Points-based immigration system takes shape


Further details about how the UK’s points-based immigration system will work have been revealed, including the criteria under which points will be awarded.

People who want to live and work in the UK will be able to apply for a visa under one of three routes: the Skilled Worker route, the Global Talent route, or the Start-up and Innovator route.

A 130 page document, published by the Home Office today, states that there will be no overall cap on the number of people who can apply for a visa under the Skilled Worker route.

Those who apply under this route will need to score a total of 70 points – made up of 50 points scored through meeting mandatory criteria and a further 20 “tradeable” points awarded depending on their salary; being offered a job in a shortage occupation; or having a relevant PhD.

Mandatory criteria includes having an offer of a job from a licenced sponsor organisation; being offered a job at or above the minimum skill level of RQF3 level or equivalent (A-level or equivalent qualification); and being able to speak English to an “acceptable standard”.

If the job they have been offered meets the minimum salary of £25,600, they will automatically be awarded the further 20 points they need to secure a visa. However, there are options if a salary at this level has not been offered.

For example, if the job is a listed health or education role and meets the relevant national pay scale (provided this salary is above £20,480), the applicant will receive 20 points.

For roles with a salary of at least £23,040 – but is at least 90% of the going rate for the profession), 10 points will be awarded. In this case, the further 10 points will need to made achieved through having either a PhD in a subject relevant for the job or a STEM subject; a job in a shortage occupation as defined by the Migration Advisory Committee, or being a “new entrant to the labour market” – such as a person switching from a student or graduate route; a person under the age of 26; or somebody working towards recognised professional qualifications or moving directly into postdoctoral positions.

There will be fast-tracked entry and certain exceptions to some of the criteria for specified health and care roles, although the list of professions will be updated later this year, the document says.

The Global Talent route will require applicants to be endorsed by a recognised UK body, approved by the Home Office, such as the Arts Council England and The Royal Academy of Engineering.

Once endorsed, subject to criminality and immigration checks, Global Talent applicants will be given “highly flexible permission”, enabling them to work for employers or be self-employed; change jobs without informing the Home Office; travel abroad and return to the UK for research purposes; and bring dependents with them.

Finally, people who apply to work in the UK under the Start-up and Innovator routes will either need to be setting up a business for the first time, or have industry experience and at least £50,000 in funding to work on their business ventures.

Sponsorship remains integral to the skilled worker route. Historically, sponsorship has been bureaucratic and burdensome on employers” – Chetal Patel, Bateman Wells

Each applicant for Start-up and Innovator visas must have the support of an approved endorsing body, such as a higher education provider or business organisation with a track record of supporting UK based entrepreneurs, and the support of a government department.

Chetal Patel, a partner at law firm Bates Wells, said the publication of the document meant firms can finally begin to understand the new immigration framework.

“One can expect more details to be released in the lead up to the end of free movement at 11pm on 31 December 2020,” she said.

“The new system is intended to be fair and ‘will treat people from every part of the world equally’. It’s clear that the government’s intention is to take on board the lessons learned from the wrong doings experienced by the Windrush generation and it’s only right that this is done.

“Sponsorship remains integral to the skilled worker route. Historically, sponsorship has been bureaucratic and burdensome on employers and the removal of the Tier 2 (General) cap and abolition of the resident labour market test will not only speed up the process of bringing a worker to the UK, but will also be a less administrative burden for sponsors. Employers are still going to have to pay for the privilege of sponsoring workers and it’s not cheap.”

She said it was interesting that the government would be able to widen the attributes for scoring points to meet the needs of the economy.

However, Patel said it is “still a disappointment” to see that lower skilled workers such as care workers and care assistants “are not catered for under the new system”.

“I’ve already started to see employers applying now for a sponsor licence in readiness for the new system and I expect that with this latest announcement more organisations will bite the bullet and submit sponsor licence applications early,” she said.

Jonathan Beech, managing director of immigration law firm Migrate UK, said it was disappointing that the document does not mention the sponsor licence application process having changed.

“Employers are still being encouraged to apply as soon as possible if they need to employ medium/high skilled workers for next year. Considering less than 3% of UK employers have a licence, this is going to be a huge task for employers and the Home Office to undertake,” he said.

At every turn in the new rules, there is a financial boon for the Home Office, hitting both employers of non-UK resident workers and the skilled visa workers themselves” – Anne Morris, DavidsonMorris

“Where the PBS still doesn’t look good is for lower skilled industries such as hospitality as there are no categories introduced to cater for jobs in this sector. Furthermore, the Seasonal Workers pilot for agriculture has not been included in the government’s latest policy document as it will conclude at the end of this year, so the decision on whether it will continue under the Points-Based System won’t be made until later.

“It is likely that sectors such as hospitality and agriculture will need to attract overseas students, as under the proposed Graduate Route to be introduced from the summer of 2021, international students will have the opportunity to stay in the UK to work or look for work after they graduate for at least 2-3 years.”

He urged employers to look into the detail surrounding the intra-company transfer route, as those who move to the UK via this route will be permitted to switch into the Skilled Worker rout if they meet the qualifying requirements.

Immigration lawyer Anne Morris of DavidsonMorris said it was difficult not to see the new system as a “cash cow” for the government.

“At every turn in the new rules, there is a financial boon for the Home Office, hitting both employers of non-UK resident workers and the skilled visa workers themselves,” said Morris.

“The government is trying to lure skilled migrant workers with the guise of an ‘open door’ policy, but the cynical reality is it sees visa applicants as potential taxpayers, and anyone coming to the UK to work will have to pay handsomely for the pleasure, just as employers will have to pay a premium to meet their talent needs.”

Shadow home secretary Labour MP Nick Thomas Symonds highlighted the role of care workers and how they had suffered disproportionately during the coronavirus crisis and said it was unfair for them to be treated as low skilled.

However, for Sharmila Mehta, UK immigration and nationality lawyer at Keystone Law, there were several elements of the announcement that would appeal to business. She told Personnel Today: “It’s interesting to read that from summer 2021, overseas students studying in the UK will be able to apply to look for work and to work and the paper hints at a future new scheme for highly skilled workers, but this will come into effect beyond 2021. We await to hear more details on these schemes.”

The previous work scheme – the Tier One (post-study work) scheme – for overseas students was closed by the government on 5 April 2012; the new proposals will give business comparable flexibility to that scheme. Overseas workers will be allowed to stay on and work for two years under a graduate route visa without companies initially having to apply for sponsorship.

Mehta pointed out that the market for overseas students was highly competitive and the new measure would make the UK a more attractive destination for them.


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