UK Government proposes changes to the skills-based immigration system from January 21st 2021

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With the exit from the EU and end to free movement, the UK government has recognised that the immigration system needs to adapt in order to process the additional EU migrants who will soon become subject to the same visa system as other migrants.  

The UK Government has proposed the implementation of a new immigration system from 1st January 2021. Their proposals, which were set out in the White Paper of December 2018, 'The UK's future skills-based immigration system', are subject to consultation.

This report proposing the new immigration system for workers has taken a comprehensive look into the UK immigration system in its entirety and has responded to the growing concerns on the impact that Brexit will have on the UK economy, to businesses as well as educational institutions. 

Home Secretary, Sajid Javid states that “This new system will be focused on those with the skills we need, who bring the most benefit to the United Kingdom. Our new route for skilled workers will enable employers – in both the private and public sectors - to access the talent they need.”

The importance of attracting and retaining skilled migrants in the UK has been recognised and highlighted in the White Paper: “We recognise the importance of attracting and retaining skilled migrants in the UK, as they make important contribution to our economic wellbeing”.

In the pursuit of preparing itself for Brexit, a transitional route has been introduced known as the “Temporary short-term worker”. The Temporary short-term worker route does not require sponsorship and is open to all skill levels, however it will be subject to tightly defined conditions. It is emphasised that this is only a transitional route and will only be open to migrants from specific low-risk countries. 

Proposed changes to the worker route​

At present, the UK has a dual system of admitting only highly skilled workers from outside the EU, and workers of all skill levels from within the EU. As a result of Brexit, this will be changing as EU nationals will no longer have a default right to work in the UK.  Therefore, a proposed single route will replace the current dual system, giving access to highly skilled and skilled workers from all countries. 

Those coming to the UK on this route will need an employer to sponsor them. It is proposed that individuals who meet the requirements will be permitted to bring dependants, extend their stay and switch to other routes, and in some cases, settle permanently. 

Consideration has also been given to make the new system accessible to smaller businesses, in particular those who have been employing European migrants without engaging with the current sponsorship requirements. 

The proposed changes seem to be positive and welcomed and are summarised as follows: 

1.    No cap to number of skilled workers: 

The main highly skilled worker route, Tier 2 (General), is currently capped at 20,700 places per year. The Government has accepted recommendations made to lift the cap. It is thought that this will meet the needs of businesses and accommodate the EU nationals in the future. 

2.    Resident Market Labour Test (‘RMLT’) to be abolished: 

The RMLT was introduced to provide protection to British workers by requiring employers to advertise the job for four weeks and consider UK residents before offering it to workers. However, it has been found that the test has not been protecting the UK labour market and as such, not serving its purpose. It is suggested that by abolishing the RMLT, this will significantly speed up the process for UK employers recruiting migrants. 

3.    Lowering the skills threshold: In order to broaden the number of roles that can be sponsored, the proposal is to lower the skill level of the workers that can be sponsored. Where it is currently at RQF level 6 (Degree level) or above, the proposal suggests that this will be reduced to an RQF level 3 (A- Level).

4.    The Government has stated that they will be looking into ways to make the application process as smooth as possible in the future system, ensuring that it is flexible and responds to the needs of the market and workers. 

Students​

EU students will be subject to the same arrangements as students from the rest of the world and therefore, as with workers following Brexit, there will also be an increase of students who will require sponsorship.  

The White Paper suggests that the 'differentiation' approach for students from countries with a good compliance record. The White paper states:“As we move to a single system, we will continue to consider the increased use of differentiation to benefit students from countries with a strong track record of immigration compliance. Such differentiation could include the addition of EEA countries to Appendix H of the Immigration Rules, enabling EEA students to benefit from reduced documentary requirements when applying for a visa”. 

Further, it is proposed that a more streamlined system is to be put in to place so that the institution can be monitored robustly to ensure they are complying, and action can be taken when institutions fail to meet the minimum standards. 

Astons is a leading global immigration advisory firm with offices in London, Moscow, Dubai, Cyprus and China and offers residency & citizenship investment solutions in the UK EU & the Caribbean. Astons is a committed and regulated Member of the Investment Migration Council (IMC), for EU & Caribbean investment immigration.  

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