UK immigration rules for after Brexit confirmed – how the system will work

The Tory government has finally set out its plans for a points-based immigration system to come into force on January 1 2021.

The radical shake-up will block millions of 'low-skilled' – well, low-paid – workers from coming to the UK.

After Brexit people will have to earn over £25,600, have a job offer and speak English to a certain level in order to get a work visa.

There will be some exceptions for people who earn £20,480 to £25,600 in shortage areas like the NHS.

But the plans have prompted an outpouring of fury from businesses and council who warn sectors like social care face "disaster". In response the Home Office has told businesses they should simply end their "reliance on cheap, low-skilled labour".

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Yet there are a whole host of unanswered questions. Home Secretary Priti Patel refused to give any overall cap or target on numbers, and wouldn't say exactly when people will be able to bring their family.Â

There's also scant information about how much applications will cost or how a sufficient level of English language will be measured.

A policy statement published on Wednesday said free movement would end, laws surrounding this would be repealed and a new Immigration Bill would be introduced for a "firm and fair" system which would "attract the high-skilled workers" to create a "high wage, high skill, high productivity economy".

The government wants companies to train up British workers to fill vacancies but critics say the lack of investment in further education makes that difficult.

Meanwhile Labour predict there will be so many carve-outs and exceptions that the system will be pointless. Ms Patel said there will still be ways for some low-skilled workers, such as Polish builders, to come to Britain. "We will continue to review the labour market," she told the BBC.

So how will it actually work? Here's a handy guide.

Skilled workers

All applicants – both EU and non-EU citizens – who want to live and work in the UK will need to gain 70 points to be eligible to apply for a visa.

Points will be awarded for key requirements if they can demonstrate they:

  • Have a job offer from an approved sponsor, such as an employer cleared by the Home Office (which earns 20 points).

  • Have a job offer that is at a "required skill level" (20 points).

  • They can speak English to a certain level (10 points).

Other points could be awarded for certain qualifications and if there is a shortage in a particular occupation.

The salary threshold for skilled migrants will be lowered from £30,000 to £25,600 for those coming to the UK with a job offer.

But if an applicant earns less than the required minimum salary threshold – but no less than £20,480 – they may still be able to come to the UK if they have a job offer in a specific occupation which appears on the Government's jobs shortage list, or if they have a PhD relevant to the job.

This could mean lower earners such as nurses may still be able to apply for a visa, provided a shortage of staff in this area remain on the approved list.

The cap on the number of people who can come through the skilled worker route has been scrapped.

There are no plans to introduce regional salary thresholds or different arrangements for different parts of the UK.

Highly-skilled workers

This would allow a small number of the most highly-skilled workers, who can gain the required level of points, to enter the UK without a job offer if they are endorsed by a "relevant and competent body".

This will include science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals.

Points will be awarded for factors such as academic qualifications, age and relevant work experience and the route would be capped.

Low-skilled workers

There will be no temporary or general visa options for low-skilled migrant workers.

The paper 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.

"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."

It is estimated 70% of the existing EU workforce would not meet the requirements of the skilled worker route, which will help to bring overall numbers down in future, according the Home Office.

It is thought there are around 3.4 million EU citizens living in the UK and most are said to be unskilled or low-skilled workers.

Last week it was reported the new system could cut the number of low-skilled migrant workers from European Union countries by up to 90,000 a year.

The policy document mentioned the immigration system would "reduce overall migration numbers".

But the Home Office has been unable to provide more detail on how this would be achieved and if a target number had been set.

A pilot scheme for seasonal workers in agriculture will be quadrupled from 2,500 to 10,000 places.

Youth mobility arrangements with eight countries that result in around 20,000 young people coming to the UK each year will continue.

"Both routes will provide employers with further ongoing flexibility in employing individuals into lower-skilled roles", the paper said, but added: "We expect employers to take other measures to address shortages."


They will need to demonstrate:

  • They have an offer from an approved educational institution.

  • Can speak English.

  • Can support themselves during their studies in the UK.

Other routes:

  • Current arrangements for specialist occupations such as religious ministers, artists, musicians and entertainers are expected to broadly remain the same and be extended for EU citizens.

  • Self-employed and freelance workers can continue to apply for visas under existing rules and will not need to be sponsored.

  • Visitors, including EU citizens, will be able to come to the UK without a visa for six months but will not be allowed to work.

  • Asylum applications fall outside the points-based system and are expected to operate under existing rules.

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