Time to plan for the UK's new immigration system

  • 12 Oct 2020

Small firms that have traditionally hired staff from the EU need to familiarise themselves with the new post-Brexit immigration system and plan accordingly.

In July, the Government published details on the UK’s new points-based immigration system, which favours skilled workers, students and other specialist work routes and takes effect from 1 January 2021. 


Most crucially, employers will need to sponsor EU citizens, as well as other overseas citizens who enter the UK after 31 December 2020, to be able to employ them in the UK. Employers without a sponsor licence who are intending to recruit new employees from overseas after 2020 should apply to the Home Office for a licence as soon as possible. 

Points-based system

To qualify under the new system, applicants must score 70 points. They will need to score all 50 points in the following compulsory criteria:

  •     The job must be at an appropriate skill level (RQF level 3 or above – equivalent to A Level) (20 points)
  •     The job must have been offered by an employer with a licence (20 points)
  •     The applicant must be able to speak English to a good level (10 points)
  •     The salary must be at least £20,480.

Most applicants are expected to score the remaining 20 points by earning a salary of at least £25,600 (or the ‘going rate’ for the type of job, if higher). If the individual will be paid less than £25,600 (subject to the minimum salary threshold of £20,480), they can still qualify for a sponsor licence by scoring the remaining 20 points by using any of the following non-compulsory criteria:

  •     Salary of £23,040 to £25,599 (and above the ‘going rate’ for the type of job) (10 points)
  •     PhD in a relevant subject (10 points)
  •     PhD in a relevant science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) subject (20 points)
  •     Job in a shortage occupation (the shortage occupation list will be confirmed by the Migration Advisory Committee from time to time) (20 points)
  •     A listed health/education job that meets the relevant national pay scale (20 points)
  •     The applicant is a new entrant to the UK labour market as defined by the criteria (20 points).

Highly skilled workers will be able to enter the UK without a job offer if they are endorsed by a relevant and competent body.


Skilled work: Health and care visa

The new health and care visa will apply to eligible roles within the health and care sector, including doctors, nurses, paramedics and pharmacists. A reduced visa application fee applies compared to that paid by other skilled workers, including an exemption for applicants from the immigration health surcharge (a charge paid by the UK employer for each skilled migrant worker they employ through the skilled worker route). 

Care home workers have been excluded from this fast-track visa system for health workers, in a move that critics say could prove “an unmitigated disaster” for filling social care staff vacancies. Furthermore, care workers’ salaries generally fall below the points-based system threshold. 

Employing international graduates

A graduate immigration route will be available to international students who have completed a degree in the UK from summer 2021. This will be attractive to UK employers, as overseas workers will be allowed to stay on and work at any skill level for two years under a graduate route visa, or three years if they are a PhD graduate, without companies initially having to apply for sponsorship.  

The removal of the resident worker test (proof of advertising the vacancy to UK settled workers), together with the flexibility to employ graduates at any skill level without initial sponsorship and the move to a simpler immigration system, are welcome changes for UK employers. However, businesses that are planning to recruit EU workers from overseas from 2021 will generally need to apply for a sponsorship licence and will need to navigate the sponsorship rules. 


As reported by FSB, small businesses are currently likely to pay £3,101 for an application made for a three-year Tier 2 (General) visa fee. For businesses looking to recruit overseas workers, those costs will need to be factored in. 

You can get the latest advice on help as the transition period comes to an end, by clicking through to the FSB Transition Hub.

Hannah Thomas is an employment solicitor at FSB Legal Hub. FSB members should ring the FSB Legal Helpline on 03450 727 727 to discuss legal issues

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