UK launches ‘Skilled Worker’ category under new immigration system

The UK ushered in a new era of immigration control following its departure from the EU, introducing a new points-based immigration system that subjects both EU and non-EU citizens to the same regulations as of 1 January 2021. This amends most of the previous immigration routes into the UK, such as the Tier 1, Tier 2, student and new entrant route. Applicants will need at least 70 points to be eligible for a visa.

The previous Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route has been replaced by a new fast-track ‘Global Talent’ visa, which enables top scientists and researchers to come to the UK without a specific job offer if applicants are endorsed directly by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The previous Tier 2 route has been replaced by a ‘Skilled Worker’ category, which applies to a larger pool of jobs because it opens up eligibility from the Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) Level 6 (Degree level) and above, to RQF Level 3 (A-Level) jobs.

There will be no cap placed on the number of people who can come to the UK and the resident labour market test has been abolished. Points will be assigned according specific skills, qualifications, salaries and shortage occupations, and visas will be awarded to those who gain sufficient points.

Applicants are required to score a total of 70 points in order to work in the UK. Basic requirements include proficiency in English (10 points), a confirmed job offer at the requisite skill level (20 points) from a Home Office-licensed sponsor (20 points).

To make up the remaining points to reach the 70 required, an additional 20 points can be obtained via a ‘tradeable’ process, largely dependent on the salary rate offered but also encompassing roles that are recognised as being a shortage occupation or those jobs requiring a relevant PhD-level qualification.

To reflect the lower entry requirement, the minimum salary level has been reduced from £30,000 to £25,600 per year or the going rate for the job, whichever is higher. There are also specific salary requirements for certain occupation sectors. The threshold for health or education positions, for example, is further reduced to £20,480.

There is no general route for employers to recruit from outside the UK for jobs offering a salary below the general salary threshold or for jobs at a skill level below RQF3. The six-year maximum period of stay and cooling-off period under the Tier 2 visa have also been removed. It will be possible to switch into the skilled worker route from most other visa categories without having to leave the UK.

Businesses wishing to sponsor migrant workers have to be licensed. UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) is currently processing new licence applications within about eight weeks. It has also introduced a new priority processing service under which businesses can pay an additional fee of £500 to reduce the waiting time to five working days.

A visa request will be denied if an applicant has been convicted of any criminal offence, in the UK or abroad, and was sentenced to a year or more of imprisonment.

The rights of EU and EEA citizens and their families who are already established in the UK to continue to live, study and work in the UK, as well as to travel freely between the UK and the EU, are protected under the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.

They can either apply for settled status if they’ve lived in the UK for a consecutive five-year period; or for pre-settled status if they’ve been here for a lesser period of time. The deadline to file the application is the end of June 2021. Irish citizens are exempt and continue to enjoy full rights to work in the UK even after 1 January 2021.

Identity cards currently used for travel by EU citizens and their EU family members will continue to be recognised until at least 2026 for those who are resident in the UK before 31 December 2020 and hold settled or pre-settled status.

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