The United Kingdom’s New Points-Based Immigration System
Applications for the new work visa routes for eligible overseas workers who wish to work in the United Kingdom from 1 January 2021 opened on 1 December 2020. Provided applicants meet the criteria, workers from overseas, including the European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss nationals, are now able to apply online for (among other new entry routes), the skilled worker visa, the intra-company transfer visa and the global talent visa.
The new points-based system seems to offer a more attractive proposition to employers, and they should find some relief with the system’s new flexibility. For example, the minimum salary levels have been lowered and both the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) and the cap on applications have been scrapped for the skilled worker visa.
The overall cost and administration associated with sponsoring visa applicants has not significantly changed. However, sponsorship is likely to become more common with the end of free movement between countries, meaning that the costs for employers sponsoring EEA nationals (from overseas) will significantly increase from January 2021. Employers with experience in sponsoring non-EEA workers are already familiar with the fee levels, however they may come as a surprise to those employers who have not previously had to pay them. The aim however, is to ensure that EEA and non-EEA nationals are treated equally.
For the first time, EEA nationals may now be required to pass an English language test as part of the skilled worker visa application. However, with the elimination of the RLMT, there is no obligation for employers to show clear and carefully worded job advertisements for 28 days, reducing both the duration of the application process and the employer compliance burden.
It is important to note however, that employers may still be required to show they have a genuine vacancy, therefore employers may want to keep details of the recruitment campaigns they have initiated, should the UK Home Office request to see it. However, for those employers already accustomed to sponsoring non-EEA national employees for visas, where the relaxations have occurred, it may seem less complicated.
There is further good news for visa applicants, in that the cooling-off rules (where some visa applicants could not return to work in the United Kingdom for 12 months after being sponsored) have been abolished for the skilled worker route and the rules have also been heavily revised for intra-company transfers. Additionally, there is more flexibility to switch between these immigration categories from inside the United Kingdom. This is particularly attractive for intra-company transferees who can now switch to the skilled worker category (which leads to settlement), subject to meeting the various requirements.
To qualify for a skilled worker visa, workers who want to move to the United Kingdom must score a total of 70 points. This includes 50 points for mandatory or non-tradeable criteria and 20 points for tradeable criteria. For intra-company transfers, a total of 60 points is required.
Health and Care Visa
Under the new system there is a fast-track entry system for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals. However, most care workers will not be covered by the scheme. Those eligible for the health and care visa will pay reduced fees and also be exempt from the immigration health surcharge.
Applicants via this route will still have to meet the relevant skill level and salary thresholds.
EU Settlement Scheme
EEA citizens and their families already living in the UK by 31 December 2020, are not required to go through the new system. Instead, they can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme, and have until 30 June 2021, to do so. If the applicants are successful, they will be able to remain in the United Kingdom and claim benefits similar to UK citizens, if they become unemployed. Irish citizens do not need to apply under the EU Settlement scheme and will not require permission to come to the United Kingdom, as the UK and Ireland are both part of a common travel area.