This year the UK government unveiled the most substantive changes to UK immigration law in over 40 years. The new points-based system (PBS) will replace all current UK work permit and other employment categories. The UK Border Agency announced that Tiers 2 and 5 of the PBS will take effect on November 27, 2008. Tier 1, representing highly skilled migrant workers, became effective on June 30, 2008. Tier 2 applies to skilled migrants with job offers who are coming to the UK to fill a gap in the UK labor market, and Tier 5 applies to those traveling temporarily to the UK primarily for noneconomic reasons. Under Tier 2, all companies that seek to sponsor foreign nationals for employment must first register with the UK Border Agency and obtain a Sponsorship License. Applications for work permits under the prior system posted after Tiers 2 and 5 of the points-based system are introduced November 27, 2008 will not be accepted (unless the individual is a Bulgarian or Romanian national). Individuals with work permits under the current work permit scheme may apply for the related passport endorsement after Tiers 2 and 5 are launched.

The new system will result in employer audits and visits by the UK Border Agency to ensure that employers are complying with the law. Taking a page from the United States, new civil penalties for noncompliance include fines of up to £10,000 per illegal worker, and new criminal penalties carry a sentence of imprisonment of up to two years and unlimited fines for employing illegal workers.