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.
We are 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.
We will deliver a system that works in the interests of the whole of the UK and prioritises the skills a person has to offer, not where they come from.
For too long, distorted by European free movement rights, the immigration system has been failing to meet the needs of the British people. Failing to deliver benefits across the UK and failing the highly-skilled migrants from around the world who want to come to the UK and make a contribution to our economy and society.
Our approach will change all of this. We are implementing a new system that will transform the way in which all migrants come to the UK to work, study, visit or join their family. It will also revolutionise the operation of the UK border, tighten security and deliver a better customer experience for those coming to the UK.
From 1 January 2021, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally . We will reduce 1 overall levels of migration and give top priority to those with the highest skills and the greatest talents: scientists, engineers, academics and other highly-skilled workers. Importantly we remain committed to protecting individuals from exploitation by criminal traffickers and unscrupulous employers.
We will replace free movement with the UK’s points-based system to cater for the most highly skilled workers, skilled workers, students and a range of other specialist work routes including routes for global leaders and innovators.
We will not introduce a general low-skilled or temporary work route. We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation. Employers will need to adjust.
However, the Settlement Scheme for EU citizens, which opened in March 2019, has already received 3.2 million applications from EU citizens who will be able to stay and work in the UK. This will provide employers with flexibility to meet labour market demands.
We recognise that these proposals represent significant change for employers in the UK and we will deliver a comprehensive programme of communication and engagement in the coming months. We will keep labour market data under careful scrutiny to monitor any pressures in key sectors.
Initiatives are also being brought forward for scientists, graduates, NHS workers and those in the agricultural sector, which will provide businesses with additional flexibility in the shorter term.
For the first time in decades the UK will have full control over who comes to this country and how our immigration system operates. This policy statement sets out how we will grasp this unique opportunity by introducing a new points-based system.
Alongside this policy statement we will shortly be publishing our response to the Law Commission Report on Simplification of the Immigration Rules which will set out how we propose to provide the foundations for a streamlined and simplified system.
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.
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.