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Immigration: what’s the point(s)?

  • United Kingdom
  • Employment law
  • Global mobility and immigration


The Government has provided its initial policy guidance regarding the new Points Based System of immigration. This is set to be implemented in January 2021 and follows advice provided by the Migration Advisory Committee (“MAC”) last month.

As anticipated, the Government is to end free movement for EEA citizens from 2021 onwards and will introduce new criteria whereby they may live and work in the UK. Although accepting most of the recommendations made by the MAC, the architecture of the system for Tier 2 employment will be slightly different to that proposed and, to a degree at least, based on points.

Based on the premise that 70 points would be required to qualify for permission to work and that some characteristics are mandatory (i.e. not “tradeable”), the proposed system includes the following:

Characteristics Tradeable Points
Offer of job by approved sponsor No 20
Job at appropriate skill level No 20
Speaks English at required level No 10
Salary of £20,480 (minimum) – £23,039 Yes 0
Salary of £23,040 – £25,599 Yes 10
Salary of £25,600 or above Yes 20
Job in a shortage occupation (as designated by the MAC) Yes 20
Education qualification: PhD in subject relevant to the job Yes 10
Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job Yes 20

A total of 70 points is required to be eligible to apply; some characteristics are tradeable.*

© “The UK's points-based immigration system: policy statement” taken from, 19th February

“Tradeable” points are intended to allow those who do not earn the salary of £25,600 to still qualify for sponsorship as long as the salary is above the absolute minimum (£20,480) and they one of the other qualifying attributes; a PhD or a job in a shortage occupation. For example, a post-doctoral researcher starting her first role in the UK could still qualify for a Certificate of Sponsorship on the basis of holding a PhD if her salary is at least £23,040. If that were also in a STEM subject, the salary could be as low as £20,480.

The Government’s intention to largely follow the system proposed by the MAC last month is not a major surprise. Although attention will focus on the “points based” elements of this, the component requirements will be largely familiar to those who have sponsored overseas workers within the last 10 years. Employers who have not previously sponsored workers will now wish to consider whether to take the necessary steps to do so by applying for a sponsor licence; we can expect a large increase in such applications and, possibly, delay in their consideration as a result.

The prospect that there will be neither a cap on certificates of sponsorship 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. Reducing the salary and skill requirement will help some sectors more than others and those seeking to sponsor workers with vocational qualifications may benefit most from this. Some without job offers or the self-employed may also potentially look at changes to the Tier 1 visa for assistance. It is encouraging to see the Government addressing the complexity of the requirements elsewhere within their recommendations although the very high application fees are, in our experience, a major barrier to international recruitment also.

The fact that no specific provision is made for lower skilled workers, other than those in agriculture, will be the most controversial measure. The Government advises that such industries may invest in retention of staff or new technology instead, but we find many of our clients have been seeking to efficiently address this for many years. Practical help in meeting what is likely to be a serious labour shortage from 2021 will be needed.