[UK] Employers 'Mustn't Panic' About The Government's Points-Based Immigration System

19 FEB 2020

Following the announcement today of the Government’s new points-based immigration system, Jonathan Beech - Managing Director of immigration law specialists Migrate UK - uses the breadth of his experience to examine the changes and their implications.  

Here are the key takeaways from the announcement for employers:

  • Routes for migrants to apply will open from Autumn this year
  • Employers may face increased fees to hire EU workers
  • Employers not currently approved by the Home Office to be a sponsor should do so now

Today’s announcement is just the first stage in the Home Office’s plans for a new points-based system which will continue to be refined in the light of experience and skills in demand. The Government said they will consider adding flexibility to the system including additional attributes that can be ‘traded’ against a lower salary, with the salary threshold now lowered to £25,600. For example, this might include a greater range of qualification levels or other factors such as age or experience studying in the UK.

However, the Government must guard against making the system too complex as currently it does raise more questions than provide answers. The Australian points-based system on which the UK framework has been modelled on could prove to be a red herring as the MAC has twice concluded that it will not suit the UK. 

What employers must note is that the Home Office plans to open key routes from Autumn 2020 so that migrants can start to apply ahead of the system taking effect in January 2021. Currently, employees will have to reach 70 points to work in the UK with points awarded for areas such as qualifications and salary.  

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.  

This is hugely significant and points towards the Home Office not having a new system in mind until further down the line. This means that tens of thousands of employers could need a licence (and compliance procedures in place) to hire just one EU citizen from 2021.

The Home Office also plans to implement the MAC’s recent recommendation to bring the skills threshold down from RQF6 to RQF3, as well as suspend the cap on the number of people who can come on the skilled worker route and remove the resident labour market test (advertising for a job). So, if the current Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes are kept, this will introduce over 140 new jobs codes to the sponsor system which is hugely significant.

However, employers may also face increased fees to hire EU workers such as visa and NHS surcharges and Immigration skills Charge, to counter the lowering of skill levels and salaries for sponsored workers.

The MAC will also be commissioned to produce a shortage occupation list covering all jobs encompassed by the skilled worker route and to keep the list under regular review.

Allocating extra points for occupations that the MAC determines to be in shortage in the UK will provide immediate temporary relief for shortage areas, making it easier to recruit migrants. However, the Home Office expects employers to take other measures to address shortages such as investing in new technology, and the MAC will look at this when they review whether an occupation is still in shortage.

It will be a case of the Government ‘waiting to see’ how this new immigration points-based system works as it evolves. In the meantime, employers are advised to start forecasting and planning ahead of this Autumn if they plan to sponsor EU workers.