Whilst the coronavirus continues to dominate all of our lives, many may have forgotten that on 31st January 2020, the UK left the European Union. Whilst the focus has shifted to the unprecedented pandemic, the Brexit train continues to steam forward. In this blog we will look at the upcoming transition from freedom of movement to the points based system, as well as touch upon a number of new immigration opportunities available in post-Brexit Britain.
The Points Based System and what this means for employers and foreign migrants, including EU Nationals.
On 1st January 2021, freedom of movement with the European Union will end. This means EU nationals can no longer travel to the UK to work or live without first obtaining an appropriate visa. Replacing the current immigration system will be a ‘Points Based System’ (PBS).
If employers wish to employ a foreign national, including those from the EU who have not obtained status under the EU Settlement Scheme, they will need a Sponsor Licence. A Sponsor License is a license that is granted by the UK Home Office that allows employers to sponsor foreign nationals for roles with their organisations in the UK. Many companies in London currently employ a large number of people from the EU, with some companies we have worked with employing up to 60% EU nationals. Should they wish to continue to exploit the EU labour force post-2020, employers will need to act soon to obtain a Sponsor License to have access to a wider workforce.
What does having a Sponsor Licence entail:-
- Making an application to be rated by Home Office as an A Rated Sponsor.
- Managing the companies’ sponsor management system.
- Meeting record keeping duties and obligations.
Whilst obtaining and maintaining a sponsor license can be a complex process, Edwin Coe LLP regularly work closely with companies, taking them through the process as expeditiously as possible.
Under the PBS, all foreign nationals including EU nationals can be sponsored by an employer who has a licence, to live and work in the UK based on the number of points they can obtain via their skills and attributes. Points will be awarded for such things as; speaking the required standard of English, having a job offer in a suitably skilled role and meeting a certain income threshold to name but a few. Those that gain enough points will be able to apply for and obtain a UK visa.
The proposed new points based system is very similar to the current PBS, which applies to all nationals of countries outside of the EU. Several changes are to be made to the PBS to make it easier for migrant workers to meet the points requirement and obtain UK visas. These changes include reducing the minimum salary threshold from £30,000 to £25,600 per annum and reducing the Regulated Qualification Framework level for jobs from level 6 to level 3. This means that people can be sponsored in the following types of jobs such as for example, IT operations technicians ,dental and medical technicians, managers for many different type of businesses (including restaurant managers potentially) which was hitherto impossible. Further, if an applicant earns less than the required minimum salary threshold, but no less than £20,480, they may still be eligible if they can demonstrate that they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation or a PhD relevant to the job. These changes are but a few of the proposed changes to the PBS that will be enacted, with several further changes being proposed by the Government as the system continues to evolve.
The good news is that the return of the Post-Study Work route, closed in 2012, has now reopened in a different guise and now referred to as the ‘Graduate’ Route.
Up until now, Tier 4 Students have been required to find a Tier 2 Sponsor if they wanted remain and work in the UK after the expiry of their student visa. The launch of the ‘Graduate’ route from summer 2021 will mean all Tier 4 students as well as EU, EEA and Swiss citizens who have successfully completed any undergraduate degree or above at an approved UK Higher Education Provider can take up any job. This route will enable graduates to undertake work in any up to a period of 2 years following the end of their course.
After two years, ‘Graduate’ visa holders will be able to switch to Tier 2 visas should they find n employer to sponsor. This new route will be welcome news to many Tier 4 Students who, for whatever reason, will not be able to obtain a Tier 2 sponsor in the short period between graduation and the end of their Tier 4 visa. Many foreign students have not just been in the UK for their undergraduate course, but also several years before and this category will give them an extended amount of time to work and live in the UK, as well as secure their future in the UK for the long term.
Student Visas for EEA nationals
Student visa routes will be opened up to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens. You’ll be able to apply for a visa to study in the UK if you:
- have been offered a place on a course
- can speak, read, write and understand English
- have enough money to support yourself and pay for your course.
Other visa routes
Short-term work visas in specific sectors (the current ‘Tier 5’) and investor, business development and talent visas (the current ‘Tier 1’) will be opened up to EU citizens.
It is unlikely that EEA nationals will require visit visas to visit the UK. They will likely be subject to the same rules as visitors from countries such as the USA and Australia for example, in that they will be permitted permission to enter for a designated period of days and must leave the UK before that time expires.
Highly Skilled Migrants
Another visa category is also being planned to go live in January 2021 is the Global Talent route will open to EU citizens, allowing those considered ‘exceptional talent/promise’ to enter the UK if they are endorsed by a relevant competent body. Further, a new unsponsored route for highly skilled workers will also be opened, allowing a small number of highly skilled individuals to come to the UK without a job offer to search for and begin working.
These two categories will allow for Highly Skilled Migrants, who may not otherwise have a clear route to enter the UK, to obtain a UK visa and seek work in any career or role of their choosing, offering a level of freedom not available though most other visa categories.
Low Skilled Migrants
Those that do not meet the required points threshold in that they are not suitably skilled do not earn at least the required minimum salary will not be able to apply for the skilled worker route. Further, no routes will be opened for those who are considered to work in unskilled roles.
EU Settlement Scheme
EU nationals currently in the UK, or planning to move to the UK before the 31st December 2021 may qualify for settled or pre-settled status through the EU settlement scheme. The scheme ensures that EU nationals resident in the UK before the 31st December 2020 will be able to continue to reside here after the 1st January 2021 without having to obtain a UK visa. More information can be found on this topic in our previous blog post here.
If you are an employer and concerned about how the ending of the freedom of movement and the expansion of the points based system may affect your business, and for guidance on how to begin preparations, please get in touch.
Further, if you are an individual who is planning to move to the UK in the future, or you already live in the UK and are concerned about whether the policy change will affect your current status, we would also like to hear from you.
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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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