WHAT’S THE POINT?
Gillian McKearney, Head of UK Immigration and Pip Hague, associate, Fieldfisher assess the UK's new immigration system
With the new horizon for non-native workers in the UK swept under the carpet initially by indecisiveness over Brexit, then covid-19, and perhaps now that the UK has officially entered a recession for the first time in a decade, understandably, it’s been hard to and will continue to be, to focus efforts as to what will happen when the transition period ends on 31 December 2020 and the UK’s new points based immigration system kicks in.
This change will mark one of the most significant developments to UK immigration law in the last four decades, changing the way in which UK companies can recruit and employ workers, whether they rely on EU or non-EU national workers.
What are the key changes?
Essentially, from January 2021 the UK’s new points based immigration system will level the playing field for those across the globe looking to work in the UK and for businesses looking to hire internationally as EU national candidates will require sponsorship and a UK visa in the same way as non-EU national candidates. However, EU workers arriving in the UK before 31 December 2020 will not require sponsorship as long as they apply to the EU Settlement Scheme by 30 June 2021.
Recruiters who tend to focus on the EU for their candidate pool should maximise the opportunities presented in the transition period to bring EU workers into the UK from now till 31 December 2020 and encourage them to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme prior to 30 June 2021. With the UK officially in a recession, it is likely that recruitment will be stalled for many businesses but in the long-term, taking advantage now of this flexibility could pay off for many.
For global companies who recruit from all over, the new system may come as welcome news as processes and compliance burdens are likely to ease. Effective from January 2021, most non-native workers will be able to switch from one immigration route to another instead of having to fly to their country of origin to apply. This will reduce some of the delays and costs currently associated with the recruitment of sponsored workers. In particular, those in the ICT route will be permitted to switch into the main Tier 2 route whereas they could not previously, which may open up a pool of Tier 2 ICT workers to new sponsors.
A graduate route will be launched in summer 2021, which will allow international students to work or look for work for up to two years after their studies have ended. This move will make it far easier for international graduates to enter the UK job market; will open up a pool of talent for employers free of sponsorship costs; and will encourage more students to come to the UK to study.
Moreover, whereas before only graduate level roles could be sponsored, this will be opened out, so a much wider range of roles will now be open to sponsorship. For example, new roles such as bricklayers, retail managers, and restaurant managers can now be sponsored.
The new entrant route will also be expanded to include those working towards professional qualifications or moving into postdoctoral positions.
The last key update that will come as a welcome relief to some employers is that the salary levels will fall from £30,000 to £25,600 per annum. For some applicants including new entrants or those in shortage occupation roles or holding a relevant PhD in a STEM subject, they may qualify with a salary as low as £20,480.
However there will unfortunately be no visa route for lower-skilled workers and businesses in sectors such as social care who rely on EU national workers may suffer. The government expects these employers to look at alternatives such as automation and apprentice schemes.
An additional and significant downside is that there will be associated costs for sponsorship which some employers will struggle to afford. For instance, the Immigration Skills Charge, which will be between £364 to £1000 per year per visa and the Immigration Health Surcharge, costing £624 per year will still apply. Another requirement which might be tricky for recruiters and cause delays is that applicants must prove they speak English at AS-level, which may cause issues for some.
The UK’s new points based immigration system will have winners and losers but the Government has shown some willingness to support UK businesses in the face of likely worker shortages. Recruiters should be forward planning now to take hold of opportunities and avoid non-compliance penalties post-Brexit. While recruiters have a lot of obstacles to factor in, it’s time to put immigration and personnel management back at the forefront.