The government has unveiled details of its new post-Brexit immigration system which will apply from 1 January 2021. In a significant change, EU nationals moving to the UK to take up work will require work visas and employers will need a sponsor licence to sponsor both EU as well as non-EU employees.
1. Employer sponsored visas
The new employer-sponsored route for skilled workers will be similar to the existing Tier 2 regime and will be points based. In a move likely to be welcomed by employers, the resident labour market test (RLMT) will be removed and the general minimum salary threshold will be reduced from £30,000 to £25,600 (or the specified going rate for the job type, if higher). The annual cap on numbers will also be removed and the minimum skill level will be reduced from RQF 6 (broadly bachelor's degree level) to RQF 3 (broadly A level) to include a wider pool of jobs than the current regime.
Under the new system, applicants will need a minimum score of 70 points from a set of 'characteristics' to qualify. Holding a job offer from an approved employer, meeting the minimum skill level and being able to speak English to a certain level will provide the initial 50 points. Applicants will then score the remaining 20 points based on a tradeable set of characteristics - the salary level for the role, whether the role is a recognised shortage role (with skills deemed to be in short supply in the UK labour market), whether they hold a relevant PhD or a relevant STEM PhD qualification.
The government has said it also wants to introduce a new route to allow a capped number of highly skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer. The new route which will not be available initially and may not be introduced until 2022, would allow individuals to rely on their qualifications, age and work experience to score sufficient points to qualify for a highly skilled visa.
2. What should employers do to prepare?
With less than 10 months to go, we are working with clients to help them prepare including assisting with the following projects:
- applying for a sponsor licence if not already a registered sponsor – we expect application volumes to spike as more employers apply as we get closer to the implementation date for the new system with processing times likely to be significantly impacted;
- mock compliance audit of records and systems and advising on sponsorship compliance. Sponsors and potential sponsors vetted by the UK Visas and Immigration ("UKVI") to ensure they have adequate systems in place to meet compliance obligations. Smaller business and start-ups in particular will need to ensure they build in key processes to address the often technical UKVI compliance requirements from the outset. Employers who already hold sponsor licences should review their processes to ensure they continue to maintain adequate compliance, including record keeping and reporting duties to avoid compliance action;
- budgeting for visa costs and the additional administrative burden of obtaining visas for new hires from the EU under the new systems. The government's stated intention is for the same fees to apply to applications from EU nationals under the new system from January 2021. The costs implications of the new system will need to be factored in - from sponsor licence application fees (currently £536 for small companies or £1,476 for medium and large companies) to the visa fees of just under £8,830 per person, for a five-year visa. In stark contrast to the current position where there are no visa fees to pay when recruiting an EU national, these fee levels will represent a significant and potentially prohibitive expense for many businesses;
- contingency planning to identify any roles you currently recruit for which will potentially not be covered by the new system and consider contingency planning. Employers will want to consider the extent of their recruitment into roles considered by the government to be "lower skilled" or which are lower paid as these will not be covered under the new system Currently, the visa options for such roles are limited.