On 19 February 2020 the government published a policy statement setting out their plans for the UK immigration system from January 2021 onwards. As expected, the statement confirms that EU and non-EU nationals will be treated the same under the new rules. Therefore, EU, EEA and Swiss nationals coming to the UK to work or study from 1 January 2021 onwards will need to apply for the appropriate immigration permission in order to do so.
While the changes to the rules themselves are relatively minor, it is the fact that the new system will now apply equally to a larger group of potential migrants that represents the biggest change.
The policy statement makes very little reference to international students other than to confirm that they will be covered by the points-based system. The statement says that they will need "an offer from an approved educational institution, [to] speak English and [be]able to support themselves during their studies in the UK." These are also requirements under the existing Tier 4 arrangements, so it seems fairly safe to assume that the requirements under the 'new' system will be very similar to the current ones although the new system will also be applied to EEA national students. Further details are likely to be published in the coming months.
If they are not doing so already schools should start to think about how these changes will affect existing and future pupils, particularly those from EEA countries:
It is clear from the policy statement that the majority of migration for employment purposes will be covered by a reformed Tier 2 or sponsored worker category. Foreign nationals seeking to come to the UK under that category will need the following:
Unlike the current Tier 2 categories, applicants would be able to 'trade' points awarded for specific characteristics against their salary. This means that employers may be able to offer migrants a salary below £25,600 if the job is on a Shortage Occupation List or the applicant has a relevant PhD. Under the proposals, the resident labour market test (RLMT) will be scrapped and the current cap on Tier 2 (General) applicants will be removed.
The government advise employers to apply for a sponsor licence now if they think they may wish to sponsor foreign-national workers from 2021 onwards.
Existing categories for specialist occupations, including innovators, ministers of religion, sportspeople and to support the arts (most of which are found within the existing 'Tier 5' categories) are set to continue. The government will consider the introduction of an unsponsored points-based category to allow a smaller number of the most highly skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer. It is expected that such a category will not be introduced for some time.
The government promise to publish further details in due course.
They will be launching a 'programme of engagement' in March 2020 to raise awareness and get feedback from stakeholders about how the implementation of new points-based system will affect them.
It is expected that many of the changes will be introduced in the autumn so that applications can be made in advance of the new system coming into force in January 2021.