The UK government has released the first details, although brief, of the proposed changes coming into effect from 1 January, "once freedom of movement with the European Union (EU) has ended." These, possibly include some wriggle-room wording, in case there is a further extension to the Transition Period.
The government has stated that the new rules will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally, however Irish citizens will continue to be able to enter and live in the UK as they do now.
The "immigration cap" will be suspended. Although the cap was largely irrelevant given the number of exemptions, the removal is a significant political step and will result in there being no limit on the numbers of skilled workers who can come to the UK. It will also mean more flexibility on timing as it removes the monthly allocation cycle for a "restricted certificate of sponsorship".
Under the new skilled worker route, there will also be no requirement for employers to advertise roles (undertake a resident labour market test). This reform will remove at least four weeks from the end-to-end process for sponsoring skilled workers and the time spent posting advertisements and filtering applicants. Although advertising is to be removed, the government still expects sponsors to fill genuine vacancies – roles cannot be created solely to facilitate immigration of a specific migrant to the UK. How this is to be measured, tested and enforced is not clear.
From January 2021, the skill threshold to qualify for a work visa is reduced from Regulated Qualifications Framework (RQF) Level 6 (Degree Level) to RQF3 or above (equivalent to A level). The minimum salary requirement is, however, not reduced significantly despite this change. The general salary threshold will be £25,600 or the going rate for the role, whichever is higher.
However, there is a formula for lower salaries - but no less than £20,480. The new Rules will allow for a trade-off. Higher academic achievement or work in a Shortage Occupation List role can be offset against salary requirements.
It is not clear how employers will fill many "blue collar" roles that are not listed as shortage occupations but they consider as vital. The government has said that there will not be a general route for employers to recruit, whether at or near the minimum wage.
The current Intra-Company Transfer route will remain open for employees with more than 12 months service overseas. The current concession to reduce this qualifying period for those earning £73,900 or more looks to have been removed. (Details of how the points system will work are in the further details document.) Given the removal of the advertising requirement, this route becomes less attractive. The route will still not provide an avenue to settlement, however, it will be possible to switch into the Skilled Worker route while still in the UK.
The ability to change visa status in-country is to be expanded to cover the majority of economic visa categories (for example, Youth Mobility and Skilled Worker) but not from Visitor visas.
As ever, the devil will be in the details and we look forward to the draft rules being released later this year.
In the meantime, our general advice remains that if you are an international business and/or currently employ non-UK nationals, the new rules will have an impact on how you recruit and staff your business. These new rules expand the number of positions and individuals that will be eligible for sponsorship, and that could be a significant benefit to many organisations.
If you have any questions at all, please do get in touch.