With the free movement of workers from the EU ending on 31 December 2020, the government has published a policy statement with details of the new immigration system which will be in place from 1 January 2021. This note sets out the key points employers need to be aware of now in order to prepare for the impact immigration will have on recruitment once EU nationals are no longer able to enter the UK freely to live, work and study. With the exception of Irish nationals, EU nationals who commence residence in the UK after 31 December 2020 will be required to hold a visa which permits the activity they wish to undertake in the UK in the same way that non-EU nationals are required to do so now.
Although full details of the new immigration system have not yet been released, the Home Office has confirmed that some applications for visas under the new immigration system will open in autumn 2020, with the new immigration system being fully operational in January 2021.
The plans released for the new immigration system so far focus on sponsored workers and confirm that UK employers who will recruit both EU and non-EU employees will need to be UKVI-approved Sponsor Licence holders before they can sponsor an employee for employment in the UK. As such, employers that do not currently hold a Sponsor Licence should consider applying for a licence now to ensure they will be able to sponsor skilled employees in the UK from 1 January 2021 should this be required.
In order to sponsor an employee to work in the UK, the employee will need to be able to speak English. Additionally, the following requirements will need to be met:
- The role the sponsored-worker will undertake in the UK must be skilled to at least Regulated Qualification Framework (RQF) level 3, which is the equivalent of A-levels. Under the current Tier 2 sponsorship system, roles must be at least RQF level 6, which is the equivalent of a UK bachelor's degree, and so this lowering of the skill level will widen the current sponsorship regime to enable a broader range of roles to be capable of sponsorship. There will not be an immigration route for roles which are below RQF level 3, although there may be concessions in relation to temporary agricultural workers.
- The minimum salary level for an experienced worker sponsored for work in the UK will be decreased from the current threshold of £30,000 per annum to £25,600 per annum, unless the Standard Occupational Code into which the role falls requires a higher salary. However, if the employee is considered to be a new-entrant to the UK's labour market (currently this would mean that the employee is under 25 or holds a Tier 4 (General) student visa and has been awarded their degree from a UK university), the minimum salary will be £20,480 per annum, unless the Standard Occupational Code into which the role falls requires a higher salary. There will be some circumstances where a new entrant could be paid less than £20,480 per annum, for instance if the role is in a shortage occupation (as defined by the Home Office) or if the role is a PhD level role.
- Under current sponsorship rules, where the salary the employee will be paid is less than £159,600 per annum, it is necessary for employers to advertise the role in two locations for at least 28 days in conduct of the Resident Labour Market Test to prove that no suitable UK worker is being displaced by a worker who would require a visa to perform the role. Under the new immigration system, this advertising process will no longer be required and the Home Office will also remove the annual cap on the number of sponsored workers permitted entry to the UK each year.
The Home Office also announced that it will introduce a new visa category for highly-skilled workers which will run alongside the employer-led sponsorship system which would enable a small, capped number of the most highly-skilled workers to come to the UK without a prior job offer. Applicants will be assessed on characteristics such as academic qualifications, age and relevant work experience and it may be that this route will be similar to the now-closed Tier 1 (General) visa category. However, the Home Office has not provided clear details on this visa category but has said that: "We will explore proposals for this additional route to the points-based system with stakeholders in the coming year. Our starting point is that this route would be capped and would be carefully monitored during the implementation phase".
Please do not hesitate to get in touch with your contact in the Immigration team at Mishcon de Reya LLP should you have any questions.