With the end of the UK’s Brexit transition period fast approaching, we are moving ever closer to significant changes to the UK’s work-based immigration routes.
From 1 January 2021, freedom of movement for nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland will come to an end. This will mean that, from this date onwards, all non-UK nationals (except those from Ireland) wishing to come to the UK to work will require a visa for all but short-term visits.
As free movement of people will continue until 31 December 2020, EEA and Swiss nationals (plus certain family members) can travel to the UK without any need for a visa. Those resident in the UK by the end of the year can apply for status under the Settlement Scheme.
There are currently two main routes available to non-EEA migrant workers: Tier 2 (General) for highly skilled workers and Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) for highly skilled workers who are being transferred to a UK branch from an overseas employer.
From 1 January 2021, the Tier 2 (General) visa will be abolished and replaced with the “Skilled Worker” visa. The Skilled Worker visa will be broadly similar current Tier 2 (General) visa, save for the following key differences:
As is currently the case, any employer that wishes to sponsor a migrant worker must be a Licenced Sponsor with the Home Office. Employers who currently hold a Tier 2 (General) Sponsor Licence will automatically be granted a Skilled Worker Licence for the remainder of their Licence term. However, it is likely that a number of businesses who have traditionally relied on EEA labour will need to make Sponsor Licence applications for the first time in order to maintain their access to a wide talent pool.
The Tier 2 (ICT) route is to remain largely unchanged. However; given that a number of practical barriers will be removed in the Skilled Worker route, it remains to be seen whether the ICT route will remain as relevant as it is now.
The new immigration system will not permit low-skilled workers to obtain a work visa. Employers wishing to recruit low-skilled workers will likely therefore need to focus on recruiting from within the UK – for example, by employing UK workers or non-UK workers who already have alternative immigration permission to work in the UK (such as those with status under the Settlement Scheme).
The Government intends to create an unsponsored route within the new points based system in order to attract the most highly skilled workers to come to the UK without a job offer. This route will not be open on 1 January 2021, but will be considered over the coming year with details to be confirmed in due course.
Employers who do not already have a Sponsor Licence should consider as soon as possible whether such a Licence will be required to ensure that they can continue to recruit non-UK nationals from the end of the year, particularly if they are currently reliant on EEA workers. Applications under the Skilled Worker route will open in December 2020 for travel in 2021.
Current or prospective sponsors should review their HR processes to ensure that the Home Office’s strict compliance requirements are being/can be met. HR teams should ensure familiarity with Sponsor Licence management and the requirements of the new system.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at November 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions
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