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The UK’s points-based immigration system

After much speculation the Government has finally issued some details of the new points-based immigration system that will be in place from 1 January 2021.

This affects anyone from outside the UK wishing to work, live or study here from this date and it will apply to EU and non-EU nationals equally for the first time.

What will the new system look like?

Referring to this as a ‘new’ immigration system is a little misleading. Despite a lot of commentary on the possibility of an Australian-style points-based system we will in effect be keeping the same points based system but with a bit of makeover. The headline changes are:

  • Removal of the resident labour market test – currently sponsoring employers must demonstrate that a vacancy has been advertised for at least 28 days in a prescriptive form before it can be offered to a migrant worker;
  • Lowering of the skills threshold from that of at least degree level to A-level or equivalent;
  • Lowering the salary threshold to £25,600 or in certain circumstances £20,480;
  • Suspension on the annual cap on certificates of sponsorship which are required for work visas.

How are points allocated?

The proposed system still operates on a points basis, with migrant applicants requiring 70 points to be eligible to work in the UK under this route. Certain characteristics will be ‘tradeable’ which would permit a lower salary (but not less than £20,480) if the job is on the shortage occupation list or the applicant has a PHD qualification relevant to the job. The table below is from the Government policy statement on the new system and it demonstrates how points are accrued and which characteristics are tradeable.

[table id=22 /]

The salary thresholds are likely to be key issue for businesses that periodically engage EU workers. For example many UK care homes rely on EU care workers. A care worker on national minimum wage (2020/21 rate) for 40 hours per week would not meet the minimum salary threshold. That is not to say that the shortage occupation list will not be updated in due course but for now the Government message is clear that businesses will be expected to make use of the talent pool currently in the UK.

What if we already employ EU workers?

Make sure your EU, EEA or Swiss national workers and their families apply to the EU Settlement Scheme before 30 June 2021 so they can continue to live and work in the UK.

What if we intend to hire EU workers in the near future?

Either do this before 31 December 2020 so they are already living in the UK before the changes come into effect, or apply for a Sponsor Licence in advance. The points based system currently in place already applies to the recruitment of any non EU/EEA national so you will need still need a Sponsor Licence for this.

Those of us who have experience in navigating the current immigration system will be eagerly awaiting the finer details of the changes to see if they will simplify sponsorship and visa applications as promised. Until then we recommend that any employer that anticipates hiring from outside of the UK in the future considers applying for sponsorship now. The process can be complex and time consuming and UKVI are already stretched dealing with the increase in applications for EU Settlement.

Our business immigration experts offer a Sponsor Management Service to take away that risk and strain by being named as Legal Representative on your sponsor licence, as well as having day-to-day involvement as a Level 1 User of the Sponsor Management System. Click here for further details.

If you have any queries on how to apply for the Sponsor Licence please get in touch with Roisin Patton on or another member of our experienced business immigration team.