Explained: The UK Immigration System
Following on from the UK’s exit from the EU, the new immigration system has been implemented and now applies to both EU and non-EU citizens. As of January 2021, EU citizens who do not have settled or pre-settled status seeking to live and work in the UK will need a visa, and employers eager to hire talent from the European Economic Area will need the appropriate licence to do so.
Whether your organisation is gearing up for a recruitment drive or you simply wish to familiarise yourself with the new immigration rules, read on – we’ve put together a no-nonsense legal guide to the UK Immigration System.
How has immigration to the UK changed?
When the UK was a member of the EU, the immigration rules were based on Freedom of Movement, an EU system that grants anyone from EU countries the automatic right to live and work in member states.
With one of the key drives of Brexit being to take control of immigration, a new points-based system was designed to replace freedom of movement and restrict entry to the UK to only those who meet a specific set of requirements. This new system is now in effect.
Under the new points-based immigration system, anyone coming to the UK for work must meet a set of criteria for which they will score points. This is designed to ensure UK businesses only employ individuals with the most in-demand skills who bring the most benefit to the country when they hire from abroad. However, the system does provide flexibility for employers to recruit skilled workers from across the world through a number of routes.
How do I get a UK sponsor licence?
Eager to employ talent from overseas? You’ll need a sponsor licence to hire someone from outside the UK. In order to be approved for a UK sponsor licence, you’ll need your certificate of VAT registration, your latest corporate bank account statement, your employer’s liability insurance certificate, the latest audited annual accounts for your company and HMRC registration evidence, such as a PAYE number and accounts office reference number.
The Home Office will grant a sponsor licence if your organisation can show the roles it is recruiting for, and the workers you intend to hire, meet the requirements. You must also be able to show that your business has HR systems in place that comply with your duties as a sponsor.
To secure a UK visa sponsorship licence, you will need to make an application to the Home Office.
There is a fee associated with sponsor license applications. For an organisation who falls within the Companies Act definition of a small business or charity, the sponsor licence fee is £536.
For large companies who do not fall within the definition, the sponsor licence fee is £1,476.
For more information on the application process, read our guide to sponsor licences here.
It’s worth noting that employers do not need a sponsor licence to employ an EEA national who has settled or pre-settled status.
What are the work visas in UK?
As per the new points-based system, EU nationals as well as non-EU nationals who wish to come and live in the UK will need to qualify for a visa. There will be no separate provisions for UK visas for EU nationals; they will be on part with non-EU citizens and will need to apply for the most appropriate visa.
The routes available for work visas include:
- Graduate route: if you have been on a student visa and want to stay in the UK to work
- Skilled Workers: if you want to take up long-term employment in the UK
- Intra-company transfers: if your employer wishes to transfer you between locations (to the UK)
- Health and Care Worker: if you are a medical professional and wish to come to or stay in the UK to do an eligible job with the NHS, an NHS supplier or in adult social care.
- Innovator visa: if you want to set up and run an innovative business in the UK and your business or business idea has been endorsed by an approved body, also known as an endorsing body
- Start-up visa: if you want to set up and run an innovative business in the UK that is different to anything else on the market
T5 Temporary Work: if you want to take up short-term employment in the UK.
Not sure on which route is right for you? Read our guide to work visas here.
Skilled Workers: How many points do I need to work in the UK?
A total of 70 points is needed to be able to apply to work in the UK. Having a job offer from an approved employer with a sponsor licence and speaking English to the required standard will give an applicant 50 points. The remaining 20 points can be attained with either:
- A salary offer of at least £25,600 p/a
- Higher qualifications (10 points for a relevant PhD, or 20 points for a PhD in STEM subjects)
- An offer for a job in which the UK has a shortage, even if the salary does not meet the above requirement e.g., jobs in health or education. The applicant must still be paid at least £20,480, and in line with the going rates for particular jobs in the UK.
What types of jobs qualify for a Skilled Worker Visa?
The Skilled Worker visa allows non-UK citizens entry to the UK on a long-term basis to full a skilled job vacancy in a range of occupations including healthcare, education, engineering, accountancy and IT. In order to meet eligibility criteria, the occupation of a worker needs to be on the Skilled Worker eligible occupations list.
You can find a full list of eligible occupations on the government’s website.
If the occupation appears on the Shortage Occupation List, it will be easier for the individual to make up the points needed to qualify.
When your organisation assigns a Certificate of Sponsorship (CoS) on the Skilled Worker route, you must choose an appropriate occupation code for the job from Appendix Skilled Occupations – you’ll find these on the left hand column. If you aren’t certain which code applies to the occupation, don’t hesitate to ask one of our specialist immigration lawyers.
Getting this right is incredibly important as the Home Office will not award points to an applicant if they have reasonable grounds to believe you deliberately chose a less appropriate code.
What happens to existing Tier 2 (General) sponsored workers?
Anyone who already has a Tier 2 General visa automatically retained this status after the new immigration system was introduced.
If you are on an old Tier 2 visa and are changing employment, you will need to make an application to the Home Office to update your visa. Changes to employment include changing employer, changing occupation, changing from a role that was on the shortage occupation list to a role that is not or switching to a job with a different occupation code.
If any of the above apply, you should make an application to the Home Office for a Skilled Worker visa. If the job is a new occupation, it must have an occupation code that appears on the Home Office’s approved list. If the condition is met, your new employer can issue you with a new Certificate of Sponsorship and you can proceed to apply for a Skilled Worker visa. You will only be able to commence your new role once the Skilled Worker visa has been approved.
If you wish to extend your visa, you can do so under the Skilled Worker visa route and combine your time spent on a Tier 2 visa with time spent on a Skilled Worker visa to count towards the five-year qualifying period for indefinite leave to remain.
The new immigration rules also state that for applications made before 24 May 2023, an applicant who previously held a Tier 2 (General) visa and was granted a certificate of sponsorship before 24th November 2016, the minimum salary you will need to be paid is fixed at a lower rate. You will need to be paid at least £20,800 per year unless the going rate for your job is higher than this.
Applicants who apply before 1 December 2026 may be granted allowances to be included in salary calculations, so long as they are still working for the same sponsor. Although they will need to meet the new salary criteria, allowances such as London salary weighting will factor in.
In most cases, the Skilled Worker rules are more generous than the Tier 2 rules, but where Skilled Worker rules are stricter, Tier 2 migrants extending their visas under the Skilled Worker rules will be able to rely on the old Tier 2 rules.
What is the Global Talent Scheme?
The Global Talent visa replaced the Tier 1 – Exceptional Talent visa. This route is aimed at talented individuals and those with high potential in specific sectors who wish to work in the UK. In order to meet the eligibility requirements for the Global Talent Scheme, applicants need to receive endorsement from one of six endorsing bodies approved by the UK Home Office.
If you are applying for endorsement in the fields of science, engineering, medicine, social science or humanities, the Home Office will refer your application to the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, Royal Society or UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). The body itself will determine whether you are suitable for endorsement based on the evidence you submit.
If you are applying for endorsement in non-academic fields of arts, culture and digital technology, the Home Office will pass on your application to Arts Council England or Tech Nation, who will make a decision as to whether to provide endorsement for your application.
But how do endorsing bodies come to a decision?
Endorsing bodies have two sets of criteria when it comes to assessing an application. These are:
- Exceptional talent criteria for applicants who have already made a significant contribution as an industry leader in their specific field; and
- Exceptional promise criteria for applicants who are early in their careers but have shown outstanding potential to make a significant contribution as a leader in their field.
You can read more about the Global Talent visa on our guide to UK Work Visas.
What are the rules on visiting the UK for business?
The new immigration rules allow for business people from non-EEA countries to visit the UK through the Standard Visitor visa. This visa is a short-term route; it means you are allowed to travel to the UK for a period of no longer than six months, for a specific range of business-related activities.
To learn more about the Standard Visitor visa, read our dedicated guide to visiting the UK for business.
Can I migrate to the UK to start a business?
Yes, but there are certain conditions and key requirements. In order to start up a business in the UK, you will need to apply for a Start-Up visa. A start-up visa will need to be supported by an endorsement from a UK higher education institution or an organisation with a history of supporting entrepreneurs.
If approved, the start-up visa will grant you the right to stay in the UK for two years. However, you will need to prove that your business idea is new, innovative and shows potential for growth. The Home Office’s fees range from £363 to £493. You cannot apply for extend this visa. You may be able to switch to an Innovator visa if you set up a business under a start-up visa .
Foreign national entrepreneurs can also migrate to the UK to start up a business under the Innovator visa. In order to qualify for this route, you must have at least £50,000 in investment capital, your business must be innovative, something different from anything else on the market and has been endorsed by an approved body known as endorsing body.
There will also be language requirements that you will need to meet in order to be eligible for the Innovator visa. The Home Office’s fee for this is £1,021 (if applied outside the UK) or £1277 (if applied inside the UK) and last for three years. If, after three years, you still meet the eligibility criteria, you can extend your visa by a further three years or apply for indefinite leave to remain.
Read more about the start-up visa and innovator visas in our dedicated guide.
Immigration lawyers for businesses and individuals
Here at 360 Law Services, we pride ourselves in helping a diverse range of organisations and individuals to navigate the new immigration rules and take advantage of the routes available. Whether you are looking to apply for a sponsor licence or you’re an individual in need of advice on visas, we can support you through the process with specialist legal advice and dedicated assistance. Use the form at the bottom of the page to get in touch and arrange a free consultation.
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