Remember Brexit? The New Points–Based Immigration System Explained

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Remember Brexit? The New Points–Based Immigration System Explained

Key contact: Claire Knowles

Author: Adam McGlynn

On 1 January 2021, the free movement of EU citizens entering the UK will end. EU workers will instead be subject to a modified version of the current ‘Points-Based System’ in virtually the same manner as non-EU citizens coming to work in the UK. The ‘new’ points-based system has been designed for simple and universal application following Brexit with the purpose of attracting skilled workers and those experienced in shortage occupations. While the end of the free movement of labour will inevitably make EU immigration more formal, the modifications to the points-based system generally reduce entry requirements, providing greater opportunities for international collaboration with non-EU countries.

The existing points-based system

The current rules provide several routes that enable non-EU citizens to work in the country. Most fall within the Tier 2 category which broadly covers those taking up skilled positions which are generally deemed to be at graduate level or above and must be matched by a minimum salary depending on the role.

Employers wishing to employ a non-EU worker in this work category must first have a Sponsor Licence in place. A Sponsor Licence fee ranges from £536 to £1,476, depending on the size and type of the organisation but a single licence can be used to sponsor any number of workers and at any UK site. The application is assessed by the Home Office and an approved licence can be renewed every four years. Successful applicants will be under an on-going obligation to comply with a suite of sponsorship duties and to keep detailed records in case of an impromptu audit by the Home Office.

The ‘new’ points-based system

The number of sponsored workers generally entering the UK is now capped annually at 20,700 but this will be suspended in 2021.

As of 1 January 2021, the category of skilled positions will be expanded to include those at the equivalent of A-level qualifications and above, rather than at degree level or above. This adjustment will bring about a corresponding drop to the minimum salary requirements from around £30,000 to between £20,480 and £25,600 depending on the role, the sector, and the particular role’s ‘going rate’. Experienced workers will be exempt from the higher general thresholds where their roles appear in the Government’s Shortage Occupation List and/or where the role is deemed to be PhD level.

The burden of managing the current resident labour market test requirement will be abolished. This is currently a compulsory step on the part of the employer to assess whether a UK or settled worker can undertake the role before it is offered to a non-EU candidate. The removal of this time-intensive process will hopefully result in speedier recruitment processes.

For most routes, certain other eligibility requirements for visa applicants will continue including the need to demonstrate their English language abilities and prove that they do not have outstanding criminal records.

New routes

  • A Highly skilled worker route will be introduced in time, but currently not by 1 January 2021. Successful applicants will not require any form of sponsorship though approvals will be limited.
  • A Health and Care Visa will be introduced for those in eligible occupations offered by the NHS, the social care sector and NHS commissioned suppliers. This route will be supported by reduced fees and fast-track processes.
  • A new Global Talent Scheme will be available to highly skilled scientists and researchers, including those in engineering, humanities, the arts, and the digital sector.
  • A Graduate Route will be available to international students who have completed a UK degree from the summer 2021, bridging the gap between a student visa and sponsored work visa.
  • British Nationals (Overseas) citizens, resident in Hong Kong, including their immediate family members, will be permitted to live and work in the UK providing a pathway to citizenship.


The Home Office proposals do not benefit all sectors, including those which have traditionally relied on EU workers for lower skilled roles matched by lower salaries. There is equally no immediate provision for the self-employed either and undoubtedly employers will need to allocate resource to the adapted system. More positively, the Home Office is committed to streamlining the visa process, which involves reducing the time it takes to obtain a visa. To benefit from these changes, we recommend employers take the following steps:

  1. Complete a staff audit to identify any skills gaps and/or people requirements. 
  2. Employers wishing to sponsor EU workers entering the UK after 1 January 2021 should apply for a sponsor licence now in readiness for the new system.
  3. Existing sponsors and/or new sponsors should ensure any sites that employ EU workers are registered with the Home Office.
  4. Employers who are employing EU workers before 31 December 2020 should encourage those individuals to register with the EU Settlement Scheme for pre-settled status (if they have resided in the UK for less than 5 years) or for settled status (if they have resided for 5 years or more). There is no application fee and the deadline for applications is 30 June 2021.
  5. Employers should contact our Employment and Immigration team with their questions and concerns about the ‘new’ points-based system and other legal changes following Brexit.

For further support or guidance, please contact our employment and immigration team.

Claire Knowles – Partner

Mark Alaszewski – Associate

Rebecca Mahon – Solicitor

Adam McGlynn – Trainee Solicitor

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