The UK’S Points-Based System

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The UK’S Points-Based System

The UK’S Points-Based System

The UK’S Points-Based System

What is the UK’S points-based system?

Under the UK’s points-based system points are assigned for specific skills, qualifications, salaries or professions. Visas are then awarded to those who gain enough points.

The United Kingdom (UK) exited the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020. This policy statement sets out how we will fulfil our commitment to the British public and take back control of our borders.

UK Government is ending free movement and will introduce an Immigration Bill to bring in a firm and fair points-based system that will attract the high-skilled workers we need to contribute to our economy, our communities and our public services. We intend to create a high wage, high-skill, high productivity economy.

The UK’s points-based system

1. From 1 January 2021, free movement will end, and we will introduce the UK’s points-based system. This is part of a wider multi-year programme of change, led by the Home Office, to transform the operation of the border and immigration system.

2. These changes will be followed by further improvements to the UK’s sponsorship system and the operation of the UK border, including, in the longer-term, the introduction of Electronic Travel Authorities to ensure those coming to the UK have permission to do so in advance of travel. We are taking a phased approach to ensure the smooth delivery of this new system and to allow sufficient time for everyone to adapt. This policy statement focuses on the first phase of changes being introduced in 2021.

Salary and skills thresholds

3. The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its report on salary thresholds and points-based systems on 28 January. We are grateful for its considered work.

4. We accept the MAC’s recommendation on salary thresholds, including to lower the general salary threshold from £30,000 to £25,600. Migrants will still need to be paid the higher of the specific salary threshold for their occupation, known as the ‘going rate’, and the general salary threshold. However, as set out below, under the points-based system for skilled workers, applicants will be able to ‘trade’ characteristics such as their specific job offer and qualifications against a lower salary. There will continue to be different arrangements for a small number of occupations where the salary threshold will be based on published pay scales. We will set the requirements 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. Additionally, in line with the MAC’s recommendations, we will not introduce regional salary thresholds or different arrangements for different parts of the UK.

5. We will implement the MAC’s recommendation to bring the skills threshold down from RQF6 to RQF3. We will suspend the cap on the number of people who can come on the skilled worker route and remove the resident labour market test. These changes will ensure that a wide pool of skilled workers will be able to come to the UK from anywhere in the world and the process will be made simpler and quicker for employers. These are important changes signalling that the UK is open for business.

Skilled workers

6. The points-based system will provide simple, effective and flexible arrangements for skilled workers from around the world to come to the UK through an employer-led system. All applicants, both EU and non-EU citizens, will need to demonstrate that they have a job offer from an approved sponsor, that the job offer is at the required skill level, and that they speak English. In addition to this, if the applicant earns more than the minimum salary threshold then the individual would be eligible to make an application. However, if they earn less than the required minimum salary threshold, but no less than £20,480, they may still be able to come if they can demonstrate that they have a job offer in a specific shortage occupation, as designated by the MAC, or that they have a PhD relevant to the job. In effect, applicants will be able to ‘trade’ characteristics such as their specific job offer and qualifications against a salary lower than the minimum salary or the ‘going rate’ in their field.

Offer of job by approved sponsorNo20
Job at appropriate skill levelNo20
Speaks English at required levelNo10
Salary of £20,480 (minimum) – £23,039Yes0
Salary of £23,040 – £25,599Yes10
Salary of £25,600 or aboveYes20
Job in a shortage occupation (as designated by the MAC)Yes20
Education qualification: PhD in subject relevant to the jobYes10
Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the jobYes20

A total of 70 points is required to be eligible to apply; some characteristics are trade-able.

7. For example, a university researcher in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subject wishing to come to the UK on a salary of £22,000, (which is below the general minimum salary threshold), may still be able to enter the UK if they have a relevant PhD in a STEM subject. Likewise, a nurse wishing to come to the UK on a salary of £22,000 would still be able to enter the UK on the basis that the individual would be working in a shortage occupation, provided it continues to be designated in shortage by the MAC.

8. The MAC will be commissioned to produce a shortage occupation list covering all jobs incorporated by the skilled worker route and to keep the list under regular review. Allocating extra points for occupations that the MAC determines to be in shortage in the UK will provide instant temporary relief for shortage areas, making it easier to recruit migrants. However, we expect employers to take other methods to address shortages and the MAC will look at this when they review whether an occupation is still in shortage.

9. It is also important to recognize that in some higher paid professions, the ‘going rate’ will be above the general salary threshold. Migrants will still be awarded points for holding a relevant PhD or if the occupation is in shortage, which they will be able to trade against a salary lesser than the ‘going rate’: 10% lower if they have a related PhD in a non-STEM subject; 20% lower if they have a relevant PhD in a STEM subject; or 20% lower if the occupation is designated in shortage by the MAC. In line with the MAC’s advice, there will continue to be reduced salary requirements for new entrants to the labour market.

10. The Home Office will publish further detail on the points-based system in due course, including detailed direction regarding the points tables, lack occupations and qualifications. As now, skilled workers will be able to be accompanied by their dependents.

11. The UK’s Points-based system will be implemented from January 2021. This is just the first stage in our plans for a points-based 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. For example, this might include a greater range of qualification levels or other factors such as age or experience studying in the UK. However, we need to guard against making the system too complex.

Highly-skilled workers

12. From January 2021, we will extend the current Global Talent route to EU citizens on the same basis as non-EU citizens. The most extremely skilled, who can achieve the obligatory level of points, will be able to enter the UK without a job offer if they are endorsed by a relevant and competent body. This scheme has recently been extended to be more accessible to those with a background in STEM subjects who wish to come to the UK.

13. Additionally, in line with the commendations from the MAC, we will create a wider unsponsored route within the points-based system to run alongside the employer-led system. This will allow a lesser number of the most highly-skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer. We will explore proposals for this additional route to the points-based system with stakeholders in the coming year. Our starting point is that this route would be covered and would be carefully checked during the implementation phase. Example features for which points could be awarded include academic qualifications, age and relevant work experience. This route will take longer to implement; we want to learn from previous experience of similar schemes in the UK that have highlighted certain challenges. The scheme will need to be designed to make sure it adds value and does not weaken the skilled worker route or create opportunities for abuse.

Lower-skilled workers

14. As part of the significant changes we are making to the operation of the border and immigration system, we are delivering on our manifesto commitment to reduce overall migration numbers. We will therefore end free movement and not implement a route for lower-skilled workers. We have reached this conclusion based on a number of factors set out in this paper.

15.  Under the UK’s Points-based system, 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. As such, 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.

16. The points-based system will provide significantly greater flexibility for skilled workers wishing to come to the UK. The requisite salary thresholds and skill levels will provide employers with greater scope to employ skilled migrants from overseas.

17. The EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) is operating effectively. As at the end of January, over 3.2 million applications have been made to the scheme. We have been clear that we want EU citizens already in the UK to stay and to continue to make important contributions to our economy and society. Both pre-settled and settled status under the EUSS allows unrestricted rights to work, providing employers with flexibility to meet labour market demands.

18. The MAC also noted that even in the current absence of a route for lower-skilled migration from outside the EU, there are estimated to be 170,000 recently arrived non-EU citizens in lower-skilled occupations. This supply, which includes people such as the dependants of skilled migrants, will continue to be available.

19. We have committed to expanding the pilot scheme for seasonal workers in agriculture which will be quadrupled in size to 10,000 places. The UK also enjoys youth mobility arrangements with eight countries and territories which results in around 20,000 young people coming to the UK each year. Both routes will provide employers with further ongoing flexibility in employing individuals into lower-skilled roles.

Students and specialist occupations

20. Students will be covered by the points-based system. 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.

21. Under the current immigration rules, there are a range of other immigration routes for specialist occupations, including innovators, ministers of religion, sportspeople and to support the arts. Our broad approach for January 2021 will be to open existing routes that already apply to non-EU citizens, to EU citizens (the current ‘Tier 5’).


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