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McGill & Co is a Scottish immigration law firm specialising in UK immigration, nationality and refugee law.

The UK's new "points-based immigration system"

19 February 2020 Jack Freeland Blog

Today the Home Office released a policy statement on the UK’s new “points-based immigration system”, setting out their approach for how immigration to the UK will work post-Brexit. Hailing the scheme as revolutionary, the Home Secretary Priti Patel said that “we will attract the brightest and best from around the globe, boosting the economy and our communities, and unleash this country’s full potential.” So, how will this new system work? And what’s different?

“From January 2021, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally”

Free movement will end in 2021, and will be replaced with the new points-based system. There will be no special post-Brexit system for EEA nationals and they will instead have to face the same visa system that is in place for non-EEA nationals. The new system is designed to prioritise “highly-skilled workers” and will provide a new set of rules for students and other specialist work routes. There are currently no plans to introduce a general “low-skilled” or temporary work route. We summarise below the substantial elements of the new system.

Changes to the current Tier 2 route for sponsored workers

The new system sees the minimum salary threshold lowered from £30,000 to £25,600, and the skills threshold lowered from RQF6 to RQF3. All applicants will need to score 70 points, of which the first 50 are mandatory and completely untradeable. These are:

  • A job offer from an approved sponsor: 20 points;
  • A job at required skill level of RQF3 or above: 20 points;
  • Suitable English language ability: 10 points.

They will then have to score a further 20 points through “tradeable” requirements:

  • Salary of £23,040 - £25,599: 10 points;
  • Salary of £25,000 and above: 20 points;
  • Job on the shortage occupation list: 20 points;
  • PhD in a subject relevant to the job: 10 points;
  • PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job: 20 points.

In summary, from January 2021 all migrants coming to the UK for work will have to have a job offer from an approved sponsor for a job at skill level RQF3 or above, and be able to speak English at the required level. If migrants earn a salary above £25,600 then they will have earned the extra 20 points needed to get to the required 70-point level. If they don’t, to meet the rules they must:

  • Be applying for a job on the shortage occupation list;
  • Have a PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job; or
  • Have a PhD in a subject relevant to the job and earn between £23,040 – £25,599.

In theory, the reduction of the skill threshold from RQF6 down to RQF3 opens the door to the possibility of sponsored workers in jobs such as retail managers, lab technicians, housing officers and counsellors. However, in practice no employers are able to offer a salary of at least £25,600 for a job that is considered to be at skill level RQF3. Most of these jobs would normally pay between £17,000 – £20,000.

We are therefore left with the reality that none of this is new, none of it is revolutionary, and all we have now is slightly modified Tier 2 system. There is an insistence from the Home Office to describe this as a “points-based immigration system”, but it is difficult to see how that applies when the majority of the points are gained through mandatory requirements.

Lower-skilled workers

The main criticisms levied against the new points-based system relate to the lack of any proposals for those essential workers in the social care, agricultural, seasonal and other sectors which rely heavily on “low-skilled” workers. The Home Office response to such criticism is that there is already a significant pool of citizens currently living in the UK who can provide this work, and point to pilot schemes for agricultural workers as clear evidence that they are listening to employers concerns.

Put simply, it is not enough. Spokespersons for the Royal College of Nursing, National Farmers Union and the Food and Drink Federation have already spoken out against the proposals.

Other routes

Students will be covered by the same points-based system. They will achieve the required points if they can demonstrate that they have an offer of an approved educational institution, speak English and are able to support themselves during their studies in the UK.

In addition, the new system will see the introduction of new rules and guidance for visitors to the UK. Whilst the full details have not been revealed, it is thought to look something like the current ESTA system that is in place for visitors to the USA. The Home Office has, however, confirmed that they expect to treat EU citizens as non-visa nationals in 2021, meaning that they can come to the UK as visitors for 6 months without the need to apply for and obtain a visa.

Whilst the Home Office is heralding the new “points-based immigration system” as revolutionary and game-changing in some way, it is not. Instead, with the addition of the words “points-based”, they have simply amended the current system very slightly and ensured that it will still be very difficult to obtain permission to work in the UK. Many had feared that the Government’s proposals would provide no solution to the growing shortage of lower skilled workers in essential sectors of the UK economy, and these new proposals will play no part in alleviating those fears.


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