As the UK departed the European Union on 31 January 2020, the remaining months of this year will be a transition period with current EU law and free movement remaining in place.

As free movement ends, new provisions under the Immigration Rules are required for EU nationals wanting to work, live and settle in the UK.

The likely increase in applicants to the UK immigration system has therefore been a perfect opportunity for UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) to revamp the current system.

2020 and 2021 promise to be a time of change within UK immigration.

The 2021 immigration system

It is anticipated that there will be three broad work-visa categories under the 2021 immigration system;

  1. Skilled employees
  2. Innovators
  3. Temporary work

Sector-specific arrangements

As certain sectors with a historic and current reliance on a European workforce – such as hospitality, manufacturing, construction, and care – will find it difficult to meet their workforce requirements, there is likely to be a temporary category to assist with these workers.

NHS fast track

The government proposed a fast-track NHS visa scheme with reduced fees in an attempt to address severe shortages across the NHS. It is widely considered that this alone will not substantially address the issue.

Agriculture

A pilot for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme has been running since February 2019 and will continue to the end of December 2020. The government has proposed increasing the annual quota for the Scheme from 2,500 to 10,000.

Low skilled workers

There is very limited provision and importance placed on low-skilled workers in the proposals for the 2021 immigration system. This is justified on the basis that these roles will be filled by the resident workforce. The 2018 white paper proposed provision for an expansion of the youth mobility scheme, a new temporary short-term worker route and more generous leave entitlements for international graduates following the conclusion of their studies in the UK.

These schemes would not lead to settlement. The short-term worker route may only be available to nationals of certain countries. It is likely to be limited to 12 months with a 12-month cooling-off period.

Post-study work

Contrary to the 2018 white paper, the government has announced the re-initiation of the Post Study Worker Scheme.

Keep focused

It is vital that businesses begin to focus on the implications of the new 2021 immigration system. If your business has recruited workers from overseas, including EU nationals, and anticipates doing so again, the new immigration system will apply and you need to ensure you can meet the specific requirements.

If you have not already done so, 2020 is the year to identify your employees who are European and their European family members – and to encourage them to secure Settled Status. EU nationals and their family members (EU or non-EU) will need to have their status in place before the end of the transitional period – we would suggest sooner rather than later.

Planning your recruitment strategy with the 2021 immigration system in mind will be important. Obtaining a sponsorship licence if you do not have one already should be critical in 2020. Securing a licence now enables the business to remain ahead of your competitors.