The Home Office must be ready to implement new visa routes by the autumn, the government has said, as it unveils plans for a post-Brexit immigration system that it says will include no visas for “low-skilled” work in the UK.
The government will allow people to apply for “key routes” to immigration from this autumn, ahead of a full rollout of its post-Brexit immigration system in January, the Home Office said in a policy paper published today.
The announcement gives the Home Office just months to prepare for the points-based system, which the department said would end free movement and treat EU citizens the same as those from other countries.
The new system, which will be in full effect from 1 January 2021, will require all visa applicants to have a job offer that meets a minimum salary threshold – set at £25,600 for most workers. People with a PhD or those in an area that has a skills shortage will be able to apply with job offers at a lower salary threshold of £20,380.
Prospective migrants will also be awarded points based on criteria such as English language skill level and qualifications, and must meet a minimum points threshold to qualify for a visa.
The policy document, published this morning, warned employers that do not already have Home Office approval to sponsor non-EU employees’ work visas that they should “consider doing so now” to ensure they are ready in time.
The salary thresholds are in line with the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee, which last month warned the government against using its proposed threshold of £30,000.
The MAC will be tasked with coming up with a so-called “shortage occupation list” requiring more workers, as it does now. Jobs on the existing list include chefs, speech and language therapists, veterinarians and secondary-school reachers.
The system “not implement a route for lower-skilled workers”, the policy statement said.
“UK businesses will need to adapt and adjust to the end of free movement, and we will not seek to recreate the outcomes from free movement within the points-based system,” it said.
The Home Office said employers must spend more on training and retaining staff, and on technology and automation, and move away from a “reliance on cheap labour from Europe”.
Under the plan, workers will require to meet a 70-point threshold to qualify for a visa, based on information on nine areas. As well as salary and any shortage occupations the other characteristics include a job offer, speaking English, and education qualifications, with each category worth 10 or 20 points, although salaries between £20,480 and £23,039 carry no points.
Also today, the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also announced an expansion of a pilot scheme to enable seasonal workers to work on farms – quadrupling the number of work permits on offer to 10,000 a year.
The policy document said some “low-skilled” migrants would still be able to work in the UK under the new system, noting that an estimated 170,000 “recently-arrived non-EU citizens” now work in lower-skilled occupations at the moment despite the absence of a visa route specifically targeting these non-EU workers.
This workforce includes the dependents of migrants who hold work visas and “will continue to be available”, the document said.
And agreements with other countries to enable young people to travel and work, which bring around 10,000 young people into the UK every year, will stay in place, the Home Office said.
The policy statement noted that while EU citizens would face the same restrictions on immigration as their non-EU counterparts, they would also have access to the same visa routes.
These include the global talent visa – the rebranded exceptional talent visa, which enables highly-sought-after scientists and tech specialists to come to the UK without a job offer. The government has recently expanded the route, which was previously capped at 1,000 a year – a cap that has never been met.
The policy statement said the announcement was the first step in its plan for a points-based immigration system. “The Home Office will continue to refine the system in the light of experience and will consider adding further flexibility into the system including additional attributes that can be ‘traded’ against a lower salary,” it said.
“The Home Office will publish further detail on the points-based system in due course, including detailed guidance regarding the points tables, shortage occupations and qualifications,” it said.