Significant changes to UK Immigration and how the changes may affect your business

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17 November, 2020

Amy Stokes
Partner & Head of Business Immigration

In summer, the Government set out further details of the UK's points-based immigration system. The changes to the immigration system are set to completely overhaul the immigration system in the UK.

The Immigration Bill continues its passage through Parliament and will provide the legal basis for ending freedom of movement on 31 December. The new arrangements will take effect from 1 January 2021, once freedom of movement with the European Union (EU) has ended.

The new system aims to treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and to attract people who can contribute to the UK's economy. There will however be very few routes for low skilled workers. The impact on those employers who are dependent on low skilled workers from the EU will be significant.

A new points-based visa route is to be introduced. Points are accrued by meeting a number of requirements such as:

  • A job offer; preferably from an approved sponsor
  • Salary level - the threshold level would be £25,600, lowered to £20,480 for people in 'specific shortage occupations' or those with PhDs relevant to a specific job
  • Working in a sector with shortages
  • Qualification level

The key difference with the new system is that, should a migrant's salary be lower than £25,600, it may be possible to "trade" certain characteristics against this lower salary to boost the number of points on their application. This is providing that their salary does not drop below £20,480 and the particular characteristic that they want to trade is one that is actually capable of being traded.

Two further changes that are likely to be welcomed by employers are the suspension of the cap on the total number of skilled worker applications to come to the UK and the abolition of the resident labour market test (RLMT). The government's intention is to make the recruitment process simpler and more efficient.

The RLMT applies to UK employers with a Tier 2 (General) sponsor licence and, subject to exemptions, essentially means that a job must be advertised to settled workers for a period of 28 days before a migrant can be recruited to fill the post. This will no longer apply, thus saving employers' time as they will no longer need to document evidence proving compliance with this process.

There will not be an immigration route specifically for those who do not meet the skills or salary threshold for the skilled worker route. However, the seasonal agricultural visa pilot scheme will be expanded - recognising the significant reliance this sector has on low-skilled temporary workers. Furthermore, workers in this category who have already been accepted under the EU Settlement Scheme will be entitled to stay with no restrictions on their rights to work.

Considerations for businesses:

Employers will need to adapt proactively to these changes and should strongly consider reviewing their resourcing arrangements in advance of January 2021. It is also prudent to plan now to become approved sponsors before the end of the year. Doing so may save unnecessary delays in future rounds of recruitment, especially if there is an extensive backlog of sponsorship licence applications. Once obtained, sponsorship licences will last for a period of four years before they need to be renewed.

Those potentially affected by shortages may need to look at salary levels, and how they attract employees to their organisation, whether that be by way of employee benefits, enhancements, or staff satisfaction in order to become a preferred destination employer.

Staff retention is another area that employers can consider, trying to minimise staff turnover and enhance engagement and staff satisfaction to reduce the need to recruit. It could also be an opportunity to review operations and rationalise any areas where the need for staff members can be reduced.

For more information contact Amy Stokes in our Employment & HR department via email or phone on 0333 207 1157. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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