Despite the impact of Covid-19 on businesses and the economy, the UK Government is continuing with its plan for a new points-based immigration system commencing 1st January 2021.
New guidance issued by the Home Office on the 9th April, further explains and enforces plans to transform rules governing who can enter the UK for work from the beginning of 2021. The changes will impact employers who intend to hire workers from within the EU bringing an end to the free movement of workers from EU countries.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is a points-based system (PBS)?

Currently the UK operates a ‘tiered’ immigration system open to non-EU skilled workers at a minimum salary threshold or ‘high value’ exceptional talent applicants. ‘Tier 2’ visas are required for skilled workers with a salary of at least £30,000 per year.

In order to hire a skilled worker from outside the EU, a business needs to become an approved sponsor in line with Home Office guidance. Although the current regime is also known as a ‘’points-based system’’, this is effectively in name only.

The new points-based immigration system will implement a process whereby applicants will have to demonstrate that they have achieved a certain number of points before obtaining permission to work in the UK.

What requirement changes are taking place?

Although the Home Office is branding the Points-based system as ‘New’, it does not veer too far away from the current system. The categories that will receive updates are:

Skilled workers category (Tier 2):

Regulated qualifications Framework Level 6 (Degree level) reduced to Level 3 (A-level).
No limit on skilled workers
Removal of Resident Labour Market Test
Minimum salary reduced
Tradeable points, in the case where minimum salary is not met.
Currently, the points threshold is 70 with 3 areas in which an applicant must earn points including:

Offer from an approved sponsor (20 points),
the proposed role is at the required skill level (20 points) and
that they speak English (10 points).
Points can be traded for roles paying salaries of over £20,480 where the role is on the specified shortage occupation list or the individual holds a PhD in a subject relevant to the role.

Investors (Tier 1):

Must show £2 million of their own funds which are: under their control, held in a regulated financial institution and disposable within the UK and must open a UK regulated bank account.

Students:

Students must show that they have an approved offer from an educational institution, speak English and finical support for the duration of the course.

Tier 5:

Tier 5 (Creative and Sporting) – available those who have a job offer as a sportsperson or in the creative sector, eg as a musician, model or actor;
Tier 5 (Government Authorised Exchange) – Enables the individual to undertake work experience, training, academic research or a fellowship through an approved Government scheme.
Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) – allows individuals from Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan and who are aged 18 – 30 to study or work for 2 years.

How will the new points-based system operate?

What we know so far:

The new points-based system will be applicable to all non-EU nationals and EU nationals which to work in the UK and unable to apply through another visa category.

To qualify all applicants will need to score 70 points:

- Have a job offer from an approved sponsor (20 points)
- The job offer is at the required skill level (20 points) and
- Meet the English language requirement (10 points)

Further points can be obtained through:

- Salary (0 to 20 points)
- Shortage occupation role (20 points) and / or:
- PHD educated (10 – 20 points)

What do employers need to consider?

From 1 January 2021, businesses may also be required to sponsor EU nationals under its sponsor licence to work in the UK.

If your business already has a sponsor licence, you do not need to apply for another one to be able to start sponsoring EU nationals.

However, businesses who already have a sponsor licence should take this opportunity to ensure that their sponsor licence is up to date especially given lengthy Home Office waiting times of up to 18 weeks to approve any changes made to a sponsor licence.
- For employers sponsoring skilled migrants, the process will be streamlined to reduce the time it takes to bring a migrant into the UK by up to 8 weeks.
- Migrants will make their application online and most EU citizens will enrol facial biometrics using smartphone self-enrolment; fingerprints will not initially be required
- Non-EU citizens will submit biometrics as a Visa Application Centre, as they do now
- Most EU citizens will be issued with an e-visa which confirms their right to be in the UK
- Non-EU citizens, including those who are the family members of EU citizens will, for the time being, continue to be provided with physical evidence of their status,
- EU citizens living in the UK by 31st December 2020 are eligible to apply to the EU settlement Scheme and will have until 30th June 2021 to make an application
- The Home Office expects to treat EU citizens as non-visa nationals meaning they can come to the UK as visitors (including for business purposes (not employment) for 6 months without the need to obtain a visa)

How does an employer become an approved sponsor?

You must apply for a Sponsor Licence

1. Check your business is eligible:

Guidance is available at Sponsor Licence section gov.co.uk and documents you need to submit will be listed at Appendix A

2.Choose the type of licence you want to apply for:

This will depend on what type of worker you want to sponsor:
Tier 2 – skilled workers with long-term job offers

Tier 5– skilled temporary workers

You can apply for a licence covering either tier or both

3. Decide who will manage sponsorship within your business

You need to appoint people to manage the sponsorship licence within the business when you apply for a licence. The main tool they will use to manage the licence is the sponsorship management system (SMS)

The roles are:

- Authorising officer – a senior and competent person responsible for the actions of staff and representatives who use the SMS
- Key contact – your main point of contact with the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI)
- Level 1 user – responsible for all day-to-day management of your licence using the SMS

4. You must apply online and pay a fee depending on the size of your business
A small sponsor will pay £536 and a medium to large sponsor will pay £1,476 (fees are correct as of March 2020 but are subject to review).

You will have to budget for associated costs such as the immigration Health Surcharge, the Certificate of Sponsorship and visa costs associated with an individual applicant but perhaps also those of family members of the applicant if applicable.

What does a sponsor licence enable an employer to do?

After obtaining a Sponsor Licence, an employer will be able to allocate a Certificate of Sponsorship to the relevant migrant worker. The sponsor licence can be used to recruit both EU and non-EU citizens under the new immigration system.

What are your duties as a sponsor licence holder?

A key aspect of the sponsor licence application process is ensuring that as an organisation, compliance obligations are stringently followed. As a licensed sponsor, the Home Office expects you to play your part in ensuring that the system is not abused. This means that you must fulfil certain duties. Some of these duties apply to all sponsors, whilst others are specific to those licensed under certain tiers or categories.

In general, you must demonstrate that you have efficient HR systems in place to monitor employees and keep track of their attendance. You will need to keep records of their relevant valid identification as well as right to work evidence. You will be responsible for communicating with the Home Office regarding any problems you encounter with sponsored employees. Any Certificate of Sponsorship allocated, must be for a genuine vacancy.

The Home Office sets outs specific guidance around compliance, reporting time frames and your obligations as a licenced sponsor. Failure to comply will result in significant penalties.

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

EU citizens arriving in the UK from 1 January 2021 will be subject to new UK immigration rules. They will be permitted to visit the UK for up to 6 months but will not be able to work. Employers who recruit workers from within the EU or outside the EU they will need to submit an application to sponsor these workers under the new system. They will need to go through the process of becoming a licenced sponsor as outlined above. There are more than 30,000 licenced sponsors within the UK with approximately 300 in Northern Ireland.

It is anticipated that there will be a ‘rush’ in terms of sponsor licence applications from employers who will need to recruit skilled EU workers from the start of next year. It is important that businesses who are not familiar with the process ensure they are up to speed with what is expected of them if they need to recruit from either the EU or outside the EU from early next year. Employers can start to prepare their applications immediately.

When can I apply to work, live and study under the new PBS?

Key routes are likely to include new skilled worker category, the Home Office has announced its intention to make ‘key routes’ open for applications in Autumn 2020.

How can I make the application?

- The application process under the new PBS will be online, with biometric data such as fingerprints and photographs being taken in person.
- EU citizens should be able to provide facial biometrics via a smartphone app.
- Applicants of all other nationalities should be required to submit their biometric data at a Visa Application Centre (VAC) in their country of origin or legal residence if applying from outside the UK

It is anticipated that there will be a ‘rush’ in terms of sponsor licence applications from employers who will need to recruit skilled EU workers from the start of next year. It is important that businesses who are not familiar with the process ensure they are up to speed with what is expected of them if they need to recruit from either the EU or outside the EU from early next year. Employers can start to prepare their applications immediately.

How will I prove my immigration status, after 1st January 2021?

Until 30th June 2021 an EU citizens passport or identity card should be sufficient as proof of residence. After this, EU nationals and family members should be able to use an online service to view their immigration status and to prove their status to others.

We understand that all other non-EU nationals will continue to be issued with a physical document as proof of their immigration status under the new system.

For further information on the introduction of the new Points-Base UK Immigration System, please contact our immigration team.

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