Home Office provides consolidated details of new immigration system
15 July 2020
On 13 July 2020 the Home Office published a more detailed policy statement on the changes to the UK immigration system due to come into effect from 1 January 2021, including its re-design of Points-Based immigration routes.
The statement provides a summary of the planned reforms to the most commonly used work, business, study and visit routes, ahead of simplified Immigration Rules and guidance being published in the autumn. It represents a consolidation and elaboration of the Government’s policy announcements on the new system to-date.
Other routes, including the family route, will not be immediately changed, but will become applicable to EEA/Swiss citizens and their family members who are not eligible under the EU Settlement Scheme, due to free movement arrangements having ended on 31 December 2020.
Significantly, the statement reiterates that the Home Office has accepted the recommendations of Wendy Williams’ Windrush lessons learned review. This will require it to implement fundamental cultural and operational changes across the board to improve the fairness, humanity and openness of the system, as well as addressing diversity and inclusion.
The key policy points for specific immigration categories and arrangements are outlined below.
This route will replace Tier 2 (General).
In addition to re-confirming the eligibility criteria set out in the previous policy statement in February 2020 (which we covered here), the new statement explicitly confirms that certain health and education jobs must only meet the relevant national pay scale for their occupation, and that ‘new entrants’ beginning their professional career may be paid up to 30% less than the experienced worker rate for their occupation. In both of these cases the worker must however also be paid a minimum of £20,480.
There is confirmation that:
- Applicants who seek to rely on the absolute minimum salary threshold of £20,480 must also be paid at least 80% of the going rate for their occupation (or 70% if they are a new entrant) – this is now set out in the points table for the route
- Applicants who seek to rely on having a salary of at least £23,040 must also be paid at least 90% of the going rate for their occupation – this is now set out in the points table for the route
- Applicants will only be eligible to claim PhD tradeable points for listed occupations – these are set out in Annex B to the statement and cover high level managerial positions, professional occupations and occupations where having PhD level STEM research or technical knowledge is deemed advantageous
- Sponsors will have to decide and be able to justify whether an applicant’s PhD is relevant to the sponsored role, and whether a particular PhD is a STEM PhD – the Home Office can refuse an application if the sponsor’s assessment is deemed not to be credible
- The definition of ‘new entrant’ will now include people switching from the Student or Graduate route to the Skilled Worker route, those who are under the age of 26 when they apply and those who are working towards a recognised professional qualification (i.e. those who will be sponsored under a regulated occupation or protected job title and are working towards a full registration or chartered status with the relevant professional body) or who are moving directly into a postdoctoral position
The statement also mentions that the Home Office may widen the ‘tradeable’ points criteria for this route if the UK’s economy requires it.
The points table for the skilled worker route is set out below.
|Non-tradeable points (mandatroy) - 50 required
|Offer of a job by an approved sponsor||20|
|Job at an appropriate skill level||20|
|English language skills at level B1 (intermediate)||10|
|Tradeable points (may only score from one entry from each of the two sections below) – 20 required|
|General salary threshold||Going rate|
|Salary of at least £20,480||At least 80% of the going rate for the profession (70% if a new entrant).||0||Education qualification: PhD in a subject relevant to the job||10|
|Salary of at least £23,040||At least 90% of the going rate for the profession.||10||Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job||20|
|Salary of at least £25,600||At least the going rate for the profession.||20||Job in a shortage occupation (as designated by the MAC)||20|
|Salary of at least £20,480||Listed health/education job and meets the relevant national pay scale||20||Applicant is a new entrant to the labour market (as designated by the MAC)||20|
A comprehensive list of eligible occupations and going rates is included in the statement at Annex E. Ineligible occupations are also listed here.
It is too early to predict which occupations will be considered to be shortage occupations as the Migration Advisory Committee is not due to report to the Government on this until September 2020.
The statement does not contain any details of whether or how cooling off arrangements will apply to this route.
Skilled Worker – Health and Care visa
The previously announced NHS visa has been re-named the Health and Care visa, and will fall underneath the Skilled Worker route. The name change reflects that it will now cover people who are sponsored to work directly for the NHS, in the social care sector and for NHS commissioned service providers. A partial list of eligible occupations at RQF level 6 or above has been published at Annex D of the statement, however the full list encompassing occupations at RQF level 3 or above will be released in line with the launch of the Skilled Worker route later in the year.
As previously announced, applicants under this category will be exempt from paying the immigration health surcharge (IHS).
The statement makes a new announcement, which is that frontline workers in the health and social care sector who are not eligible for the Health and Care visa will still be required to pay the IHS but will be able to access a reimbursement scheme, the details of which will be published at a later date.
In the meantime, the Health and Care visa will be incorporated into Tier 2, with applications being accepted from 4 August 2020.
The Government has been silent to-date on its plans for intra-company transferees.
It has now been clarified that Tier 2 (Intra-company transfer) will be replaced by two new categories, one for Intra-Company Transfers and another for Intra-Company Graduate Trainees.
The eligibility criteria for these will remain broadly as they are currently, including that the skill level required for sponsorship under these categories will remain at RQF level 6 and that the routes will not lead to settlement. The minimum salary thresholds will continue to be different from the skilled worker route, however whether these will stay at the current level of £41,500 (£23,000 for graduate trainees) is not explicitly confirmed.
A helpful proposed change is that individuals will be allowed to switch from these categories into the skilled worker route from within the UK. The cooling off provisions will also be made more flexible by stipulating that an intra-company transferee can only have entry clearance or leave to enter in this capacity for a maximum of five years in any six-year period, except where they are allowed to be granted up to nine years stay on the basis of high earnings.
Highly skilled worker route
A highly skilled worker route is mentioned in the statement, but few details are made available. This route will become available sometime after the new system launches at the beginning of next year. It will be unsponsored, will have an annual cap on numbers and will be formulated with stakeholder engagement over the next year.
The statement includes the recent announcement that the new Graduate route due to be implemented from summer 2021 will allow PhD graduates to be granted three years leave under the route, instead of the two years available for bachelor and master’s degree graduates. It also confirms the route will not have a maintenance or English language requirement. The IHS will be payable.
Controversially, it will only be possible for a participant on this route to be accompanied by any dependants who are already in the UK with them. Dependants must make an application for leave under the Graduate route at the same time as the main applicant.
Graduate route participants will be allowed to do supplementary study in the UK, but not with a Student route sponsor. This is a significant restriction on study which appears to be designed to force participants who wish to return to study to make a further application under the sponsored Student route.
Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme
The statement does not refer to the previously-mentioned proposal to establish a UK-EU Youth Mobility Scheme, instead focusing on the UK’s ability to conclude youth mobility agreements with other countries on a bilateral basis. This may indicate that is now considered significantly less likely that the UK will be able to negotiate a youth mobility agreement with the entire EU as part of a comprehensive trade deal.
The arrangements for sportspersons to come to the UK will be reorganised into temporary and long-term sporting routes, which appear to be unchanged from the current Tier 5 (Sporting) and Tier 2 (Sportsperson) arrangements.
Other work routes
The statement refers to new categories that currently exist under Tiers 2 and 5:
- Creative route
- Ministers of Religion (settlement route)
- Religious workers (temporary work route that does not lead to settlement)
- Government Authorised Exchange – the Home Office may consider consolidating the currently recognised schemes under the new system
- International Agreement – this route will be reviewed and clarified
It is proposed that the UK Ancestry route will remain in place under the new system.
Visitors under the new system will be allowed to study at an accredited institution for up to six months under the standard visit route, rather than having to meet separate Immigration Rules for short-term students. There will however continue to be a separate route for individuals who intend to undertake a short-term English language course lasting between six and 11 months.
Existing Tier 2 sponsors will be automatically granted a Skilled Worker or Intra-Company Transfer sponsor licence, which will expire on the same date as their current licence. They will also be given an allocation of Certificates of Sponsorship.
There will be no cap on sponsored skilled workers and no requirement for sponsors to complete labour market testing before sponsoring a migrant worker.
Employers who do not currently hold a sponsor licence, or who do not hold one in all of the categories they anticipate needing to use under the new system, should ensure they make relevant sponsor licence applications as soon as possible if they anticipate needing to sponsor EEA or Swiss nationals from the beginning of next year.
The statement also makes the following general points about future operational arrangements:
- EEA nationals will in most cases be able to self-enrol a facial image as part of their immigration application, rather than having to attend a visa application centre to enrol biometrics
- Longer-term, the Home Office plans for visitors and migrants to the UK to provide facial images and fingerprints under the one system, in many cases through self-enrolment
- Application fees and the immigration skills charge will initially remain unchanged
- The Immigration Health Surcharge will remain in place and will be increased from 1 October 2020, however exemptions due to be published shortly will exempt frontline NHS, social care and wider health workers
- In-country switching will be allowed in most cases, except where the migrant has entered the UK in a short-term route such as a visitor or seasonal worker
- The existing domestic criminality and deportation thresholds will be applied to EEA/Swiss nationals and their family members, except that those who are covered by the Withdrawal agreement will only have these thresholds applied to conduct that has occurred after the end of the transition period
- As part of a universal ‘permission to travel’ system that the UK intends to introduce on a phased basis to 2025, an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) will be introduced which will require individuals who wish to visit or transit the UK to complete an online application process prior to travel
- EU citizens will no longer be able to use their national ID card to enter the UK during 2021 and must use a passport instead – further announcements will be made about this change
Visa categories excluded from the scope of the statement
The statement does not cover the seasonal workers pilot for agriculture, as this will be reviewed once the pilot is completed at the end of this year. A new visa route for British Nationals (Overseas) Hong Kongers and their dependants has also been recently announced, and details of that are due to be released in the coming months. The statement also excludes discussion of the arrangements for a range of other immigration categories, such as investors, representatives of overseas businesses and overseas domestic workers.
Please contact a member of the immigration team if you have any queries about this statement or otherwise need assistance.