The UK Government published its new immigration policy statement on 19 February, outlining how the UK Immigration System will operate following the end of free movement on 1 January 2021. The system reflects the promises made in the leave campaign to 'fulfil its commitment to the British public' and 'take back control of our borders' after the UK leaves the EU on 31 January 2020.
The key points from the policy statement are:
- From 1 January 2021, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally with the introduction of a new points based system to transform the way in which all migrants come to the UK to work, study, visit or join their family. The aim of the system will be to reduce overall levels of migration but give priority to migrants with the highest skills and the greatest talents: scientists, engineers, academics and other highly-skilled workers.
- Initiatives to bring in scientists, graduates, NHS workers and those in the agricultural sector are expected to help business in the short term.
- There is to be no introduction of a general 'low-skilled' or 'temporary' work routes to provide an immigration route, for example, hotel workers and construction workers.
- Employers are expected to 'adjust' by focusing on staff retention, productivity, investment in technology and innovation rather than relying on 'cheap labour from Europe'. In any case, they say that employers will still have access to a large number of EU nationals already in the UK.
- There is a promise however of 'a comprehensive programme of communication and engagement in the coming months' and labour market data will be kept 'under careful scrutiny to monitor any pressures in key sectors' .
- The Immigration system is apparently to be simplified and streamlined in the light of the Law Commission Report on the 'Simplification of the Immigration Rules' . It is hailed as being transformative and revolutionary with improving the operation of the UK Border making it tighter but at the same time, make the experience of migrants coming to the UK more user friendly.
So what will the new points based system look like?
- A migrant will need 70 points to apply for a points based visa which they can obtain by achieving certain criteria, such as obtaining a job at the appropriate skill level and speaking English to the required level.
- The minimum salary threshold is to be lowered to £25,600 per annum, down from the minimum of £30,000 from January 2021. Migrants will still need to be paid the higher of the specific salary threshold for their occupation or the minimum salary threshold set out above. Skilled workers will be able to 'trade' characteristics such as their specific job offer and qualifications against a lower salary.
- Those that do not earn the required minimum salary may still be able to apply should their role be one which is considered to be a 'shortage of occupation'. A new shortage occupation list is to be drafted, covering all jobs encompassed by the skilled worker route. The aim is for the shortage occupation category to provide immediate temporary relief for shortage areas, making it easier to recruit migrants.
- Migrants will still be awarded points for holding a relevant PhD or if the occupation is in shortage, which they will be able to trade against a salary lower than the 'going rate'.
- The scheme will be implemented from January 2021. The system will continue to develop as matters progress and future flexibility as to the points based system requirements is possible based on market needs.
Further proposed changes to UK immigration policy:
- The skills threshold will be brought down from RQF6 (Bachelor's degree) to RQF3 (A Level).
- The cap on the number of people who can come on the skilled worker route is to be suspended and the resident labour market test removed.
- The Global Talent route will be open to EU citizens on the same basis as non-EU citizens.
- A broader unsponsored route within the points-based system is to run alongside the employer-led system, which will allow a smaller number of the most highly-skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer.
- Students will be covered by the points-based system.
- Existing routes under the Tier 5 category that already apply to non-EU citizens shall also be open to EU citizens.
- EU citizens are expected to be treated as non-visa nationals meaning they can come to the UK as visitors for six months without the need to obtain a visa.
- EU citizens will unilaterally continue to be allowed to use e-gates to be reviewed periodically. There will be no change to the arrangements for the Common Travel Area.
- No dedicated route will be created for self-employed people. They will continue to be able to enter the UK under the innovator route and will in due course be able to benefit from the proposed unsponsored route.
- A new, singular approach to criminality will be introduced across the immigration system to bring in line the thresholds to those inside the EEA with those outside the EEA.
- For employers sponsoring skilled migrants, the process will be streamlined to reduce the time it takes to bring a migrant into the UK by up to eight weeks.
- Key routes are intended to be opened from Autumn 2020, so that migrants can start to apply ahead the system being implemented in January 2021.
- Irish nationals will continue to hold special status and will not need permission to work or reside in the UK.