Introduction
Skilled worker route
Skilled worker – Health and Care visa
Intra-company transfers
Highly skilled worker route
Graduate route
Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme
Sporting routes
Other work routes
UK ancestry
Visitors
Sponsorship
Operational arrangements
Visa categories excluded from statement


Introduction

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 redesign of points-based immigration routes.

The statement summarises the planned reforms to the most commonly used work, business, study and visit routes ahead of simplified immigration rules and guidance being published in Autumn 2020. 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 changed immediately, but will become applicable to EEA and Swiss citizens and their family members who are ineligible for 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's Windrush lessons learned review. Thus, the government must implement fundamental cultural and operational changes across the board to improve the fairness, humanity and openness of the system, as well as address diversity and inclusion.

This article outlines the key policy points for specific immigration categories and arrangements.

Skilled worker route

The skilled worker route will replace Tier 2 (General).

In addition to reconfirming the eligibility criteria set out in the previous policy statement in February 2020,(1) the new statement explicitly confirms that:

  • certain health and education jobs must meet only the relevant national pay scale for their occupation; and
  • new entrants beginning their professional career may be paid up to 30% less than the experienced-worker rate for their occupation.

However, in both cases, workers must be paid a minimum of £20,480.

The new statement has also confirmed the following:

  • 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 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 be eligible to claim doctor of philosophy (PhD) tradeable points only 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 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research or technical knowledge is deemed advantageous.
  • Sponsors must be able to justify whether:
    • an applicant's PhD is relevant to the sponsored role; and
    • 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 who are:
    • switching from the student or graduate route to the skilled worker route;
    • under the age of 26 when they apply; and
    • working towards a recognised professional qualification (ie, 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 economy requires it.

The points table for the skilled worker route is set out below.

Non-tradeable points (mandatory) – 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 score only from one entry from each of the two sections below) – 20 required

Salary

Other

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 Migration Advisory Committee (MAC))

20

Salary of at least £20,480

Listed health or education job which 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 and ineligible occupations and going rates is included in Annex E of the statement.

It is too early to predict which occupations will be considered to be shortage occupations as the MAC is not due to report to the government on this until September 2020.

The statement contains no details of whether or how cooling-off arrangements will apply to this route.

Skilled worker – Health and Care visa

The previously announced National Health Service (NHS) visa has been renamed the Health and Care visa and will fall under 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; or
  • for NHS-commissioned service providers.

A partial list of eligible occupations at Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) Level 6 or above has been published in 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 2020.

As previously announced, applicants under this category will be exempt from paying the immigration health surcharge (IHS).

Notably, frontline workers in the health and social care sector who are ineligible for the Health and Care visa will still need to pay the IHS but will be able to access a reimbursement scheme, the details of which will be published later.

In the meantime, the Health and Care visa will be incorporated into Tier 2, with applications being accepted from 4 August 2020.

Intra-company transfers

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 at present, 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 £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 United Kingdom. The cooling-off provisions will also be made more flexible by stipulating that an intra-company transferee can 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 based on high earnings.

Highly skilled worker route

A highly skilled worker route is mentioned in the statement, but few details are available. This route will become available after the new system launches at the beginning of 2021. It will be unsponsored, have an annual cap on numbers and be formulated with stakeholder engagement over the next year.

Graduate route

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 that the route will have no maintenance or English-language requirement. The IHS will be payable.

Controversially, participants on this route can be accompanied only by dependants who are already in the United Kingdom 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 undertake supplementary study in the United Kingdom, 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 United Kingdom'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 United Kingdom will be able to negotiate a youth mobility agreement with the entire European Union as part of a comprehensive trade deal.

Sporting routes

The arrangements for sportspersons to come to the United Kingdom 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 Tier 2 and Tier 5:

  • the creative route;
  • the charity route;
  • the ministers of religion route (a settlement route);
  • the religious workers route (a temporary work route that does not lead to settlement);
  • the government-authorised exchange route. The Home Office may consider consolidating the currently recognised schemes under the new system; and
  • the international agreement route, which will be reviewed and clarified.

UK ancestry

It is proposed that the UK ancestry route will remain in place under the new system.

Visitors

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. However, there will continue to be a separate route for individuals who intend to undertake a short-term English-language course lasting between six and 11 months.

Sponsorship

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 that do not currently hold a sponsor licence, or that do not hold one in all of the categories that they anticipate needing to use under the new system, should ensure that they make relevant sponsor licence applications as soon as possible if they anticipate needing to sponsor EEA or Swiss nationals from the beginning of 2021.

Operational arrangements

The statement also makes the following general points about future operational arrangements:

  • EEA nationals will usually 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.
  • In the longer term, the Home Office plans for visitors and migrants to the United Kingdom 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 IHS will remain in place and 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 United Kingdom in a short-term route such as a visitor or seasonal worker.
  • The existing domestic criminality and deportation thresholds will be applied to EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members; however, those who are covered by the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement will have these thresholds applied only to conduct that has occurred after the end of the transition period.
  • As part of a universal permission to travel system that the United Kingdom intends to introduce on a phased basis up to 2025, an electronic travel authorisation will be introduced which will require individuals who wish to visit or transit the United Kingdom 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 United Kingdom during 2021 and must use a passport instead – further announcements will be made regarding this change.

Visa categories excluded from 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 2020. Further, a new visa route for British Nationals (Overseas) citizens in Hong Kong and their dependants was recently announced, details of which are due to be released in the coming months (for further details please see "British National (Overseas) visa scheme and Hong Kong to United Kingdom migration"). 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.

For further information on this topic please contact Andrew Osborne or Kathryn Denyer at Lewis Silkin by telephone (+44 20 7074 8000​) or email ([email protected] or [email protected]). The Lewis Silkin website can be accessed at www.lewissilkin.com.

Endnotes

(1) For further details please see "Government releases policy statement on new points-based immigration system".