The Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 has received Royal Assent and been signed into UK law on 11 November 2020. The basic premise of the Act is that free movement will end at 11pm on 31 December 2020.

This delivers on the Government's manifesto commitment to "restore faith in the immigration system." Prime Minster Boris Johnson has outlined "today marks the delivery of our promise to the British people to regain control of our borders and consider new arrivals on the basis of the skills they have to offer and the contribution they can make, not where they come from."

The passing of this landmark Act means that for the first time in decades, citizens of EU and EEA countries (Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway) will require an employment visa to live and work in the UK/NI should they not already reside here from 11pm on 31 December 2020. Any companies wishing to hire either EU or non-EU nationals from the beginning of next year, will require a sponsor licence with the Home Office, and likely the newly launched Skilled Worker visa under the Points Based System (PBS).

Home Secretary Priti Patel said "this time last year the government promised to end free movement, take back control of our borders and introduce a new points-based immigration system. Today we have officially delivered on that promise."

Many provisions that are within UK domestic law currently that enabled citizens to have free movement, are repealed under the Act. Article 1 of the Workers Regulation that gave EU citizens the right to work in the UK, as if they were British citizens and without having to apply for a visa, is repealed. Section 7 of the Immigration Act 1988 is also repealed, which had exempted EU citizens from requiring leave to enter or remain in the UK. Immigration Act /EU Withdrawal Bill 2020, Schedule 1, para 6 completely removes freedom of movement rights:

"Any other EU-derived rights, powers, liabilities, obligations.cease to be domestic law so far as they are inconsistent with or are capable of affecting the interpretation or application.of any provision made by or under the Immigration Acts (including.this Act)."

The thinking behind the PBS system is to encourage employers to focus on training and investing in the UK workforce, driving productivity and improving opportunities for individuals, especially those impacted by Coronavirus. Those wanting to come into the UK to work will need to apply for permission in advance. They will be awarded points for a job offer at the appropriate skill level, if they speak English, and for meeting the appropriate salary threshold. Visas will be awarded to those who gain enough points.

The Home Office are also introducing a number of new schemes to enable more scientists, academics, investors, entrepreneurs, and health and care workers to come to the UK more easily. Some of the new schemes will enable a more streamlined visa route along with reductions on the visa fees payable to the Home Office.

Irish citizens will continue to be able to enter and live in the UK without any changes. Irish citizens still retain their special position in UK immigration law. An Irish national still does not require leave to enter or remain in the UK, no matter their country of departure. If you're an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen living in the UK before 31 December 2020 together with family members, it is advisable to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021. Over 4 million applications under the EU Settlement Scheme have already been received as of October 2020.

How can we prepare for the new immigration system?

Consider the need to apply for a sponsor licence to the Home Office. This is a requirement for any business wishing to recruit from abroad to the UK. Over 31,000 companies in the UK already hold a sponsor licence with the Home Office for hiring global talent. This licence can be used for recruiting both EU and non-EU nationals with no limitations to the number of employees employed through the licence. With the end of freedom of movement from 11pm on 31 December 2020, there will be a mandatory requirement for a sponsor licence to be held with the Home Office for hiring any EU or non-EU nationals.

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic and with the imminent end of freedom of movement, means that sponsor licence applications are taking longer than usual to be processed by the Home Office, with the increased demand by companies in the UK.

Currently we have been working tirelessly to prepare and submit sponsor licence applications on behalf of our clients with the increased processing times. The beginning of next year and for most of 2021, is going to undoubtedly result in even further delays to the processing of the sponsor licence with more companies applying than ever before due to the end of freedom of movement within the EU.

At Cleaver Fulton Rankin we have seen a surge in enquiries from businesses wishing to apply for a sponsor licence with the Home Office. We offer an initial free 30-minute consultation to any businesses that may require advice in this area. Please contact Associate Director, Conor McCrory for more information.

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