We outline below answers to some frequently asked questions about the UK's new immigration system.
In order to bring new arrivals from the European Economic Area (EEA) after Brexit under the same visa regime as the rest of the world, UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) launched its new Points-Based System for UK immigration on 1 December 2020.
Certain nationalities can come to the UK as visitors without a visa but others need to obtain a visa in advance of arriving. People coming to the UK for short periods as visitors can undertake some permitted activities, such as attending meetings or conferences. Generally, visitors are not permitted to carry out productive work or provide services while in the UK, with some very specific exceptions (for instance, an employee of a foreign manufacturer may install, repair or advise on computer software purchased or leased by a UK company).
Although some people will have other visa options available which allow them to work (see below), most migrants will need to be sponsored in order to apply for a work visa. The sponsor must be an organisation established in the UK which has been authorised by UKVI to sponsor migrant workers in the relevant category.
Those wishing to sponsor migrant workers who don’t have a licence will need to apply for one. UKVI is currently processing new licence applications within about eight weeks (and more quickly where priority processing is granted). Employers should note that there is a significant compliance element to becoming a licensed sponsor.
The sponsorship system covers a number of different visa categories.
In order to sponsor a migrant worker within a specific category, an organisation needs to hold a licence for that category. Where categories have changed, licences held under the old categories automatically changed to the new ones in December 2020. Organisations can apply to add other tiers to an existing licence.
Most of these categories existed under the old Points-Based System and still operate in largely the same way. However there have been significant changes to the Skilled Worker category.
There are five major difference between the old Tier 2 (General) category and the new Skilled Worker category which has replaced it.
All of the above changes are designed to make it easier and quicker for employers to sponsor visas in order to address the shortages expected to be caused by the end of free movement from the EEA and Switzerland.
However, there are still strict requirements to which employers will need to adhere in order to sponsor migrant workers.
Skilled Workers now need to score a minimum of 70 points in order to qualify for sponsorship. These are broken down into 50 mandatory points and 20 tradeable points.
*Salary no longer includes any allowances and must exceed the minimum threshold and relevant percentage of the going rate in the rules for the specific role.
**New entrants include those under 26, specific postdoctoral roles, those working towards recognised professional qualifications or chartered status and students who have recently completed (or are about to complete) certain UK courses of degree level or above.
***Only applicants in specified health and education roles can score points in the health and education category.
Sponsors should note that large parts of the Skilled Worker category continue to operate as before, including the need to comply with record keeping and reporting duties and the “genuine vacancy” requirement. The sponsor guidance was updated in December 2020 and sponsors should make sure that they are familiar with the current version.
Those with permission in the following categories will not have conditions restricting who they can work for, unless otherwise indicated below.
There is also an Innovator category for people establishing a business in the UK, but these migrants are only allowed to work for their own business – they cannot work directly for other employers in the UK. The same restriction applies to Turkish citizens with ECAA Business Person status.