UK Points-based immigration system.
On 31st January 2020, The United Kingdom (UK) exited the European Union (EU).
The policy statement sets out how to fulfil their commitment to the British public and take back control of our borders.
- They are ending free movement and will introduce an Immigration Bill to bring in a firm and fair points-based system that will attract the high-skilled workers we need to contribute to our economy, our communities and our public services. We intend to create a high wage, high-skill, high productivity economy.
- They will deliver a system that works in the interests of the whole of the UK and prioritises the skills a person has to offer, not where they come from.
- For too long, distorted by European free movement rights, the immigration system has been failing to meet the needs of the British people. Failing to deliver benefits across the UK and failing the highly-skilled migrants from around the world who want to come to the UK and make a contribution to their economy and society.
- Their approach will change all of this. They are implementing a new system that will transform the way in which all migrants come to the UK to work, study, visit or join their family. It will also revolutionize the operation of the UK border, tighten security and deliver a better customer experience for those coming to the UK.
- From 1 January 2021, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally. They will reduce overall levels of migration and give top priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talents: scientists, engineers, academics and other highly-skilled workers. Importantly remain committed to protecting individuals from exploitation by criminal traffickers and unscrupulous employers.
- They will replace free movement with the UK’s points-based system to cater for the most highly skilled workers, skilled workers, students and a range of other specialist work routes including routes for global leaders and innovators.
- They will not introduce a general low-skilled or temporary work route. They need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation. Employers will need to adjust.
- However, the Settlement Scheme for EU citizens, which opened in March 2019, has already received 3.2 million applications from EU citizens who will be able to stay and work in the UK. This will provide employers with flexibility to meet labour market demands.
- They recognize that these proposals represent significant change for employers in the UK and they will deliver a comprehensive programme of communication and engagement in the coming months. They will keep labour market data under careful scrutiny to monitor any pressures in key sectors.
- Initiatives are also being brought forward for scientists, graduates, NHS workers and those in the agricultural sector, which will provide businesses with additional flexibility in the shorter term.
- For the first time in decades the UK will have full control over who comes to this country and how their immigration system operates. This policy statement sets out how they will grasp this unique opportunity by introducing a new points-based system.
- Alongside this policy statement they will shortly be publishing their response to the Law Commission Report on Simplification of the Immigration Rules which will set out how they propose to provide the foundations for a streamlined and simplified system.
The UK’s points-based system
- From 1 January 2021, free movement will end, and they will introduce the UK’s points-based system. This is part of a wider multi-year program of change, led by the Home Office, to transform the operation of the border and immigration system.
- These changes will be followed by further improvements to the UK’s sponsorship system and the operation of the UK border, including, in the longer-term, the introduction of Electronic Travel Authorities to ensure those coming to the UK have permission to do so in advance of travel. They are taking a phased approach to ensure the smooth delivery of this new system and to allow sufficient time for everyone to adapt. This policy statement focuses on the first phase of changes being introduced in 2021.
- The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its report on salary thresholds and points-based systems on 28 January. They are grateful for its considered work.
- They accept the MAC’s recommendation on salary thresholds, including to lower the general salary threshold from £30,000 to £25,600. Migrants will still need to be paid the higher of the specific salary threshold for their occupation, known as the ‘going rate’, and the general salary threshold. However, as set out below, under the points-based system for skilled workers, applicants will be able to ‘trade’ characteristics such as their specific job offer and qualifications against a lower salary. There will continue to be different arrangements for a small number of occupations where the salary threshold will be based on published pay scales. They will set the requirements for new entrants 30% lower than the rate for experienced workers in any occupation and only use the base salary (and not the allowances or pension contributions) to determine whether the salary threshold is met. Additionally, in line with the MAC’s recommendations, they will not introduce regional salary thresholds or different arrangements for different parts of the UK.
- They will implement the MAC’s recommendation to bring the skills threshold down from RQF6 to RQF3. They will suspend the cap on the number of people who can come on the skilled worker route and remove the resident labour market test. These changes will ensure that a wide pool of skilled workers will be able to come to the UK from anywhere in the world and the process will be made simpler and quicker for employers. These are important changes signaling that the UK is open for business.
The visa process
- People coming to the UK from any country in the world for the purpose of work or study, other than some short-term business visitors and short-term students, will need to obtain a visa for which they will pay a fee. They will levy the Immigration Skills Surcharge on employers and the Immigration Health Surcharge on the same basis as now. For employers sponsoring skilled migrants, the process will be streamlined to reduce the time it takes to bring a migrant into the UK by up to eight weeks. They intend to further reduce this through additional enhancements to the system.
- Migrants will make their application online and most EU citizens will enroll facial biometrics using smartphone self-enrolment; fingerprints will not initially be required. Non-EU citizens will submit biometrics at a Visa Application Centre, as they do now. All migrants will need to comply with the UK’s strict criminality rules.
- Most EU citizens will be issued with an e-visa which confirms their right to be in the UK. The online checking service will be used by EU citizens to demonstrate their immigration status and their rights and entitlements, where permitted, when accessing work and services. For many EU citizens, their status will automatically be available when seeking to access benefits or the NHS. Non-EU citizens, including those who are the family members of EU citizens will, for the time being, continue to be provided with physical evidence of their status. Access to income-related benefits will be the same for EU and non-EU citizens arriving after January 2021; it will only be permitted after indefinite leave to remain is granted, usually available after five years of continuous residence. There will be exceptions for those who arrive outside of the points-based system. Ensuring migrants can evidence their status is at the heart of their new system and underpins an approach to compliance that is fair and robust when responding to those that abuse their hospitality.
- EU citizens living in the UK by 31 December 2020 are eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme and will have until 30 June 2021 to make an application. As a transition measure, employers, landlords and public service providers will continue to accept the passports and national identity cards of EU citizens as evidence of permission during this period, up until 30 June 2021.
- They intend to open key routes from Autumn 2020, so that migrants can start to apply ahead the system taking effect in January 2021. Employers not currently approved by the Home Office to be a sponsor should consider doing so now if they think they will want to sponsor skilled migrants, including from the EU, from early 2021.
- Annex A sets out the typical user journey for a migrant entering the UK, regardless of whether they are an EU or non-EU citizen.
Crossing the border
- Their vision for their border system is to both protect the public and enhance prosperity. They will continue to invest in biometrics and technology which will improve security and the passage of legitimate travelers through the border. This transformation will result in a fully digital end to end customer journey, requiring everyone (except Irish nationals) to seek permission in advance of travel.
- They intend to phase out the use of insecure identity documents for newly arriving migrants and will set out further details on this shortly. This means most migrants will use a passport when arriving at the border. The citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the United States of America, Singapore and South Korea, who possess biometric passports, will continue to be able to use e-gates to pass through the border on arrival. They will also unilaterally allow EU citizens to continue to use e-gates, but they will keep this policy under review.
Engagement and outreach
- The government, in delivering on its manifesto commitments, has considered relevant views, evidence, and analysis in finalizing this policy.
- A programme of engagement will begin in March 2020 to raise awareness of the new system, ensuring those affected by the changes are fully aware of what it means for them and understand how the system will operate. They will also work closely with stakeholders to understand their views on the implementation of the points-based system.
- Engagement will be via multiple methods, across the whole of the UK, and will focus upon those sectors most impacted including small and medium sized enterprises. They will build on the success and experience of implementing the EU Settlement Scheme with opportunities for face to face engagement with officials, who will go to every region of the UK, alongside traditional communication and media channels. They will work with key countries around the world, including EU Member States, to explain how the new system will operate.
MAC analysis of a points-based system, and salary thresholds for immigration
- In its latest report, the MAC modelled the impact of salary and skills thresholds on the EEA migrant population. It estimated that, under their recommendations, around 70% of resident EEA citizens arriving in the UK since 2004 would be found ineligible for either a skilled-work, family or Tier 4 visa given their current (2016-18) characteristics. The MAC suggest that these changes could bring both costs and benefits to the UK, and highlight ‘estimated impacts at the macro level are small’.
- Although the MAC modelling is based on the stock of migrants (and is a ‘backwards-looking’ approach) it is important to note that EEA citizens who came after 2004 will have a right to remain in the UK. Although the MAC expect an increase in non-EEA migration, given the difficulties in forecasting migration flows it did not attempt to predict future non-EEA migration flows. These will be affected by a wide range of factors including and beyond migration policy.
- The MAC modelling gives a broad overview of impacts but does not include detailed eligibility rules within each route – for example the impact of any additional fees or changes to administration costs which will affect behaviour.
- More detailed analysis on the points-based system and individual routes will be published shortly.
Annex A: Migrant journey from January 2021
|Step||Journey stage||Migrant actions|
|1||Planning to come||EU citizens and non-visa nationals will not require a visa to enter the country when visiting. All migrants looking to enter the UK for other reasons (such as work or study) will need to apply for permission in advance. Those who come to the UK as a visitor will need to leave the country before making an application to another route.|
|2||Getting permission||For those who need a visa, migrants will make their application online. Most EU citizens will complete their application online, while non-EU citizens will continue to go to Visa Application Centres (VACs) to enrol their biometrics.|
|3||Crossing the UK border||Citizens of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and the USA, who possess biometric passports, will continue to be able to use e-gates to pass through the UK border either as a visitor or with prior permission. We will also unilaterally allow EU citizens to continue to use e-gates, but we will keep this policy under review. Others will need to see a Border Force officer.|
|4||Living in the UK||EU citizens will use the online checking service to demonstrate their immigration status and their rights and entitlements, where permitted, when accessing work and services in the UK. For many EU citizens, their status will automatically be available when seeking to access benefits or the NHS. Non-EU citizens will continue to use their physical documentation.|
|5||Leaving the UK||Leaving the UK after leave has expired, or not leaving at all when required to, will impact a migrant’s immigration status and will affect future interactions with UK immigration.|
In most cases, references throughout this paper to citizens of the European Union also relate to citizens of the European Economic Area and Switzerland.
Mode 4 refers to commitments that the UK takes in free trade agreements in respect of the temporary entry and stay of business persons. These commitments typically cover business visitors, intra-company transfers and contractual service suppliers and independent professionals. The UK implements its existing commitments through the Immigration Rules applied to non-EU citizens