Examining The U.K.’s New Points-Based Immigration System

Last Updated on July 20, 2023

With Brexit now in the rearview, the U.K. is moving forward with its plan to implement a points-based immigration system

In early 2020, the U.K. Government announced its intentions to overhaul the country’s immigration system and move to a new points-based system. Home Secretary Priti Patel said this new points-based immigration system would be implemented on Jan. 1, 2021. This date immediately follows the end of the Brexit transition period, which concludes at the end of 2020.

Points-based immigration systems are not new. In fact, quite a few countries have incorporated them over the years, including the U.K. However, the U.K.’s transition to a newer legal immigration process comes with positives, negatives and unanswered questions.

A closer look at the U.K.’s proposed points-based immigration system

What is a points-based immigration system?

From a bird’s eye view, a points-based immigration system is one where individuals must score a certain number of points in order to immigrate to their desired destination. The U.K. government has looked closely at Australia’s points-based immigration system for inspiration.

According to The Guardian, Australia’s system is a general skilled migration ‘programme.’ This means immigrants are selected for visas based on economically relevant characteristics, such as:

  • Language skills
  • Work experience
  • Education 

Other factors companies may score for are wealth, existing job offers and age. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has strongly looked at Australia’s system for recommendations, although the MAC only provides recommendations. Canada is another large country that has implemented a points-based system. In fact, it was the first country to do so, all the way back in 1967.

Further, points-based immigration systems can also be known as merit-based immigration. Usually—but not always—immigration is discussed under economic terms, meaning immigrants are seeking to move into a new country to work and live. However, different sets of immigrants, such as refugees and immediate family members, typically need to meet a different points threshold in order to immigrate.

Looking at the U.K.’s new system

The U.K.’s new system aligns with the end of the Brexit transition, and it will apply to both EU and non-EU nationals, except for Irish nationals. There are several key features of this new proposal.

First, individuals will be eligible for a visa only if they have 70 points. According to the government, an individual applying for a U.K. visa from any country must speak English and have a job offer from an approved employer at an appropriate skill level.

If any individual meets the first two criteria, he/she would already have 50 points. To get the final 20 points, individuals could potentially have higher qualifications (such as a PhD), have been offered a job where there is a shortage or earn at least £25,600. 

Pros of the U.K. proposal

First, the Home Office’s proposal would remove the Resident Labour Market Test requirement. This would reduce processing time for applications. Another potential benefit would be the elimination of visa quotas. Currently, the U.K. has a cap of approximately 21,000 work visas, which are reserved for individuals outside the EU. According to BBC News, rarely is this quota actually met.

“We will also see the required skill level change from RQF 6 to RQF 3, which means that a wider range of roles can be filled by individuals who are not considered Settled Workers in the U.K.,” said Hannah In-Chan, a global immigration manager at Envoy Global.

Cons of the U.K. proposal

One of the worries about the U.K.’s potential new system is that it doesn't account for low-skilled workers, those who are self-employed or freelancers. How the U.K. navigates its new points-based immigration system will be an interesting case study, and other countries are likely to pay close attention.

Additionally, In-Chan explains that to sponsor an individual, each company will need to have a Sponsor Licence in the U.K. This means that companies will need to either apply for a Sponsor Licence prior to the new rules being implemented or ensure that their systems and processes are robust to manage their employee population.

“We would expect there to be tighter scrutiny of company’s compliance with the immigration rules in the form of immigration audits,” said In-Chan.

The Home Office have also announced that they will continue to levy the Immigration Health Surcharge and the Immigration Skills charge, which continues to make the sponsoring of an individual to work in the U.K. very expensive.

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Envoy is pleased to provide you this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Hannah In-Chan, who is a Global Immigration Manager at Envoy Global.

Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult an Envoy-affiliated attorney or another qualified professional.