As part of the Government’s plans for a new start outside of Europe, it has created, as of 1 December 2020, what it hails as “a new points based system”. The purpose of this new system is to re-jig UK immigration policy to create a ‘level playing field’ for migrant workers from both inside and outside the EU. In so doing, the Government has relaxed the rules considerably, perhaps in recognition, to some degree, for the need for migrant workers. As all immigration lawyers know, a points based system already existed in a similar guise. So what has changed?

In order for an employer to sponsor a migrant worker, they can continue to do so as before, once they have obtained a Sponsor Licence. They would now however sponsor a worker under the Skilled Worker or Intra-Company Transfer (ICT) routes. The old Tier 2 General visa and Tier 2 ICT routes have been replaced in what effectively amounts to new terminology with a few important differences.

Skilled Worker Category

Under the Skilled Worker category, in the same way as in the Tier 2 worker regime, an applicant must meet a minimum mandatory point’s requirement. They must score 50 mandatory points across three categories (sponsorship: 20 points, skill level: 20 points and English language: 10 points). The difference under the Skilled Worker regime is that applicants must score an additional 20 tradeable points under 6 additional options all based around the salary an applicant would earn and dependant on their qualifications. In total, 70 points must be earned by an applicant to qualify for a Skilled Worker visa.

Significantly, the Skilled Worker category no longer requires an employer to conduct a Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). The RLMT required an employer to first advertise the role within the UK for a period of 28 days to evidence that they could not find a suitably skilled candidate from within the UK job market. This is welcome news for employers who no longer have to arbitrarily advertise before they can hire foreign workers who they have identified as suitably skilled for vacant roles.

In addition, ‘Certificates of Sponsorship’ (COS) have also undergone a terminology change. ‘Restricted’ and ‘Unrestricted’ certificates have been replaced with ‘Defined’ and ‘Undefined’ certificates. Significantly there are now an unlimited number of COS’s which the Home Office is able to assign per month, rather than a limited supply. Further, the application process for a ‘defined’ COS should be simpler than for a ‘restricted’ COS in that one does not need to have completed an RLMT or apply before the 5th of each month. Ultimately, the changes should make it easier for employers to sponsor migrant workers by streamlining the initial COS application process.

Another striking change is the reduction in the minimum salary requirement. Prior to the changes, for example, the minimum salary for a role was required to be either £30,000 OR the going rate on the relevant SOC code, whichever was higher. Now the minimum salary has been lowered to £25,600 (or the going SOC code rate) to make it easier and somewhat cheaper to sponsor migrant workers in vacant roles. Further, the minimum skill level for roles have been lowered from RQF level 6 to RQF level 3, thereby expanding the types of roles for which employers can now sponsor migrant workers. For example migrants can now be sponsored under the Skilled Worker category as welders, bricklayers and plumbers – (find a list of roles here).

The expansion of the roles under which a migrant can be sponsored also applies to the ICT category (find a list of roles here). The obvious aim of these changes is to make it easier for UK companies to hire foreign nationals by reducing the strict requirements which were previous in place in order for employers to sponsor them.  The industries that will benefit the most from the skill changes are the construction and hospitality industries, and many may be surprised to learn that roles which can be sponsored include:

  • Bricklayers and masons
  • Roofers, roof tilers and slaters
  • Plumbers and heating and ventilating engineers
  • Electricians and electrical fitters
  • Floorers and wall tilers
  • Welding trades.

Further, another important change is that there is no longer a restriction on the number of shares an applicant can hold in relation to the company sponsoring their application. Normally under the Tier 2 General category, Tier 2 workers were not allowed to hold more than 10% of the shares in the company that was sponsoring them. Now however, a worker can hold an unlimited number of shares in a sponsoring company. This change means that foreign companies will find it easier to establish new, UK based companies and apply for sponsor licences much more easily than when their proposed migrant employees were restricted from holding shares.

Intra-Company Transfer Visa Category

The main changes to the ICT category mean that Tier 2 (ICT) migrants can switch to the Skilled Worker category from within the UK. Whilst the time spent under the Tier 2 (ICT) category does not count towards the 5 years required to apply for indefinite leave to remain, the ability to switch to the Skilled Worker category does provide ICT migrants with a path to settlement that was not available before. The ‘cooling off’ period has also been amended, meaning ICT migrants must not hold an ICT visa for more than five years in any six-year period. Exemptions for ‘high earners’ will continue to apply.

A final category not touched upon above is the introduction of the Frontier Worker permit. We shall cover this category in a future blog.

UK outbound migration

On a final note, it is not just inbound UK immigration which has changed. Outbound UK migrants wishing to work in the EU now face new visa challenges for the first time since the free travel area was first adopted. In the post-EU landscape, a number of businesses who wish to send employees to Europe are now unsure as to whether their particular workers either meet the requirements of European business visitor rules or whether they will require European work permits. Sufficient planning needs to be done to ensure businesses are not interrupted by the end to the free travel area.

Should you have any questions regarding the new immigration categories, or should you wish to sponsor migrant workers under either the Skilled Worker or Intra-Company Transfer category or apply under either category yourself, please contact any member of the Immigration team.


Please note that this blog is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content of this blog.

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