The UK's points-based immigration system
From 1 January 2021, free movement will end, and we will introduce the UK’s points-based system. This is part of a wider multi-year programme of change, led by the Home Office, to transform the operation of the border and immigration system.
These changes will be followed by further improvements to the UK’s sponsorship system and the operation of the UK border, including, in the longer-term, the introduction of Electronic Travel Authorities to ensure those coming to the UK have permission to do so in advance of travel. We are taking a phased approach to ensure the smooth delivery of this new system and to allow sufficient time for everyone to adapt. This policy statement focuses on the first phase of changes being introduced in 2021.
Salary and skills thresholds
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its report on salary thresholds and points-based systems on 28 January. We are grateful for its considered work.
We accept the MAC’s recommendation on salary thresholds, including to lower the general salary threshold from £30,000 to £25,600. Migrants will still need to be paid the higher of the specific salary threshold for their occupation, known as the ‘going rate’, and the general salary threshold. However, as set out below, under the points-based system for skilled workers, applicants will be able to ‘trade’ characteristics such as their specific job offer and qualifications against a lower salary. There will continue to be different arrangements for a small number of occupations where the salary threshold will be based on published pay scales. We will set the requirements for new entrants 30% lower than the rate for experienced workers in any occupation and only use the base salary (and not the allowances or pension contributions) to determine whether the salary threshold is met. Additionally, in line with the MAC’s recommendations, we will not introduce regional salary thresholds or different arrangements for different parts of the UK.
We will implement the MAC’s recommendation to bring the skills threshold down from RQF6 to RQF3. We will suspend the cap on the number of people who can come on the skilled worker route and remove the resident labour market test. These changes will ensure that a wide pool of skilled workers will be able to come to the UK from anywhere in the world and the process will be made simpler and quicker for employers. These are important changes signalling that the UK is open for business.
The points-based system will provide simple, effective and flexible arrangements for skilled workers from around the world to come to the UK through an employer-led system. All applicants, both EU and non-EU citizens, will need to demonstrate that they have a job offer from an approved sponsor, that the job offer is at the required skill level, and that they speak English. In addition to this, if the applicant earns more than the minimum salary threshold then the individual would be eligible to make an application. However, if they earn less than the required minimum salary threshold, but no less than £20,480, they may still be able to come if they can demonstrate that they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation, as designated by the MAC, or that they have a PhD relevant to the job. In effect, applicants will be able to ‘trade’ characteristics such as their specific job offer and qualifications against a salary lower than the minimum salary or the ‘going rate’ in their field.
|Offer of job by approved sponsor||No||20|
|Job at appropriate skill level||No||20|
|Speaks English at required level||No||10|
|Salary of £20,480 (minimum) – £23,039||Yes||0|
|Salary of £23,040 – £25,599||Yes||10|
|Salary of £25,600 or above||Yes||20|
|Job in a shortage occupation (as designated by the MAC)||Yes||20|
|Education qualification: PhD in subject relevant to the job||Yes||10|
|Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job||Yes||20|
|A total of 70 points is required to be eligible to apply; some characteristics are tradeable.|
From January 2021, we will extend the current Global Talent route to EU citizens on the same basis as non-EU citizens. The most highly skilled, who can achieve the required level of points, will be able to enter the UK without a job offer if they are endorsed by a relevant and competent body. This scheme has recently been expanded to be more accessible to those with a background in STEM subjects who wish to come to the UK.
Additionally, in line with the recommendations from the MAC, we will create a broader unsponsored route within the points-based system to run alongside the employer-led system. This will allow a smaller number of the most highly-skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer. We will explore proposals for this additional route to the points-based system with stakeholders in the coming year. Our starting point is that this route would be capped and would be carefully monitored during the implementation phase. Example characteristics for which points could be awarded include academic qualifications, age and relevant work experience. This route will take longer to implement; we want to learn from previous experience of similar schemes in the UK that have highlighted certain challenges. The scheme will need to be designed to make sure it adds value and does not undermine the skilled worker route or create opportunities for abuse.
As part of the significant changes we are making to the operation of the border and immigration system, we are delivering on our manifesto commitment to reduce overall migration numbers. We will therefore end free movement and not implement a route for lower-skilled workers. We have reached this conclusion based on a number of factors set out in this paper.
UK businesses will need to adapt and adjust to the end of free movement, and we will not seek to recreate the outcomes from free movement within the points-based system. As such, it is important that employers move away from a reliance on the UK’s immigration system as an alternative to investment in staff retention, productivity, and wider investment in technology and automation.
The points-based system will provide significantly greater flexibility for skilled workers wishing to come to the UK. The requisite salary thresholds and skill levels will provide employers with greater scope to employ skilled migrants from overseas.
The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) is operating effectively. As at the end of January, over 3.2 million applications have been made to the scheme. We have been clear that we want EU citizens already in the UK to stay and to continue to make important contributions to our economy and society. Both pre-settled and settled status under the EUSS allows unrestricted rights to work, providing employers with flexibility to meet labour market demands.
The MAC also noted that even in the current absence of a route for lower-skilled migration from outside the EU, there are estimated to be 170,000 recently arrived non-EU citizens in lower-skilled occupations. This supply, which includes people such as the dependants of skilled migrants, will continue to be available.
We have committed to expanding the pilot scheme for seasonal workers in agriculture which will be quadrupled in size to 10,000 places. The UK also enjoys youth mobility arrangements with eight countries and territories which results in around 20,000 young people coming to the UK each year. Both routes will provide employers with further ongoing flexibility in employing individuals into lower-skilled roles.
Students and specialist occupations
Students will be covered by the points-based system. They will achieve the required points if they can demonstrate that they have an offer from an approved educational institution, speak English and are able to support themselves during their studies in the UK.
Under the current immigration rules, there are a range of other immigration routes for specialist occupations, including innovators, ministers of religion, sportspeople and to support the arts. Our broad approach for January 2021 will be to open existing routes that already apply to non-EU citizens, to EU citizens (the current ‘Tier 5’).
The rules for family reunion, asylum and border crossing checks are outside of the points-based system. However, they will remain integral to the transformation of the UK’s new immigration system programme.
In addition, we will continue our generous visitor provisions, but with simplified rules and guidance. We expect to treat EU citizens as non-visa nationals meaning they can come to the UK as visitors for six months without the need to obtain a visa. We will also unilaterally allow EU citizens to continue to use e-gates, but we will keep this policy under review. There will be no change to the arrangements for the Common Travel Area.
The future system will also deliver on ‘Mode 4’ commitments for temporary service suppliers, in line with existing and future trade agreements. 2 Individuals will achieve the required points if they meet the requirements for the specific routes.
We will not be creating a dedicated route for self-employed people. We recognise that there are several professions where there is a heavy reliance on freelance workers. They will continue to be able to enter the UK under the innovator route and will in due course be able to benefit from the proposed unsponsored route. The UK already attracts world class artists, entertainers and musicians and we will continue to do so in the future. The UK’s existing rules permit artists, entertainers and musicians to perform at events and take part in competitions and auditions for up to six months. They can receive payment for appearances at certain festivals or for up to a month for a specific engagement, without the need for formal sponsorship or a work visa.
From the end of the transition period we will introduce a single, consistent and firmer approach to criminality across the immigration system. We will apply this to everyone seeking to come to the UK, wherever they are from. Currently, EU citizens are subject to different thresholds for criminality than those from the rest of the world. Existing UK rules for non-EU citizens are both stricter and more specific. The application of the current EU public policy test is less certain and predictable in practice than we would like.
The visa process
People coming to the UK from any country in the world for the purpose of work or study, other than some short-term business visitors and short-term students, will need to obtain a visa for which they will pay a fee. We will levy the Immigration Skills Surcharge on employers and the Immigration Health Surcharge on the same basis as now. For employers sponsoring skilled migrants, the process will be streamlined to reduce the time it takes to bring a migrant into the UK by up to eight weeks. We intend to further reduce this through additional enhancements to the system.
Migrants will make their application online and most EU citizens will enrol facial biometrics using smartphone self-enrolment; fingerprints will not initially be required. Non-EU citizens will submit biometrics at a Visa Application Centre, as they do now. All migrants will need to comply with the UK’s strict criminality rules.
Most EU citizens will be issued with an e-visa which confirms their right to be in the UK. The online checking service will be used by EU citizens to demonstrate their immigration status and their rights and entitlements, where permitted, when accessing work and services. For many EU citizens, their status will automatically be available when seeking to access benefits or the NHS. Non-EU citizens, including those who are the family members of EU citizens will, for the time being, continue to be provided with physical evidence of their status. Access to income-related benefits will be the same for EU and non-EU citizens arriving after January 2021; it will only be permitted after indefinite leave to remain is granted, usually available after five years of continuous residence. There will be exceptions for those who arrive outside of the points-based system. Ensuring migrants can evidence their status is at the heart of our new system and underpins an approach to compliance that is fair and robust when responding to those that abuse our hospitality.
EU citizens living in the UK by 31 December 2020 are eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme and will have until 30 June 2021 to make an application. As a transition measure, employers, landlords and public service providers will continue to accept the passports and national identity cards of EU citizens as evidence of permission during this period, up until 30 June 2021.
We intend to open key routes from Autumn 2020, so that migrants can start to apply ahead the system taking effect in January 2021. Employers not currently approved by the Home Office to be a sponsor should consider doing so now if they think they will want to sponsor skilled migrants, including from the EU, from early 2021.
Annex A sets out the typical user journey for a migrant entering the UK, regardless of whether they are an EU or non-EU citizen.