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From 1 January 2021 free movement for EU nationals ended and the UK introduced a new points-based immigration system. The new system will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally (with the exception of Irish nationals). If a person wishes to come to work in the UK they will have to apply for permission from UKVI prior to making any travel arrangements. EU nationals who were in the UK prior to 11pm on 31 December 2020 will need to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme before 30 June 2021 if they have not already done so.
There are a number of immigration routes available to EU and non-EU citizens under the points-based system. This article provides an overview of the various routes. Applications under the Settlement scheme for spouses, partners and other family members remain unaffected by these changes.
Skilled Workers (SW)
The Skilled Worker route replaces Tier 2. It is designed with employers in mind who wish to recruit and retain foreign talent. The SW route requires an employer to have a valid sponsor licence in order to be able to sponsor individuals to come to work in the UK. Workers need to be filling a role which can be matched to a job which appears on a list maintained by the Home Office. Broadly, the job must meet defined salary requirements and must be at RQF level 3 (which is equivalent to an ‘A’ level qualification). Under the new system, points can be traded for qualifications and salary.
The SW route is more generous than its predecessor and allows more people to switch into the route than was previously permitted under Tier 2. The SW route permits switching from within the UK, with the exception of the following visa categories:
(b) Short-term student
(c) Parent of a Child Student
(d) Seasonal Worker
(e) Domestic Worker in a Private Household
(f) Outside the Immigration Rules
SW’s will need to prove three things when applying under the route
- They have a job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor
- The job offer is at the required skill level – RQF 3 or above (‘A’ Level and equivalent)
- The ability to speak English to the required standard
Under the SW route there is a minimum salary threshold of £25,600.00 or the “going rate” as determined by the Home Office.
All applicants will be able to trade certain specified characteristics, such as their qualifications, against a lower salary in order to score the required number of points under the SW route. For example, where the job offer pays less than the minimum salary requirement, but no less than £20,480, an applicant may still be eligible if the job is in a shortage occupation; the applicant has a relevant PhD to the job offered; or the Applicant has a PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job.
Significantly, the Resident Labour Market Test has been scrapped. There is no longer a requirement to advertise the role, although employers will need to be able to demonstrate that there is a genuine vacancy. Employers are recommended to retain details of how they came to learn of the skilled worker where the role was not advertised.
Intra-company Transfer (ICT)
The ICT route allows multinational organisations to facilitate temporary moves into the UK for key business personnel through their subsidiary branches. Applicants will be required to satisfy the sponsorship requirements as set out under the route.
There is no English language requirement under ICT. Where the applicant is a “high earner” (salary is above £73,900.00) they can enjoy cumulative periods of permission in the ICT route of up to nine years in any ten-year period. If the applicant is not a high earner, they can stay in the ICT route for no more than five years in any six-year period. There is no longer a cooling-off period which marks a liberalisation of the previous ICT requirements.
Significantly, ICT’s will be able to switch into SW once in the UK. As the ICT route still does not lead to settlement, this will allow applicants to switch into a category allowing them to settle in the UK. It is anticipated that those currently in the UK as ICT’s will make the transition to SW’s. They should be aware that the time spent under ICT will not count towards settlement however.
Global Talent Route
The existing Global Talent route is now open to EU citizens on the same basis as non-EU citizens. The route is designed for highly skilled individuals whose applications are scrutinised by a recognised UK body approved by the Home Office. If approved by them the application is passed onto the Home Office for processing.
The Applicant will need to be endorsed by one of the following approved recognised bodies:
- The Royal Society
- The Royal Academy of Engineering
- The British Academy
- UK Research and Innovation
- Tech Nation
- Arts Council England
It is anticipated that this route will be open to applicants in the summer of 2021. The route will be open to international students who have completed their degree in the UK. The route allows applicants to remain in the UK and work at ANY skill level for two years after the successful completion of their studies. PhD graduates will be permitted to remain in the UK for three years after completing their studies under the Graduate route. This route does not require sponsorship from an employer.
Health and Care Visa
This category is part of the SW route. It is for those individuals working in eligible health occupations, with a job offer from the NHS, social care sector or organisations that provide services to the NHS.
Other categories under PBS
Routes such as Minister of Religion, Sportsperson, UK Ancestry, T5 Seasonal Workers and T5 Youth Mobility remain largely unchanged.
The changes to the immigration rules mark a liberalisation in the rules and are cautiously welcomed. Employers who have EU workers should be taking steps now to ensure that their workforce are aware of the need to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme before 30 June 2021.
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