On 31 December at 11pm freedom of movement between the UK and the EU ends and a new Points Based Immigration System will apply to EU citizens and non-EU citizens alike. EU nationals residing in the UK by 31 December, plus certain qualifying family members, will still be able to apply under the existing EU Settlement Scheme until 30 June 2021.
Following the July 2020 policy statement, the Home Office has finally published its Statement of Changes to the Immigration Rules. The new Rules are set out in a more 'simplified and accessible' manner, in line with the Law Commission's recent recommendations.
For those seeking to come to the UK for work, the new Rules are broadly consistent with the previous policy statements.
The existing Tier 2 categories will close slightly earlier than expected on 1 December 2020. The Tier 2 (General) category for skilled workers with a job offer in the UK will transition into the 'Skilled Worker' route and the Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) categories for existing employees of linked overseas entities will be known simply as 'Intra-Company routes'.
The requirement for employers to hold a sponsorship licence, with its associated compliance duties, will remain an integral part of the new system.
EU nationals will only become eligible for the new routes from 1 January 2021, once freedom of movement ends.
Skilled Worker Route
- The annual cap on skilled workers entering the UK will be suspended. This means that, for the time being, there will be no limit on the number of migrant workers who can come to the UK under this category each year. This may be subject to review by the government at a later date
- The skills threshold for roles eligible for sponsorship will be reduced from RQF 6 (degree level or equivalent) to RQF 3 (A Level or equivalent). In practice, this opens up a large number of new roles that will now qualify for sponsorship from December
- The Resident Labour Market Test will be abolished, but Sponsors may need to demonstrate a genuine need for the role in question and that the migrant they wish to sponsor has the necessary skills, qualifications and experience
- The overall minimum salary threshold will be reduced, although the role will still need to meet the 'going rate' for the relevant job, if higher
- There will be scope to earn extra 'tradable' points for those earning below the minimum threshold/going rate for their role, where an applicant is offered a job in a specific shortage occupation, they hold a PHD relevant to their role, or they are deemed to be a 'new entrant'
- The cooling off period will no longer apply and it will be easier to switch into this route from within the UK
- The Intra-Company sub-categories will remain largely the same with routes for Intra-Company Transfers and Intra-Company Graduate Trainees. Existing ICT visa holders will be able to switch into the Skilled Worker route from within the UK, providing a route to settlement (also known as 'Indefinite Leave to Remain/ILR')
- The cooling off period is being relaxed to allow a migrant to hold Intra-Company Transfer status for up to five years in any six year period. There will be a single high earner threshold of £73,900 that will provide an exemption from the requirement for 12 months previous overseas employment and which will allow a migrant to hold Intra-Company Transfer status for up to nine years in any ten year period
Existing Sponsors and Tier 2 Migrants
Existing Tier 2 sponsors will not have to apply for a new licence and will instead have their sponsor licences automatically transferred over to the new system and be allocated an appropriate level of new CoS. Existing Tier 2 visa holders are not required to take any action, although they will need to meet the requirements of the new routes at extension and permanent residency stage.
Employers without a sponsor licence who may need to sponsor EU and non-EU workers from January 2021 should apply now.
We are awaiting more detailed accompanying guidance on how the new system will work in practice.
New Immigration Route for British National (Overseas) (BN(O)) Citizens
From 31 January 2021, BN(O) nationals and their close family members will be able to apply for a Hong Kong BN(O) Visa. The visa can be applied for from outside or inside of the UK and can be obtained for an initial period of 30 months, extendable for a further 30 months or for a full 5 years from the outset.
The BN(O) Visa category provides a route to settlement in the UK after 5 years and to British citizenship once ILR has been held for 12 months.
BN(O) Visa holders can work and study in the UK under this visa category however they will not be eligible for public funds. School aged children of BN(O) Visa holders will have full access to public education.
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.