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Education briefing - Government’s plans for new immigration system published

  • United Kingdom
  • Education - Briefings


The Government has now published a policy statement setting out details of the immigration system which it intends will apply in the UK from 1 January 2021. This follows the report by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on 28 January 2020 setting out its recommendations following the Government’s commission for it to consider the question of salary thresholds for the future immigration system and to assess how an “Australian Points Based System” might operate in the UK. See our briefing of 29 January 2020 for more details on the MAC report.

In broad terms the Government has accepted most of the MAC’s recommendations but remains committed to introducing a points based system which contains some “tradeable” characteristics.

In this briefing we set out the key points to emerge from the policy statement.

Key points

It will come as no surprise that the new system will apply from 1 January 2021 and will treat EEA and non-EEA citizens equally (with the exception of Irish citizens who are unaffected by the change). EEA nationals already in the UK or arriving by the end of the implementation period (which expires at 11pm on 31 December 2020) are of course able to apply to stay and work or study in UK without restriction under the Settlement Scheme. The Government says it has already received 3.2 million applications and (as at 6 February 2020) 2.7 million had been granted settled or pre-settled status.

The Government will implement the MAC’s recommendation to bring the skills threshold down from RQF6 to RQF3. It will also suspend the cap on the number of people who can come under the skilled worker route (under the restricted certificate of sponsorship process) and remove the resident labour market test.

The Government accepts the MAC’s recommendation on salary thresholds, including to lower the general salary threshold from £30,000 to £25,600. As is currently the case, migrants will still need to be paid the higher of this and the specific salary threshold for their occupation. Salary is, however, the one element under the new points based system which will be ‘tradeable’. We set out below how the Government envisages this will work.

The MAC’s recommendation to set the rate for new entrants 30% lower than the rate for experienced workers in any occupation and only use the base salary (and not the allowances or pension contributions) to determine whether the salary threshold is met are also accepted. The policy statement does not, however, specifically deal with the MAC’s recommendations to widen the definition of a new entrant to include those who are working towards recognised professional qualifications and those who are moving directly into postdoctoral positions or to extend the period for which this rate can be paid from three to five years.

Finally, in line with the MAC’s recommendations, the Government says it will not introduce any regional salary thresholds or different arrangements for different parts of the UK.

How will the points based system work?

A total of 70 points from the available characteristics will be needed to obtain a visa. Three of these characteristics are non-tradeable and therefore required in all cases, namely:

• The offer of a job by an approved sponsor – 20 points

• The job is at the appropriate skill level (ie RQF level 3 or above) – 20 points

• Speaking English at the required level – 10 points

The remaining points relate to salary. If the salary is at the minimum general salary threshold (£25,600 or the new entrant rate of £17,920 if applicable) or sector specific threshold – whichever is higher – the 20 points will be awarded, meaning the migrant will reach the required 70 points.

If, however, the salary is lower not all is lost. If the salary is in the range of £23,040 - £25,599 the individual will get 10 points for that and reach the target if they have a PhD in a subject which is relevant to the job as they will get an extra 10 points for that. Alternatively, they would qualify with this lower salary if the job is on the shortage occupancy list as they will get 20 points for that (giving them 80 points in total!).

If the salary is lower still but in the range of £20,480 - £23,039 they get 0 points and can only hit the required 70 points if the job is on the shortage occupation list or they have a PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job – as that also attracts 20 points.

The Government says the MAC will be commissioned to produce a shortage occupation list covering all jobs encompassed by the skilled worker route and to keep the list under regular review – presumably an update of the current list. The Government says this will “provide immediate temporary relief for shortage areas”.

In some occupations within the sector the relevant salary threshold is in excess of the general salary threshold of £30,000 – and this will only increase when that threshold is reduced to £25,600. In such circumstances the policy statement confirms that the individual will be able to trade against this higher rate by having a salary 10% lower if they have a relevant PhD in a non-STEM subject; 20% lower if they have a relevant PhD in a STEM subject; or 20% lower if it is on the shortage occupation list. For example the experienced rate for a higher education teaching professional is £33,000. If an individual needing to be sponsored was being paid, say £30,000 they could supplement the 10 points they would get for that with a relevant PhD in a non-STEM subject. If, however, the salary was, say, £27,000 they would need a relevant PhD in a STEM subject.

What else does the policy statement cover?

As now, skilled workers will be able to be accompanied by their dependants.

From January 2021, the Government will extend the current Global Talent route to EEA citizens on the same basis as it applies to non-EEA citizens. In addition. the Government says it will create a “broader unsponsored route” which will allow a smaller number of the most highly-skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer. This route will be explored with stakeholders in the coming year, with the starting point being it would be capped and carefully monitored during the implementation phase.

The Government will not be implementing a route for lower-skilled workers as it believes it is important that employers “move away from a reliance on the UK’s immigration system as an alternative to investment in staff retention, productivity, and wider investment in technology and automation”.

On students, the policy statement merely says that they will be covered by the points-based system and they will achieve the required points if they can demonstrate that they have an offer from an approved educational institution, speak English and are able to support themselves during their studies in the UK. Presumably other rules relating to the Tier 4 sponsorship system currently in place for non-EEA national students – such as the level of course that can be studied, the rules on academic progression and the limitation on students right to work – will be extended to EEA national students, but the statement does not go into that detail.

The Government says it will continue “our generous visitor provisions, but with simplified rules and guidance”.

The Home Office says it will publish further detail on the points-based system in due course, including detailed guidance regarding the points tables, shortage occupations and qualifications


The Government’s intention to largely follow the system proposed by the MAC last month is not a major surprise. Attention will focus on the “points based” elements of this, but the component requirements will be largely familiar to the many institutions who have sponsored non-EEA workers within the last 10 years.

However, those institutions who are not currently on the sponsor register but may want to employ new EEA nationals from January 2021 onwards, will now need to consider whether to take the necessary steps to do so by applying for a sponsor licence

The prospect that there will be neither a cap on certificates nor a requirement to search the resident labour market means the process to sponsor a worker from overseas, sometimes currently taking three months to complete, may be resolved within days. Indeed the Government states that the process will be made simpler and quicker for employers.

Reducing salary and skills requirements will help some roles more than others; those seeking to sponsor workers with vocational qualifications may benefit most from this. It is encouraging to see the Government addressing the complexity of the requirements, although the very high application fees are, in our experience, in some cases a major barrier to international recruitment also. There will also be further expense for institutions in relation to the application of the Immigration Skills Charge to a wider group of recruits as well as the additional time taken to manage the requirements of the sponsorship process (for example in relation to record keeping and reporting duties) in respect of new EEA staff.

We are running a series of immigration webinars for institutions as part of our education sector training programme for 2020. Please see here for our forthcoming sessions on:

Compliance with Tier 2 sponsor obligations

Compliance with Tier 4 sponsor obligations

A new immigration system – what it will mean for your recruitment of non-British/Irish staff

A new immigration system – what it will mean for your recruitment of non-British/Irish students

Alternatively we deliver training “in-house” to institutions on this area.