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What immigration rules will apply to employment from January 2021?

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While many businesses are still focused on the current global health crisis, some employers may be looking ahead to 2021 when the transition period for Brexit is scheduled to end. When this happens, free movement between the UK and the EU will also end so employers may be wondering about how immigration rules will change for EU workers.  Our Employment Law team here review the changes due to come into effect from January of next year and advise as to how we can assist with their plans for the future through our own advice and our established network of other professionals.

When the UK was a part of the EU, EU nationals had special movement rights that allowed them to live and work in the UK. Under the new immigration rules, EU and non-EU nationals will be treated the same. Every person who wants the right to work in the UK will need to apply for a visa with the applications being assessed on a points-based system.

There are 3 main routes for applicants wishing to live and work in the UK:

  1. Skilled worker route
  2. Global talent route
  3. Start-up and innovator route

The main route concerning UK employers will be the skilled worker route, which is the route discussed in this article.

How does the points system work?

Applicants will need to score 70 points for their application to be accepted. 50 points are awarded when the applicant meets the following mandatory criteria:

  • a job offer from a licenced sponsor
  • the job is at the minimum skill level RQF 3 (A-level or equivalent) or higher
  • the applicant can speak English to an acceptable standard.

The remaining 20 points are “tradeable” and can be awarded based on further criteria such as:

  • the salary of the proposed position
  • the job offered is in a shortage occupation
  • the applicant is a new entrant to the workforce
  • the applicant has a PhD in a subject relevant to the position.

EU and Non-EU Nationals to be treated the same

Many of the current immigration rules that previously only applied to non-EU nationals will now apply to EU nationals as well. For instance, all applicants under the skilled worker route will need to be sponsored by an employer, who must be a licensed sponsor organisation. Sponsors will also need to pay an Immigrant Skills Charge of £1000 for each skilled worker, which will inevitably make hiring more expensive for some employers.

EU applicants will also now need to pay the immigration health surcharge with their visa application.

Main Changes to Immigration Rules

The Government has introduced changes with the aim to simplify and speed up the process of sponsoring a skilled worker. One significant change that will affect employers is the removal of the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). The RLMT required employers to advertise the job vacancy for 28 days to ensure there were no suitable workers already living in the UK. This requirement has now been scrapped; however, employers must be able to demonstrate that they are seeking to fill a genuine vacancy and not create a role solely for the purpose of facilitating immigration.

The Government has also said it will suspend the cap on the number of people who may enter the UK via the skilled worker route. This will eliminate another barrier to employers who want to hire workers from abroad.

The new rules also make it easier to employ immigrants for lower level jobs. Previously, the job offered to a skilled worker had to be at the level RQF 6 (degree level). This has been lowered to RQF 3 (A level or equivalent). In addition, the minimum salary of the job has been lowered from £30,000 to £25,600. In some circumstances, applicants may be paid less than £25,600, if they fit into any of the “tradeable” criteria mentioned above.

New Visa Categories

The Government has also introduced some new visa categories to make finding work in the UK easier for certain groups of people.

One new category is the health and care visa. This category is part of the skilled worker route, but applicants applying in this category will have their applications fast-tracked and have reduced fees. This category is designed to encourage doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to come and work for the NHS.  

Another new category is the Graduate route. This is a non-sponsored visa that will be available for international students after they complete a degree at an undergraduate level or higher at a UK Higher Education Provider. Applicants using this route will be able to stay in the UK for two or three years to look for work at any skill level. They can then switch into other visa routes later.

The new immigration rules will take effect in January 2021 when the Brexit transition period ends. This article provides a broad overview of the changes employers and workers should expect to see when that time comes and we expect the Government will release further guidance as we get closer to the end of the year.

Our Employment Law team has provided the above commentary for information only. We do not provide immigration law advice ourselves but through our associates at Davidson Morris LLP. You are advised to seek independent professional legal advice on matters of immigration law and we would be more than happy to facilitate that connection and assist with any other matters of Employment Law you may have.  To discuss any requirements, you can contact us on 023 8071 7717 or email

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This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  We accept no liability for the content of this material.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.