On 19 February 2020 the government published a policy statement setting out their plans for the UK immigration system from January 2021 onwards. As expected, the statement confirms that EU and non-EU nationals will be treated the same under the new rules. Therefore, EU, EEA and Swiss nationals coming to the UK to work or study from 1 January 2021 onwards will need to apply for the appropriate immigration permission in order to do so.
While the changes to the rules themselves are relatively minor, it is the fact that the new system will now apply equally to a larger group of potential migrants that represents the biggest change.
What Will the Changes Mean for International Students?
The policy statement makes very little reference to international students other than to confirm that they will be covered by the points-based system. The statement says that they will need "an offer from an approved educational institution, [to] speak English and [be]able to support themselves during their studies in the UK." These are also requirements under the existing Tier 4 arrangements, so it seems fairly safe to assume that the requirements under the 'new' system will be very similar to the current ones although the new system will also be applied to EEA national students. Further details are likely to be published in the coming months.
If they are not doing so already schools should start to think about how these changes will affect existing and future pupils, particularly those from EEA countries:
- Existing EEA national pupils who will still be at your school in 2021 should apply under the EU Settlement Scheme in order to be granted status that will permit them to remain in the UK on a similar basis to the existing free movement rules.
- EEA national pupils joining schools from January 2021 onwards will need appropriate immigration permission. Some of those pupils will have started living in the UK before the end of the Brexit transition period (which ends on 31 December 2020) so they will also be eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme. Otherwise, EEA national pupils will need to be sponsored by the school under Tier 4 (or its replacement), or accompanying parents and granted a dependant visa accordingly.
- Schools with Tier 4 sponsor licences will need to think about how many additional Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (CAS) they might need. They should also consider whether any additional resource is required for the increased sponsorship activity and compliance.
- Schools without a Tier 4 licence might need to consider applying for one if they still expect to welcome EEA national pupils after the Brexit transition has ended.
What's Changing for Overseas Workers?
It is clear from the policy statement that the majority of migration for employment purposes will be covered by a reformed Tier 2 or sponsored worker category. Foreign nationals seeking to come to the UK under that category will need the following:
- a job offer from a licenced sponsor
- the job offer to be for a role that is at the required skill level (to be reduced from the current level of RQF level 6, to RQF Level 3)
- to meet a minimum salary threshold (at least £25,600 per year or the going rate for the role if higher)
- to speak English to a good standard
Unlike the current Tier 2 categories, applicants would be able to 'trade' points awarded for specific characteristics against their salary. This means that employers may be able to offer migrants a salary below £25,600 if the job is on a Shortage Occupation List or the applicant has a relevant PhD. Under the proposals, the resident labour market test (RLMT) will be scrapped and the current cap on Tier 2 (General) applicants will be removed.
The government advise employers to apply for a sponsor licence now if they think they may wish to sponsor foreign-national workers from 2021 onwards.
Existing categories for specialist occupations, including innovators, ministers of religion, sportspeople and to support the arts (most of which are found within the existing 'Tier 5' categories) are set to continue. The government will consider the introduction of an unsponsored points-based category to allow a smaller number of the most highly skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer. It is expected that such a category will not be introduced for some time.
The government promise to publish further details in due course.
They will be launching a 'programme of engagement' in March 2020 to raise awareness and get feedback from stakeholders about how the implementation of new points-based system will affect them.
It is expected that many of the changes will be introduced in the autumn so that applications can be made in advance of the new system coming into force in January 2021.