Brexit: New points-based immigration system from January 2021

News article

Employers should be aware of the new points-based immigration system coming into effect on 1 January 2021 that may impact on the recruitment of migrant workers

This page will be updated with the latest information about the new points-based immigration system as it becomes available.

On 13 July 2020, the government set out further details on the UK’s points-based system. These new arrangements will take effect from 1 January 2021, once freedom of movement with the European Union (EU) has ended.

It will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and aims to attract people who can contribute to the UK’s economy. Irish citizens will continue to be able to enter and live in the UK as they do now.

The UK is introducing a new points-based immigration system from 1 January 2021 once freedom of movement with the European Union (EU) has ended. The new system will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally. Irish citizens will continue to be able to enter and live in the UK as they do now.

Anyone coming to the UK to work, excluding Irish citizens, will need to apply for permission in advance.

Under a points-based immigration system, anyone coming to the UK for work must meet a specific set of requirements for which they will score points. Visas are then awarded to those who gain enough points.

The points-based system will provide simple, effective and flexible arrangements for UK employers to recruit skilled workers from around the world through a number of different immigration routes.

EU citizens already living in the UK

The new system will not apply to EU citizens living in the UK by 31 December 2020. They and their family members are eligible to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme and have until 30 June 2021 to make an application.

As a transition measure, employers can continue to accept the passports and national identity cards of EU citizens as evidence of their right to work up until 30 June 2021.

However, some EU Citizens may choose to evidence their right to work using digital status obtained from the Home Office instead of using their passport or ID card. This can be undertaken by using the Home Office online right to work checking service. When an individual wishes to demonstrate their right to work using this service they will need to provide you with a share code. They can provide this directly to you or they may choose to send it via the service, in which case you will receive an email from right.to.work.service@notifications.service.gov.uk. Further information on how to undertake an online right to work check can be found on GOV.UK.

Skilled workers

From 1 January 2021, if you want to recruit workers from outside the UK’s resident labour market, you will need to be a Home Office licensed sponsor. This will enable you to recruit workers from anywhere in the world. Further information on becoming a sponsor can be found below.

Under the new skilled worker system, anyone coming to the UK to work will need to demonstrate that:

  • they have a job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor
  • the job offer is at the required skill level – RQF 3 or above (A Level and equivalent)
  • they speak English to the required standard

In addition to this, the job offer must meet the applicable minimum salary threshold. This is the higher of either:

  • the general salary threshold set by Her Majesty’s Government on advice of the independent Migration Advisory Committee at £25,600, or
  • the specific salary requirement for their occupation, known as the “going rate”

All applicants will be able to trade characteristics, such as their qualifications, against a lower salary to get the required number of points. If the job offer is less than the minimum salary requirement, but no less than £20,480, an applicant may still be eligible if they have:

  • a job offer in a specific shortage occupation
  • a PhD relevant to the job
  • a PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job

There are different salary rules for workers in certain health or education jobs, and for “new entrants” at the start of their careers.

Further information on the “going rate” for specific occupations and further exemptions can be found in Annex E of the UK points-based immigration system: further details statement.

A total of 70 points is needed to be able to apply to work in the UK

Characteristics Tradeable Points
Offer of job by approved sponsor No 20
Job at appropriate skill level No 20
Speaks English at required level No 10
Salary of £20,480 to £23,039 Yes 0
Salary of £23,040 to £25,599 Yes 10
Salary of £25,600 or above Yes 20
Job in a shortage occupation as designated by the Migration Advisory Committee Yes 20
Education qualification: PhD in a subject relevant to the job Yes 10
Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job Yes 20

Identifying whether a job meets the required skill level

All jobs have a corresponding Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code. You can use the ONS Occupation Coding Tool to identify the relevant SOC code for your job.

The full list of occupation codes allowed under the skilled worker route are subject to change and can be found in the July 2020 policy statement.

The immigration rules will be updated in order to expand the list of occupations that will be eligible for the Skilled Work route. This will be based on the advice already published by the Migration Advisory Committee. More information will be published in due course.

Immigration skills charge (ISC)

The Immigration Skills Charge is a fee paid by a UK employer for each skilled migrant worker they employ through the Skilled Worker and Intra-company Transfer routes. From 1 January 2021, you will need to pay the ISC when sponsoring both EU and non-EU migrant workers. Employers must pay £1,000 per skilled worker for the first 12 months, with an additional £500 charge for each subsequent six-month period. Discounted rates will apply as they do now to charities and small business.

Global Talent route

From January 2021, the current Global Talent route will open to EU citizens on the same basis as non-EU citizens. This means the most highly skilled, who can achieve the required level of points, will be able to enter the UK without a job offer if they are endorsed by a recognised UK body, as approved by the Home Office.

An employer will not need to be a Home Office licensed visa sponsor to employ a migrant under the Global Talent route.

This route is designed to attract recognised global leaders and promising individuals in science, humanities, engineering, the arts and digital technology. Top scientists and researchers can benefit from a quicker endorsement process as part of a fast track STEM scheme.

As of July 2020, the current list of approved endorsing bodies is as follows:

  • The Royal Society, for science and medicine
  • The Royal Academy of Engineering, for engineering
  • The British Academy, for humanities
  • UK Research and Innovation, for science and research
  • Tech Nation, for digital technology
  • Arts Council England, for arts and culture

Graduate route

The Graduate Visa will be available to international students who have completed a degree in the UK from summer 2021. This will enable international students to remain in the UK and work at any skill level for two years after they have completed their studies. It will be an unsponsored route.

International students who complete a PhD from Summer 2021 can stay in the UK for three years after study to live and work. This will make it easier for some of the best young international graduates to secure skilled jobs in the UK and contribute to economic growth.

Intra-company Transfer

The Intra-company Transfer (ICT) route allows multinational organisations to facilitate temporary moves into the UK for key business personnel through their subsidiary branches, subject to ICT sponsorship requirements being met. The route will require applicants to be in roles skilled to RQF 6 (graduate level equivalent), and subject to a different minimum salary threshold from the main skilled worker route.

Other routes

Start-up and Innovator
The Start-up and Innovator routes are designed to attract entrepreneurial talent and innovative, scalable business ideas to the UK. Start-up is for those setting up an innovative business for the first time, and Innovator is for those with industry experience and at least £50,000 funding. These routes will be open to both EEA and non-EEA citizens. Applicants can be individuals or teams.

Health and Care Visa
The Health and Care Visa is part of the skilled work route. It will ensure individuals working in eligible health occupations, with a job offer from the NHS, social care sector or organisations that provide services to the NHS, are able to come to the UK.

Creative route
This route is for applicants in the creative industry who are entering the United Kingdom for short-term contracts or engagements for up to 12 months. Applicants must have a confirmed job offer and their employment sponsored by a UK employer licensed by the Home Office.

Sporting routes
International sportspeople must also have a confirmed job offer and their employment sponsored by a UK employer licenced by the Home Office. Additionally, they must have an endorsement from the relevant governing sports body.

Seasonal Workers Pilot
The Seasonal Workers Pilot for agriculture is currently running until the end of 2020. This route is being reviewed and a decision on whether it will continue under the points-based system will be made in due course.

Youth Mobility Scheme
Employers will be able to benefit from the youth mobility scheme. The UK has arrangements in place with eight countries and territories to enable around 20,000 young people to come to the UK to work and travel each year. Applicants must be 18 to 30 years old and can stay up to two years.

Becoming an approved sponsor

Employers not currently approved by the Home Office to be a sponsor should consider applying now if they think they will want to sponsor skilled migrants, including from the EU, from early 2021. See UK visa sponsorship for employers.

You need to apply to be a sponsor if you want to recruit workers from outside the resident labour market from 1 January 2021. Until then current immigration rules will apply.

The standard processing time for an application is usually eight weeks and will start when your application is received.

You do not need to be a sponsor to employ someone from the resident labour market with an existing right to work in the UK. This includes EU citizens with settled or pre-settled status, and non-EU citizens with indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

See more information on becoming an approved sponsor.


First published 19 February 2020