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New UK Immigration Rules for 2021

January 1st of 2021 marked the implementation of one of the biggest changes to the UK immigration system. With the UK final departure from the EU, the new UK points based immigration system came into full force and seems that will now define the UK immigration landscape for decades to come. 

Brexit implementation means that the UK is no longer a member of the EU and has left the common market, which in turn means no freedom of movement between the UK and the EU countries. 

The new UK immigration system of 2021 is meant to address these new realities. The biggest changes to the UK Immigration rules come precisely in respect of the EU nationals. Starting from the 1st January 2021, the EU nationals who do not already have residence in the UK, will fall under the UK’s new points based immigration system, meaning they will need to get a visa, if they are looking to come to the UK to live, work, study; in essence anything more than a passing visit. 

You might have heard that the UK is going to have a points based system. Often there was talk of an Australian style points based system, but what does that mean and how does it affect the millions of migrants already in the UK and those intending to make the move to the UK. We will look into this New UK points based Immigration system below. 

What is Immigration Points System?

Points based immigration system in general refers to set of immigration rules, whereby the migrant needs to meet certain requirements, each with a clear number of points associated with it. The migrant then needs to achieve a set number of points to be granted visa. In short, achieving points means getting the visa and failing to secure the necessary points will mean a mandatory refusal. In theory these systems are hailed as more objective, considering that there is no subjective assessment or discretion by the decision maker involved. In reality, it is not entirely so, as there are elements, such as general grounds for refusal, where discretion still plays a role. 

It is worth to mention that despite the inaccurate claims both in the media and in the governing circles, the UK did not introduce a points based system in 2021. The UK had a points based system for many years now, in particular for workers, students and business people. What was done now is reforming that existing points based system, in an attempt to plug the gap that will be left in the UK’s job market by end of the free movement. 

To understand this, let’s have a quick look at what the previous Immigration system looked like. Before the UK’s departure from the EU, there were two parallel immigration systems: one was covered by the UK Immigration Rules and the Other by the EU Immigration Regulations. The first was addressed to the nationals of non- EEA countries and the second was for those coming to the UK as EEA nationals or their family members. 

Within the UK Immigration rules, there were many routes to migrate to the UK as a non-EEA national. Some of these routes were points based routes, meaning the applicants would have to meet the exact criteria and obtain the prescribed number of points to succeed in getting a visa. The points based routes were: the Tier 1, which covered investors, entrepreneurs and other people coming to carry out activities with entrepreneurial element; Tier 2 covering the non-EEA workers; Tier 4 addressed to the students and Tier 5 which was an amalgam of routes for temporary workers, creative industry, skills exchange etc. 

So, why was there a need for reforming this system and what is the New UK points based system? We’ll look into that in detail in the following section. 

How Does Brexit Affect Immigration to the UK?

The new UK points based immigration system was the talk of the UK immigration lawyers for a while now. We all waited with excitement and a degree of apprehension to see whether the New rules will answer the market needs. Now that the New Rules are here, it is clear that many of our hopes were not realised. With time, the leading immigration practitioners will find some solutions to the most glaring issues, but many will be more difficult to correct without the Government intervention. 

I’ve promised above that in this section we will look into why there was a need to change the existing Immigration system. This is linked with understanding as to how Brexit affected the UK immigration. 

Prior to Brexit and the end of the freedom of movement, a large number of industries relied on the arrivals from the EEA countries to meet their staffing needs. In particular the lower skilled factory and construction, agriculture, hospitality industries relied heavily on the EU arrivals. In highly skilled sectors education, architectural business, finance and others were also benefited greatly from the free movement of people. All these industries are understandably very worried in respect of future staffing prospects. End of free movement has meant that these industries will not be able to rely on the European workforce to cover any shortage that the local market has. This is because with the introduction of the new system, the new arrivals from the EEA countries will need to get a visa under the UK New Points based system.  

So, what are the changes in respect of the Immigration Rules? The New points based system is meant to address the need for workers and that the UK currently has and attract talent. Whether it succeeds in doing so or not, is a matter for another time.

Let’s have a look at the New System and what falls under the UK Points based system of 2021. The UK new Points based system covers all new arrivals to the country, irrespective of their nationality. The Irish citizens being the only exception. This means that the arrivals from the EEA countries will also need to secure a visa prior to travelling to the UK for anything other than a short visit. 

The routes that fall under the Points based system are the different work visas and study visas. 

Work visas

In respect of the work visas, skilled worker is expected to be the biggest category. Under the previous rules, only Highly skilled workers could be sponsored under the worker visa (Tier 2). The current Rules aim to cover a broader range of skills, however fall short in reassuring the industries that rely on lower skilled or unskilled work, because the New system while lowering the skill level has still kept it high, at skilled worker level (RFQ3). 

The skilled worker visa requires the migrant to meet the following requirements:

  • Have a job offer from a government recognised sponsor organisation (Sponsor Licence holder)
  • Job level must be at level RFQ3 (A level and equivalent)
  • Knowledge of English language at B1 CEFR level
  • The salary on offer must not be any less than £25,600 or higher if the specific job has a higher ‘going rate’ (the rates can be found in the Home Office published guidance)

Those familiar with the old Tier 2 will notice that together with lower skill level, the new route has also lowered the salary threshold. The changes don’t stop there. Another new element is the ability to trade points. All of the above requirements have associated points and some of these requirements have tradeable points.  

Thus:

  • Job offer from a licence sponsor is worth 20 points and is mandatory (meaning that unless the migrant meets this requirement they will not be successful)
  • Job at the required skill (RFQ3) is worth another 20 points and is again mandatory
  • Another mandatory requirement is Knowledge of English language with 10 points.
  • The tradable points are the ones related to the salary, jobs in shortage occupation and education qualifications at PhD level. This means that if the migrant meets the first 3 points, but for instance fails to meet the salary points, instead the job is in shortage occupation or they have a PhD in relevant field, then they still might be successful in obtaining the visa.  

As mentioned above, the lower skill level unfortunately fails to ensure that all the industries will be able to meet their stuffing needs through this scheme. There are number of other routes for work to the UK. 

Health and Care route is for those in health and care industry, but only covers specific actors such as NHS, social care sector or organisations that provide care for NHS. Creative route is for those coming to carry out short term creative commitments (12 month in total). The sporting route covers the ones engaged for sporting activities.

Seasonal worker and Youth mobility routes are hailed by the government as designated to cover for the need for lower qualified jobs, however the businesses are sceptical in this respect and the impact can be severe. Due to pandemic and the industries most exposed to loss of freedom of movement in large part non-operational or operating at a lower capacity, the workforce issues have not come to fore yet, but when the economy restarts, we will likely see the true impact of Brexit on the workforce. 

Another route that can potentially prove to be beneficial is the Graduate worker scheme which will only apply to those who graduate from their studies in the UK in summer 2021. These migrants will be able to work in the UK for 2 year period without requiring sponsorship and at any skill level.

In any event businesses are understandably worried in respect of the end of freedom of movement. In particular small businesses are vulnerable to more bureaucracy and costs associated with the need to hold Sponsor Licence and maintaining it, in order to hire from overseas. 

Student visas

Another major category of the New Immigration System is the Student visa. Students have traditionally been the biggest cohort of immigrants to the UK. There aren’t any major changes for this category, the only one being that the EEA nationals too will now have to obtain a visa to study in the UK.

The requirements to be met for this visa are:

  • Offer to study at a University that is recognised as an educational sponsor
  • Knowledge of English
  • Ability to pay for studies and maintain oneself
  • Genuine intention to study in the UK

Another significant change for this category has to do with the introduction of the graduate work visa mentioned above. For years the overseas students have been complaining about the lack of routs for them to remain in the UK post-studies and gain relevant work experience. Securing work immediately after studies that would meet the high threshold of old Tier 2 visa was in particular difficult and Student route is also one that does not allow for settlement, therefore even after years spent in the UK many were forced to return to their Home Country without any strong work related skills, which meant their chances of securing job locally was also affected. The new visa route will allow the students to remain in the UK and work for 2 years, which will then give them better opportunities both in the UK and abroad. 

How RVS Solicitors Can Help You

We have already covered the fact that with the end of freedom of movement many businesses will face serious adversity in respect of their workforce needs. So what can the businesses do and how can RVS Solicitors and our immigration lawyers help?

First, you should assess your business needs. Reassess your workforce needs, consider implementing new technologies and processes that have the potential to eliminate the need for lower skilled workforce. 

Consider other routes when hiring a migrant. In some cases there might be less obvious solutions to the migrants visa needs. A good immigration solicitor might help you spot other ways of securing leave for the migrant. It is possible that the migrant already has right to work in the UK or there is another route available to them. Therefore, before jumping into the more costly skilled worker route, speak to us to see if there is perhaps an easier solution. 

Finally, get a sponsor licence. While somewhat costly and time consuming, Sponsor Licence is likely to be vital for most of the businesses, especially the ones operating with a higher skill workforce. It might be well worth investing in the Licence to ensure that your business stays competitive. This is where our immigration lawyers can be of invaluable help. According to the Migration Observatory a significant number of businesses and small businesses in particular, find the process of sponsoring a migrant burdensome. It is indeed added bureaucracy and costs for the business. However, working with specialist immigration solicitors can save time and money. We can guide you throughout the initial application process to ensure that you have all the relevant paperwork and processes in place to become a sponsor. We can also guide you throughout your licence’s life to ensure that you remain compliant with your duties. 

If you would like to discuss the new points based system, have any questions in respect of skilled worker or student visas, the Sponsor Licence or any other immigration enquiries, call us at 020 3372 5125 or contact us by using our online form

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