UK: Economic Migration To The UK – Government Points The Way Ahead

Last Updated: 7 February 2008
Article by Andrew Dekany

The Government has announced the timetable for implementation of a new "points based system" for economic migration into the UK. Starting from early 2008 the changes will be fully rolled out by early 2009. The 80 existing ways for economic migrants to enter the UK will be consolidated into five tiers, all of which will be points based.

The change will affect some 350,000 – 400,000 individuals, who come to work, train or study in the UK every year from the USA, Australia, Canada, India, China, Nigeria, South Africa and other countries outside Europe's internal market, known as the European Economic Area (EEA). Their employers (and educational institutions) in the UK will also be affected.

The points based system will not necessarily slow down the surge in net immigration to the UK, much of which in recent years has come from Eastern Europeans exercising their newly acquired free movement rights. Commonwealth nationals with close UK ancestry and migrants coming to the UK through marriage and other family routes will also be outside the points based system.

A combination of new rules and procedures, however, the devolving of decision making from the UK to British missions abroad and the abolition of any formal right of appeal, mean that non-EEA nationals are likely to face an increased level of rejections in future unless applications are prepared very thoroughly. By 2008 the Government will also overhaul the rules for visitors coming to the UK for less than six months and, by 2011, introduce biometric visas for all non-EEA nationals.

Some details of the new points based system are still being worked out but it will have five tiers for different types of migrant:-

  • Tier 1:Highest skilled workers
  • Tier 2:Skilled workers with a job offer
  • Tier 3:Low skilled workers to fill temporary gaps in the UK labour force
  • Tier 4:Students
  • Tier 5:Youth mobility and temporary workers, e.g. those on "gap years" or professional sportspeople coming to compete at a sporting event.

Tiers 1 and 2 are broadly equivalent to the current Highly Skilled Migrant Programme and various Work Permit schemes, which will be abolished. Only those qualifying under tiers 1 or 2 will have a route to settlement in the UK after a qualifying period normally of five years. Family members will be able to join. Tiers 3 – 5 are temporary categories where people will have to return home at the end of their stay in the UK.

In order to be granted entry clearance, or to extend or vary their leave to remain in the UK, migrants will need to achieve the number of points specified for the tier that is most appropriate for them. The criteria for awarding points and the "pass mark" will vary according to tier.

Every migrant (except those in tier 1) will need a "sponsor", typically their employer, to support their application. The Home Office will rate sponsors "A" or "B". This in turn will give migrants more or fewer points when applying under the points based system and will affect the ability of sponsors to recruit non-EEA nationals.

While most new sponsors can expect to enter the system on a probationary "A" rating, failing sponsors can be downgraded to a "B" rating or lose their rating altogether. Sponsors will have greater incentives to comply with their responsibilities.

These will include certification that the applicant has the skills and ability to do the particular job and is likely to comply with the conditions of entry. The duty of employers to perform prescribed checks on original documents before an employee starts work and to keep copies will be extended to cover follow up checks during the course of employment.

Employers will face a new on the spot penalty notice of £2,000 per employee found working illegally if the prescribed checks have not been carried out. Employers will also have to report their migrant employees to the Home Office should they not appear for their first day of work or are absent from work for any prolonged period or if their contract is being terminated.

In mainstream tier 1 attributes for which points are awarded will be qualifications, previous earnings (weighted to take account of the country in which they were earned) and being aged under 32. "Bonus" points will be available where previous earnings or qualifications have been gained in the UK. There will also be an English language requirement but no requirement for a job offer. Mainstream tier 1 will effectively replace the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme.

There will be two sub-tiers of tier 1 with different points criteria covering enterprise (persons intending to establish themselves in business, innovators or who have substantial funds to invest in the UK) and post-study (offering a route for skilled overseas students who have chosen to study at UK institutions).

The majority of migrants coming to the UK to work are likely to enter under tier 2. Applicants under tier 2 will need a job offer from an approved sponsor and must satisfy an English language requirement. Apart from listed shortage occupations as advised by the new Migration Advisory Committee and intra-company transfers, jobs will be subject to a resident labour market test, i.e. advertising. The employer will have to show that it is unable to recruit within the EEA.

Points awarded will then be used to assess whether the applicant has the appropriate combination of qualifications and experience for tier 2. The current two stage application process whereby employment qualifications are assessed in the UK and immigration issues assessed by British missions abroad will be abolished and replaced with a single stage abroad.

The starting point for tier 3 will be that any low skilled migrants should come from within the EEA. There will be a quota of low skilled migrants admitted from outside the EEA under tier 3, which will be "tightly managed." Family members will not be able to join. Nor will there be any right to switch into other tiers from tier 3.

This article is copyright Informa Limited and is reproduced with permission. Reproduction, retrieval, copying or transmission of this article is not permitted without Informa Limited's prior consent. Informa does not guarantee the accuracy of the information contained in this article nor does it accept responsibility for errors or omissions or their consequences.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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