New Immigration System From 1 January 2021 To Go Ahead Despite Covid-19

Posted in : Immigration and Employment Updates on 15 April 2020
Conor McCrory
Cleaver Fulton Rankin
Issues covered:

The UK Government will continue to press ahead with its plan for a new post-Brexit points-based immigration system despite the economic uncertainties faced by the coronavirus pandemic following a Home Office statement released on 9 April.

From 1 January 2021, freedom of movement of people within the EU will come to an end. Home Secretary, Priti Patel has indicated “We’re ending free movement, taking back control of our borders and delivering on the people’s priorities by introducing a new UK points-based immigration system, which will bring overall migration numbers down” According to the Home Secretary the introduction of the new immigration system from 1 January 2021 will ensure that the UK “will attract the brightest and the best from around the globe, boosting the economy and our communities, and unleashing this country’s full potential.”

New guidance issued by the Home Office on 9 April clarifies and enforces plans - first revealed in February of this year - for transforming the rules governing who can enter the UK to work from the beginning of 2021.

The Points Based System (PBS)

The UK’s tiered system for non-EU migrants is limited to a minimum salary threshold or for ‘exceptional talent’ applicants. Tier 2 (General) skilled visas are currently only available to migrants with a salary over £30,000 per annum. To hire the likes of an engineer, IT professional or accountant from outside the EU a sponsor licence is required with the Home Office aligned to your organisation. The policy statement has outlined the following changes will be implemented in early 2021 to the immigration system:

  • The figure of £30,000 per annum will be reduced to £25,600 per annum in order to boost the UK’s public sector for “experienced hires”;
  • Under the PBS system for skilled workers, applicants will be able to ‘trade’ characteristics such as their specific job offer and qualifications against a lower salary;
  • There will continue to be different arrangements for a small number of occupations where the salary threshold will be based on published pay scales;
  • The requirements for “new entrants” will be 30% lower than the rate for experienced workers in any occupation although allowances will not be permitted to be used;
  • A reduction in the skill level for Tier 2 visas from RQF level 6 to RQF level 3+ potentially opening up the path to what would have been deemed formally to be “lower skilled” workers
  • Suspension of the cap on the number of people who can come on the skilled worker route and removal of the resident labour market test 

How will the new system operate?

All applicants, both EU and non-EU citizens, will need to demonstrate that they have a job offer from an approved sponsor and that the job offer is at the required skill level under the PBS system. There will also be a requirement to meet the English language criteria under the new system. A total of 70 points will need to be achieved in order to apply formally for a visa to the UK.

Interestingly if a migrant earns less than the required minimum salary threshold above but no less than £20,480 they may still be able to come to the UK with the appropriate visa if they can demonstrate that:

  • They have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation, as designated by the MAC; or
  • They have a PhD relevant to the job.

In effect, the new PBS system is proposing that applicants will be able to ‘trade’ characteristics such as their specific job offer and qualifications against a salary lower than the minimum salary or the ‘going rate’ in their field.

Controversy and timing

There are continuing arguments about the new UK visa system, post-Brexit and how businesses will be able to cope once EU citizens wishing to come to the UK can no longer do so when freedom of movement ends.  Home Secretary, Priti Patel, continued to push ahead with the publishing of guidance on the post-Brexit visa and immigration system despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Many would argue that the current COVID-19 situation has already been a disaster for the UK economy with strong arguments for the UK delaying the transitional period for leaving the EU and delaying the ending of the free movement system planned for 1 January 2021.  A no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020 is something many people wish to avoid. UK businesses have urged the Home Secretary to delay the new immigration system, warning that it could lead to a crisis for care homes and similar healthcare providers. However, the response of the Home Office has been sharp in the latest policy statement “employers will need to adjust” 

Why do UK employers need to apply for a sponsor licence now?

It should be noted over 30,000 companies in the UK already hold a sponsor licence with the Home Office for hiring global talent. For EU citizens arriving in the UK from 1 January 2021, they will be subject to new UK immigration rules.  EU citizens will be able to visit the UK for up to 6 months but will not be permitted to work and will be subjected to the same visa rules as non-EU citizens.  Where employers recruit from either the EU or outside the EU, they will need to submit an application to sponsor these workers under the new system, currently called Tier 2.  However, prior to being able to sponsor an EU or non-EU citizen, employers must have in place a sponsor licence with the Home Office.  The sponsor licence can be used to recruit both EU and non-EU citizens under the new immigration system.

Given the significance of the changes from 1 January 2021, we anticipate a rush of sponsor licence applications from employers who will need to recruit skilled EU workers from the start of next year. Organisations with the immigration rule changes may also begin to source talent from outside the EU for the first time. At Cleaver Fulton Rankin, we are able to assist you in this process of obtaining a sponsor licence with the Home Office.  We have experience in helping companies within a diverse range of sectors and sizes when applying for a sponsor licence and having this successfully approved.  A key aspect of the sponsor licence application process is ensuring that as an organisation compliance obligations are followed stringently. This is because at any stage of holding the licence the Home Office can attend your offices to carry out a compliance audit. We regularly advise our clients on key areas to protect the licence once granted.

This article has been produced for general information purposes and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor. Please contact our Immigration team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin for further advice or information.


This article is correct at 15/04/2020

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Conor McCrory
Cleaver Fulton Rankin

The main content of this article was provided by Conor McCrory. Contact telephone number is 028 9027 1722 or email

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