August 17, 2020

New immigration guidelines: What do employers need to know?

On Monday 13 July, the government released further details on the UK’s future immigration system. The new system will be focused on skilled workers and be applicable to both European Union (EU) and non-EU migrants alike from 1 January 2021. The new system will end free movement with the EU.

This new system has been created to reflect more flexibility for employers while also ensuring EU and non-EU nationals are treated equally. The 130-page document doesn’t contain a lot more detail than the proposals released earlier in the year, but there a number of details to be aware of. Below we look at the new framework and consider the details employers need to familiarise themselves with.

Existing Visa Categories

Intra-Company Transfer (ICT)

The ICT category will remain but, in a significant change of policy, foreign national workers will be able to switch to the Skilled Worker route without restriction. The cooling off period will also be amended to prevent an ICT foreign national worker holding this type of visa for more than five years in any six-year period.

Global Talent

The Global Talent route will remain and will be available to EU national employees from 1 January 2021.

The government is also keeping the start-up and innovator routes. We hope that these two routes become better defined in the new system because they are currently under delivering.


The document clarifies that universities, colleges and independent schools seeking to recruit international students, including new EU arrivals, for long-term study will continue to need a sponsor licence. Student visa routes will be available to EU and non-EU nationals who have been offered a place to study. They must have sufficient English language skills and enough money to support themselves and pay for their course.


Employers will need a sponsor licence if they want to recruit skilled EU and non-EU workers in the UK from 1 January 2021. Sponsors will need to show that roles are credible and meet salary and skills requirements. The government will make checks to ensure that sponsors are genuine and solvent.

Skill level

Sponsored workers will need a job offer in a role that is skilled to at least Regulations Qualifications Framework (RQF) Level 3 (A-Level equivalent). This is a reduction from the current requirement of RQF level 6 (degree level equivalent).

Salary threshold

The minimum salary threshold has been reduced from £30,000 to £25,600. Applicants with a PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the role or roles on the Shortage Occupation List can receive a slightly reduced salary. There will also be a reduced salary for new entrants to the labour market.

Cap on skilled workers

The government will suspend the cap on the number of people who can enter the UK each year under the skilled worker route.

Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT)

The RLMT requirement will be scrapped in the new immigration system. Nonetheless, employers must still seek to fill a ‘genuine vacancy’ which meets the skill and salary thresholds that will be outlined in the new rules. Roles cannot be created solely to facilitate immigration of a specific migrant to the UK. The document states that PAYE records will be “regularly reviewed” to ensure foreign national workers are paid the correct salary.

Immigration Skills Charge (ISC)

The UK government will continue to levy the ISC of up to £1,000 per year of visa. This ISC currently applies to foreign national skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area and Switzerland who will be sponsored in the UK under the Tier 2 General and Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer Long Term Staff routes and to their subsequent visa extensions either with a new or existing sponsor.

From 1 January 2021, this skills charge will also apply to EU workers. Employers should understand that this will increase the cost of recruiting EU workers significantly.

Immigration Healthcare Surcharge (IHS)

The IHS is a fee levied on most UK visa applications. The purpose of this is to ensure that, with some limited exemptions, all foreign national workers and their dependents applying for leave to remain in the UK (i.e., those applying from outside the UK) make a proper financial contribution to the cost of their NHS care. The IHS will increase on 1 October 2020 from £400 to £624 per year of visa.

The proposed increase has generated some controversy, particularly against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. Following a recent change of policy, the UK government now intends to exempt NHS and care workers from the IHS in the future, although it is yet to be confirmed when this will take effect.

From 1 January 2021, this heath charge will apply to EU workers.

Lower-skilled workers

There will be no immigration visa route for those who do not meet the skills or salary threshold for the skilled worker route.

New visa categories

Health and Care Visa

The Health and Care Visa, part of the Skilled Worker route, is a newly defined category that will be included in the new system. The UK government has stated that there will be “fast-track entry, with reduced application fees and dedicated support regarding the application process, for eligible individuals to come to the UK with their families.” This is a significant new development.

There will be many who do benefit, but key workers who work in care homes and provide home care are not included in this category.


A new graduate immigration route will be available to international students who have completed their degree in the UK from summer 2021. Graduate students will be able to work or find employment in the UK at any skill level for up to 2 years (bachelor’s and master’s degree graduates or 3 years (PhD graduates).

Future Changes

Highly skilled workers

The government still intends to introduce an unsponsored highly skilled work visa to allow a limited number of the mostly highly skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer. The document confirms that:

“Beyond January 2021 and in line with the recommendations from the MAC, we will create a broader unsponsored route within the Points-Based System to run alongside the employer-led system. This will allow a smaller number of the most highly skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer. This route will not open on 1 January 2021 and we are exploring proposals for this additional route with stakeholders over the coming year. Our starting point is that this route would be capped and would be carefully monitored during the implementation phase. Further details will be shared in due course.”

Visiting the UK

EU and other non-visa nationals will continue to be able to enter the UK for a maximum period of 6 months without a visa. They will need to enter the UK using their passport rather than their ID card.

As part of a phased programme up to 2025, the UK government are planning to introduce a universal ‘permission to travel’ that will require everyone wishing to travel to the UK (except British and Irish citizens) to seek permission in advance of travel. The UK will introduce Electronic Travel Authorisations (ETAs) for visitors and passengers transiting through the UK who do not currently need a visa for short stays or who do not already have an immigration status prior to travelling.

The UK government hopes to announce further details on changes to border control procedures affecting EU citizens later this year following the negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship. This should allow sufficient time for employers to familiarise themselves with the new rules and prepare fully for the opening in January 2021.

What can employers do now?

There are a number of practical preparations employers can make to comply with the new framework, including:

  • Employers who wish to sponsor skilled migrant workers who do not currently hold a Tier 2 Sponsor Licence are advised to apply for a Tier 2 sponsor licence now.
  • Existing Employees: EU citizens and qualifying family members resident before 31 December 2020 should register under the EU Settlement Scheme as soon as possible.
  • EU nationals seeking to relocate to the UK will no longer be subject to different requirements from non-EU nationals. These EU nationals must satisfy one of the given immigration categories by the UK government in order to live and work in the UK.
  • Employers can consider bringing forward the UK start date for EU nationals that they wish to hire in the future so that these EU nationals can arrive in the UK in 2020 and apply under the EU Settlement Scheme.
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