On 19 February 2020, the government published a policy statement setting out the initial details of its plans for a new UK points-based immigration system from 1 January 2021, following the end of free movement between the UK and EU. Under the new scheme, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally in the application of the criteria. The changes will be of huge significance for employers.

In order for an individual to be eligible to be sponsored on a work visa, they will need to score 70 points. The minimum general salary threshold for the scheme will be reduced to £25,600, down from the previously proposed £30,000, with some exceptions where the job is within the job shortage occupations.

 The points will be scored as follows:

  • Mandatory 20 points for a job offer by an approved sponsor;
  • Mandatory 20 points for a job which is at the appropriate skill level;
  • Mandatory 10 points for meeting a minimum level of English language;
  • Tradable points for:
  • Salary (10 or 20 points depending on UK proposed salary);
  • The job being a shortage occupation list (20 points) – the current types of shortage roles are doctors, nurses, certain teaching subjects and certain engineering professionals;
  • The role being subject to a PhD qualification (10 or 20 points, depending on the PhD subject).

The UK Home Office will publish further details on the points-based immigration system in due course, including detailed guidance regarding the points tables, shortage occupations and qualifications.

The Federation of Small Businesses has warned that the additional bureaucracy and cost of the new system will hit smaller firms at a time when almost four in 10 are struggling to fill vacancies. The FSB recognises that in addition to the shortage roles identified under the new immigration scheme, there are also many jobs in the care and construction sectors that may not meet skill requirements but are essential to our economy and society.

New FSB research shows that 42% of firms surveyed cite a challenge in finding the right skills as a reason for struggling to recruit the right staff over the past year; and 35% flag the unwillingness of UK citizens to work in their sector.

Employers will need to sponsor EU citizens who enter the UK after 31 December 2020 to be able to employ them in the UK. Employers that are intending to recruit EU nationals who are not already living in the UK by 2021 should do so before the new immigration regime comes into force where practicable, to avoid needing to meet the criteria of the new scheme and the sponsorship requirement.

For EU nationals that were recruited prior to 1 January 2021, there is no requirement to carry out any further right to work checks and employers may continue to rely on the existing right to work checks (such as an EU passport or identify card) as evidence of their right to work in the UK for the duration of their employment, or, in the alternative, on confirmation of the employee’s digital status under the EU settlement scheme or Euro TLR scheme via the Home Office’s online right to work checking service.

EU citizens resident in the UK by 31 December 2020 can still apply to settle in the UK through the EU Settlement Scheme until June 2021.

One of the unintended consequences of the new immigration regime may see an increase in the rate of illegal working in the UK after the end of free movement as EU nationals that do not meet the criteria of the new scheme are recruited illegally to fill “low skilled” jobs below the salary threshold; as well as an increase in the number of employers struggling to recruit staff.

At Markel Law we regularly comment on SME related matters.

Follow this link to find out more about Markel Law and how we can assist your business.