Following 1st January 2021, the UK has introduced a new points-based immigration system. With the exception of Irish citizens, the new system treats EU and non-EU citizens equally, which has resulted in huge changes to the general visa process in the UK.
Under the new system, individuals hoping to live and work in the UK from now on will either need to be sponsored by a licensed employer, or be highly skilled in their field to qualify for a Global talent visa. For those individuals requiring sponsorship from their employer, there are also salary thresholds and a language requirement to consider before they may be allowed to settle here.
The full government announcement can be found here.
Snapshot of the main changes that the new system brings for employers...
- A reduction of the current skills-level requirement down from the current degree level or higher to A-level/equivalent or higher
- the minimum salary threshold dropped from £30k to £25.6k
- widened the list to a broader range of roles for which employers can recruit
- at the moment there is a limit per month on the number of Tier 2 workers (skilled, long term workers) that can be engaged – that has been removed so recruitment does not have to be halted where the need arises
What does this mean for workers who want to settle in the UK?
Skilled workers hoping to come to the UK after 31st December 2020 must be able to demonstrate they have a job offer from an approved employer sponsor. Said jobs must also meet the required skill level – RQF3 or above (the equivalent to A-level) to be eligible.
Qualifying skilled jobs are covered in greater detail in the immigration rules appendix which can be found here.
They must also speak English and be paid enough by their sponsor to exceed the salary of threshold £25,600 or more. Those earning less than that (but no less than £20,480) may still qualify, provided they meet other specific tradable characteristics to offset against their salary. For example, having a job offer that has been identified as a shortage occupation, or a relevant PhD.
Full details of how the points system will work can be found in the government’s further details statement.
Crucially, for individuals or employers hoping to earn or recruit at or slightly above the minimum wage, there is no longer a general route to live and work in the UK.
What does this mean for businesses who want to hire from abroad?
The biggest change after 31st December 2020 has been the loss of free movement. If you want to hire someone from abroad via the skilled worker route from the 31st December 2020 onwards, your business will need to be a licensed sponsor. If your business is not already a licensed sponsor, you should apply to be one as soon as possible – the process takes approximately 8 weeks. Licences are valid for 4 years if you’re successful.
Applying for a sponsor licence
Applications for a licence must be made online. There is also an application fee, the amount of which will depend on the size of your business and the type of licence you’re applying for i.e. longer-term / permanent workers vs. short-term / temporary workers.
You’ll need to decide on the type of licence you want to apply for (licences vary according to the type of worker you want to hire, there’s a big difference for example between hiring a skilled, long term worker (a Tier 2 worker) and a skilled temporary worker (a Tier 5 worker) and different sectors may also influence the licence type).
Your business will not be eligible for a licence if you or anyone else involved in the sponsorship have unspent criminal convictions for immigration offences or certain other offences including fraud or money laundering. Failure to carry out your duties as a sponsor will also prohibit you from being eligible for a licence.
Ultimately, you’ll need to be a genuine UK business with a proper trading presence, so the government is confident that you’ll be competent and responsible about hiring foreign workers and meeting the immigration requirements. You must also have and be able to evidence a genuine vacancy for which you need to recruit. You can check your eligibility here.
Licensed employers must also have appropriate systems in place to monitor sponsored employees (for example, monitoring employee immigration status and attendance at work). You must appoint an employee to manage certain roles in the sponsorship process or you can appoint a qualified UK-based legal representative responsible for giving immigration advice to take on some of the responsibility for you.
Most applications should be processed within 8 weeks. Your business may be visited by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) to review your application before it can be approved.
You need to apply online and pay the fee (which varies depending on the type of licence and the size of your organisation – larger organisations pay more). Do it sooner rather than later, especially as there is likely a backlog already of applications submitted at the end of the transition period. There’s also no right of appeal if your sponsorship application is refused, but you can re-apply all over again and there may be a time limit on how long you can wait before re-applying. You may have to pay an additional fee for each foreign worker employed. Find out more about fees here.
NB: The longest you can sponsor a worker for is 5 years
Understanding the new points-based system
To be eligible to work in the UK, a new hire from abroad needs to score at least 70 points. The first 50 points must come from the following required criteria, with a further 20 points from the list of tradeable criteria:
- Workers must have a job offer from a licensed sponsor - 20 points
- That meets the minimum skill level: RQF3 / A-level or above – 20 points; and
- Be an English language speaker (to an acceptable standard) - 10 points
- Salary (0 – 20 points)
- £25,600 or above - 20 points
- £23,040 - £25,599 – 10 points
- £20,480 – 23,039 – 0 points
- The job is in an occupation where there is a shortage (20 points)
- See the full shortage occupation list
- Education (10 – 20 points)
- PhD in a subject relevant to their job – 10 points
- PhD in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subject relevant to their job – 20 points
Advertising for vacancies in the UK
If you’re recruiting for a job which isn’t on the skills list then you must advertise it in the UK for at least 28 days.
See the ‘How to carry out the resident labour market test’ section of the guidance for sponsors here
Global Talent Visa
Previously known as the Exceptional Talent Visa, this scheme is open to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens. In short, it allows for certain individuals to come to the UK without a job offer, provided they are a leader or potential leader within the fields of academia and research, arts and culture or digital technology.
Before applying for a Global Talent Visa, individuals will have to apply for an endorsement to prove that they are a leader or potential leader. Details on how to apply for this can be found here. Only once individuals get their endorsement, can they apply for a visa up to three months before they travel and should receive a reply to their application within three weeks (if outside of the UK) or eight weeks (if inside the UK). To save time or if your current UK immigration status is close to expiration, individuals can even apply for the Global Talent Visa at the same time as they apply for their endorsement.
Applying for an endorsement and for the visa both involve somewhat large fees. So of course, if the endorsement is refused, the visa will be too. This means that if you choose to apply for both at the same time, you’ll lose the fees for both.