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Brexit Employment Updates: UK Employers

Further to the article we shared yesterday (18/02/20), the Home Office has now released a briefing document setting out the details of the UK's new points-based immigration system.

Under the new system, the three essential characteristics that all migrants will have to meet in order to work in the UK are an offer of a job by an approved sponsor (20 points), a job at an appropriate skill level (20 points), and speaking English at the required level (10 points). In addition to these, all migrants will also need to meet the required minimum of 70 points by showing they have other attributes, such as a PhD in a subject relevant to their job, a PhD in a STEM subject relevant to their job, a job in a designated shortage occupation, and the salary level. The non-essential attributes will be 'tradeable' - i.e., applicants will be able to 'trade' characteristics such as their specific job offer and qualifications against a lower salary.

The minimum salary threshold will be set at £25,600, in line with the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC)'s recommendations. The Home Office's briefing document also confirms that there will be no specific route for low-skilled workers, with the aim of concentrating instead on investment in technology and automation.

This new proposed system is fundamentally similar to the UK's current points-based system, the biggest difference of course being that this system will also apply to EU nationals. The new system will apply from 1st January 2021.

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. We are now in a transition period until 31 December 2020, and the UK will remain bound by EU laws until this date. However, it is essential that UK employers begin to plan ahead for what will happen after the transition period ends on 31 December.

What will Brexit mean for the UK's Immigration System, following the transition period?

The Government has said that after the transition period, the same rules for work visas will apply to EU citizens as everyone else. The new immigration system will be implemented from 1st January 2021. 

The UK's Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published a report on 28 January 2020 which warned against replacing the UK's current Tier 2 system of sponsored visas for highly-skilled workers, with an Australian-style points system. The MAC recommended keeping the existing framework for Tier 2 General (which is for skilled workers coming to the UK who have a job offer) but with modifications, including lowering the skills threshold from degree level to include medium-skilled jobs and lowering the minimum salary threshold from £30,000 to £25,600.

Boris Johnson has accepted the MAC's recommendation to cut the current salary threshold for skilled migrants to £25,600, but is set to press ahead with the Australian-style points-based system, a plan which was approved by ministers on Friday 14 February 2020.

Under the Prime Minister's plan, migrants will get points for English language ability, an offer of a skilled job, a post with an approved sponsor company and a salary offer above the threshold. There will also be points for operating within a sector where the UK has a skills shortage, for example, within the NHS or in teaching.  

The points will be "tradeable", so that applicants who fall short on one measure, such as language skills, may be able to make up for it by scoring highly on another. This provision is not currently available under the existing Tier 2 sponsorship rules.

Some employers have expressed concern that the plans could still lead to skills shortages in important industries and low-skilled sectors. 

What should UK employers be doing to prepare?

It is challenging for employers to fully prepare for the situation following the transition period, as we do not know exactly what the criteria of this new points-based system will look like. However, there are steps that employers can take to prepare at this stage, including:

  • Giving staff members who are EU citizens information about their rights, and encourage all of them to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme. 
  • If the business is considering recruiting or transferring EU citizens to the UK in the next year or so, try to get them to the UK by no later than 31 December 2020 so that they qualify for the EU Settlement Scheme.
  • If the business is thinking of transferring British citizens to the EU, try to do this by 31 December 2020 whilst the transition period continues.
  • Plan forward and be prepared to spend more money on visa fees after 31 December 2020. 

If you or your business require assistance in relation to the immigration implications of Brexit, please contact our specialist team Kirsty Cooke on k.cooke@ashfords.co.uk or Laura Wonnacott on l.wonnacott@ashfords.co.uk

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