study in the UK from January 1, 2021. Full operational guidance is still not available; however, the recent release provides information on the broad outlines of the new system.

Key features of the system are detailed below:

New Skilled Worker route
This route essentially replaces the Tier 2 (General) route. Under this new route, skilled workers who have a job offer from an approved employer sponsor can apply for a work visa. The employer must hold a valid UK sponsor licence to be able to sponsor a worker under this route. Existing Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) sponsors will automatically be granted a new Skilled Worker licence or Intra-Company Transfer licence, with an expiry date consistent with their current licence, and receive an appropriate allocation of Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS). There will be no requirement for employers to undertake a Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) before they can offer the role to a migrant worker, however they will be required to seek to fill a genuine vacancy.

Under the standard Skilled Worker route, the required skill level will be lowered from RQF 6 (Regulated Qualifications Framework) to 3 or above, and the salary threshold will be lowered from £30,000 to £25,600 for most applicants. However, a lower threshold will apply to certain jobs, such as PhD or shortage occupations.

In order to reduce the burdens on employers and streamline the sponsorship system, the Home Office will suspend the current cap on Tier 2 (General) visas, which will result in there being no limit on the numbers of skilled workers who can come to the UK under this category.

Applicants will be required to demonstrate they have the ability required for the route and the role they are coming to the UK for. The Home Office will be also extending the list of majority English speaking countries by adding Ireland and Malta.

New Intra-Company Transfer route
Very similar to the existing Intra-Company Transfer route, this route will require applicants to work within roles skilled to RQF6. The route will be subject to a different minimum salary threshold from the main Skilled Worker route but will not be subject to English language requirements.

The worker will need to have been employed by the sending business for a minimum period prior to the transfer (12 months in the case of intra-company transfers or three months in the case of intra-company graduate trainees).

The Home Office intend to adjust the existing “cooling off” rules to ensure the future system makes more flexible provision for shorter-term assignments. They intend to replace the existing rules with one which simply requires that an overseas intra-company transferee must not hold entry clearance or leave to enter or remain as an intra-company transferee for more than five years in any six-year period, except where applicants qualify to be granted up to nine years on the basis of their salary.

International students and graduates
Students who have completed a degree in the UK from Summer 2021 should be eligible for a new graduate immigration route to work, or look for work, in the UK and this will be an unsponsored route. All successful applicants will be granted a one-time non-extendable leave period of two years if graduating at undergraduate or masters level, or three years if graduating with a PhD, on this route and will be able to work, or look for work, at any skill level during this period.

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens and other non-visa nationals will not require a visa to enter the UK provided the purpose of their trip is visit for up to 6 months and this includes business visits, such as meetings, negotiations and signing business contracts. Business visitors employed overseas can come and support companies who have bought goods from their company or to collaborate with a UK business which is supplying their employer overseas.

Crossing the UK border
Using a passport containing a biometric chip, EU, EEA and Swiss citizens will continue to be able to use ePassport gates, however this will be kept under review. Until at least January 2026, the UK should continue to recognize 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.

As part of a phased program to 2025, a universal ‘permission to travel’ requirement will be introduced which will require everyone wishing to travel to the UK (except British and Irish citizens) to seek permission in advance of travel. To support this, Electronic Travel Authorizations (ETAs) will be required for visitors and passengers transiting through the UK who do not currently need a visa for short stays or who do not already have an immigration status prior to travelling.

Immigration status
EU, EEA and Swiss citizens will be able to use an online service to view their immigration status and to demonstrate their Right to Work or Right to Rent.

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

Non-EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who hold a current Biometric Residence Permit, Biometric Residence Card or status granted under the EU Settlement Scheme can also prove their immigration status using this online service.

Switching immigration categories
Under the Points-Based System, the Home Office will allow most migrants to apply to switch from one immigration route to another without having to leave the UK, whilst meeting all the requirements for the category in question. It should be noted however, there will be no right to switch in the UK for work or study for those on short-term routes such as visitors and seasonal workers.

For further information on the UK Government’s recent publication on the points based system, please contact the Sterling Lexicon immigration team. 


Leanne Cottrell

Leanne Cottrell

As Head of Immigration with Sterling Lexicon, Leanne leads a team of specialists who are responsible for ensuring the entire immigration process is smooth and stress-free for clients, assignees and their accompanying family members. She brings over ten years of experience in strategic immigration management, planning and consultation to her role, and has cultivated invaluable knowledge and experience in processing countless global migration applications. As a trusted partner, she consults with clients on everything from policy considerations and cost or efficiency improvements, to the impact of opening offices in new locations. Leanne is a frequent presenter and author on global immigration topics and trends.

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