In our May newsletter, we brought you details of the new points-based immigration system that the UK is to introduce on 1 January 2021. This was following a Policy Statement published by the UK government setting out the end of free movement on 31 December 2020 and introducing a single, global immigration system.

The government has published a new Policy Statement setting out further details of its plans. The detail of the statement aligns with the plans that are made in the Immigration Bill that is continuing its passage through parliament. Further guidance for applicants will also be issued in due course, along with revised Immigration Rules and further regulations in the autumn.

The latest Policy Statement sets out the following anticipated changes to the immigration system:

The Tier 2 (General) route will close and be replaced by a Skilled Worker route. The government aims to ensure that applications can be made under the new route before the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.

Under the Skilled Worker route, migrants will be able to switch in the UK from the Intra-Company Transfer route. This will greatly assist migrants who want to switch to this route because of the main advantage of it leading to settlement. Sponsors will also benefit from the reduced time and costs of switching the migrant into this route in-country, rather than them needing to leave the UK to return to their home country.

Under the new system, the cooling-off rules have also been pared back. The cooling-off rules currently restrict a migrant applying for a Tier 2 (General) visa if they have had leave (generally of more than three months) as a Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) migrant in the past 12 months. The new cooling-off provision will only apply if the individual has had more than five years' leave under Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) in any six-year period.

Other benefits of the Skilled Worker route include:

  • The expansion of the skills threshold for skilled workers. An applicant's job must be at a minimum of RQF Level 3, whereas previously it was set at RQF Level 6. This means that applicants with skills on a par with A-levels or equivalent, rather than degrees, will qualify as skilled workers. This will widen the pool of available workers for sponsors.
  • The cap on the number of Tier 2 (General) visas that can be issued to those skilled workers who want to come to the UK will be suspended.
  • The Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) will also be removed. This will introduce time savings for employers.
  • The Home Office has hinted at further time saving changes, and we eagerly await more details of the same.

Intra-Company Transfers and Intra-Company Graduate Trainees

The Intra-Company Transfer and Intra-Company Graduate Trainee routes will replace the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) route. The new routes will still have the same aim as their predecessors. They will enable multinational companies to send employees to the UK to work in a connected company. The skill level will remain at RQF Level 6 and the route will have a separate salary requirement to the new Skilled Worker route. There are few changes to this route, including that it will still not lead to settlement for a migrant. That said, as above, from information available to date it appears that it may be possible for ICT migrants to switch into the Skilled Worker route and start accumulating time toward settlement.

Existing Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) sponsors will automatically be granted a new Skilled Worker licence or Intra-Company Transfer licence, with an expiry date consistent with their current licence, and receive an appropriate allocation of Certificates of Sponsorship (CoS).

Those organisations who do not currently have a sponsor licence should apply now if they anticipate needing to sponsor workers under the new system next year.

Further to the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the Home Office has committed to creating a broader unsponsored route within the points-based system to run alongside the employer-led Skilled Worker route.

The Highly Skilled Worker route will allow a smaller number of the most highly skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer. Further details of this route will be announced in due course.

What are the key take-away points for employers and sponsors?

The further Policy Statement has provided some positive news for employers. Key issues are the removal of provisions which caused a delay to the on-boarding process (most notably, the Resident Labour Market Test). Without this extra hurdle to overcome, the process should be more streamlined for sponsors to bring skilled workers to the UK.

For those businesses that do not currently have a sponsor licence due to its use of settled workers, whether from the UK or EU, they will have to decide if it is going to be necessary to apply for one. If there are EU workers who will come to the UK after the end of the transition period or, for some reason, have not applied under the EU settlement scheme, a business will need a sponsor licence to recruit them. It is anticipated that only 3% of UK employers currently have a licence. There is likely to be a large volume of businesses applying for licences, and therefore it is advisable to start this process now, as it is likely that, as time goes on, there will be a delay in processing applications.

Alongside COVID-19 budget impacts, businesses should also factor in the increasing costs of sponsoring workers from the EU. Application visa fees, Immigration Skills Charge fees and the possible reimbursement of Immigration Health Surcharge fees are all additional costs attributed to the recruitment of EU workers that would not have previously been incurred.

At the time of writing, it is difficult to predict what the world of work will look like going forwards. However, on a positive note, where businesses are getting back on their feet and looking to recruit, they should be mindful of the possibility that, from next year, recruiting EU workers will be more difficult, timely and expensive. Such issues should now be taken into account in future business planning.

We are not yet in a position to advise businesses of any changes to the Investor route or Sole Representative route since further details are still awaited from the Home Office as to any changes to the eligibility criteria and processes linked to them. As with the Skilled Worker route and others mentioned above, we will look to keep you updated as and when further information is released.