It’s nearly Christmas: are you ready for the new 2021 immigration rules?

I’m sure that, despite the Covid-19 pandemic having dominated the news and our thoughts over the past few months, it will not have passed you by that we are rapidly approaching the end of the year. No, I’m not about to brag that I have done all my Christmas shopping (I haven’t), but now is the time to consider the make-up of your workforce if you have not done so already, because just like Christmas, Brexit is coming.

With the Brexit transition period ending on 31 December 2020, it’s time now to wrap your arms around the new immigration rules that will come into play on 1 January 2021. There are some pretty big changes …

In this update, I’m only covering the sponsored work routes, but there are of course other ways to enter the UK. It has been announced that the Government is looking at a highly skilled category where sponsorship is not required and there will be a form of a 2-year post-graduate visa also put into place. There are still the Youth Mobility Scheme and Global Talent routes too.

The new points-based system will apply to all EU (who are not resident in the UK before 31 December 2020) and non-EU workers alike (excluding citizens of the Republic of Ireland who still have freedom of movement).

This means that any companies who are used to recruiting EU citizens without having to worry about running the gauntlet of the Home Office will now be in scope.  If your talent pool extends beyond the UK’s borders, you will need to apply for a sponsor licence if you don’t already have one, ready to sponsor any workers from outside of the UK and Republic of Ireland, including those from the EU.

What is sponsorship

Currently, there are 3 steps in the process of recruiting a non-EU worker:

Step 1: Get a sponsor licence

You need to show you are genuine business, providing all your details (and details of any companies in your group) together with supporting documents.

Step 2: Assign a certificate of sponsorship

You have to apply for a certificate of sponsorship for your proposed migrant worker. There are two types: defined – for new hires from outside the UK and undefined – for in-country applications such as visa renewals, switching, change of employment and also for intra-company transfers.

Step 3: Visa

The migrant worker uses the certificate of sponsorship to make their visa application. They get points for a sponsored job, English language knowledge and “maintenance” (i.e. funds or support from the employer sponsor).

What is changing?

Step 1: Sponsor licence application process: unchanged, although they are looking at streamlining it to make it quicker.

Step 2 – certificates of sponsorship: Monthly cap will be suspended: At the moment there is a limit applied on the number of defined (used to be called restricted) certificates that the Home Office will grant each month. This suspension (I guess they will keep it under review and see what happens) will be good news to those of you who in the last few years missed the cut in the monthly application cycle.

Skill level is down: no longer highly skilled at RQF level 6 (degree equivalent level role).  That’s down to RQF3 (A level equivalent) (NB: this is for the role, not the requirement for the applicant to have those qualifications). However, a lot of low-skilled roles will remain ineligible for sponsorship.

Resident labour market test: Gone (woohoo!) The onus will be on the employer to demonstrate that there is a genuine vacancy and they have not just created a role in order to secure a particular person.

Minimum salary levels: Down. There will be a general salary threshold of £25,600 for most roles, although there is some real wizardry to be done for those earning less than that (there is a lower salary threshold of £20,480), but who might gain extra “points” by being in a shortage occupation role or having a relevant PhD. This is likely to be one of the most complex areas.

Step 3 – Visa application: There is a move to self-enrolment of biometrics. EU workers will only have to provide a digital photograph via an app, whereas non-EU will still have to provide fingerprints as well at a visa processing centre as they do now. There will also no longer be a cooling-off period.

Tier 2 (ICT): This will now be just the Intra-Company Transfer visa and it remains with a few changes relating to how long a migrant can be sponsored and to the cooling off period. It still does not lead to settlement.

What are the costs?

This is something that businesses will have to consider seriously. Anyone who is already sponsoring workers is well aware of the various payments that have to be paid. Roughly speaking, if you are a large company funding the visa for your worker, you are looking at laying out over £5,000 or more as a minimum for a 3-year visa.
If you haven’t already got a sponsor licence, then you will have to pay £536 for a 4-year licence if you fall within the definition of a small company (defined in the Companies Act – if you are one, it’s usually in your annual accounts) or £1,476 otherwise.

Tips on what you could be doing now

  • Apply for your sponsor licence now. If you don’t have one already, and you know that you will want to continue to recruit from overseas then think about getting one now. We have no idea whether the Sponsorship caseworker team at the Home Office are already in a flat spin at the thought of the numbers of applications that will follow. But if you are in a war for talent, you want to make sure your licence is already in place.
  • Check where your current EU workers are with their EU Settlement Scheme applications.
  • Where are your EU workers right now? Did any of them go home to work during the pandemic? If so, does this impact on any way on their EUSS status? If they are out of the UK currently and haven’t yet applied, make sure they come back before 31 December 2020 and that they are aware of the consequences of being out of the UK for 6 months or more.

If you need some help on any of these issues, just drop me a message and get in touch. We can talk through with you what you need and then steer you through the questions you need to ask the business and the processes that follow!