First Glimpse Of The Points Based Immigration System

Legally reviewed by: Nisha Leel In: Immigration

Details of the much-touted ‘Australian Style’ points based system for immigration have been released today. It is re-named the ‘UK’s Points-Based Immigration System’

The main points;

  • Free Movement will end on 31st December 2020.
  •  New arrivals will need to get a visa before they can come to the UK to work. The same rules will apply to EU and Non-EU nationals.
  • A new route will be introduced for ‘skilled workers’ who have a job offer.
  • Only approved sponsors will be able to use the new route for skilled workers. Employers who think that they will want to use the scheme in 2021 are encouraged to apply for a sponsor licence now.
  • Jobs must be ‘skilled’. This means jobs that usually require a person educated to ‘A’ level or equivalent.
  • All applicants must speak English to a ‘required level’
  • There is no route for the self employed.
  • There is no route for low skilled workers. The only exception is the current pilot for seasonal agricultural workers.
  • There will be a visa for very highly skilled individuals to come to the UK without a firm job offer. However, this will not be ready for January 2021. It will come in a later phase of the changes.

The details of the main routes are below;

Skills Workers

This route builds on the existing Tier 2 (General) route but with some significant changes. The ‘resident labour market test’ will be abolished and the minimum salaries are lower- but there are caveats set out below.

Workers applying under the scheme will need to score 70 points.

Points are awarded for a range of characteristics. Some are mandatory and some are ‘tradable’. These are set out in the table below.

CharacteristicsMandatory or TradablePoints
Job offer approved by sponsorMandatory20
Job at appropriate skill levelMandatory20
Speaks English at required levelMandatory20
Salary of £20,480 – £23,039Tradable0
Salary of £23,040 – £25,599Tradable10
Salary of £25,600 – or moreTradable20
Job in shortage occupationTradable20
PhD in subject relevant to the jobTradable10
PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the jobTradable20

The rules are not as simple as the table suggests.

Firstly, the salary levels set out set out in the table are misleading. Each type of job has a ‘going rate’ and employers must pay this, even if it is higher than £25,600. The ‘going rate’ for newly qualified employees will be 30% lower than for more experienced employees.

For example, the ‘going rate’ for a civil engineer is currently £33,300. Anyone wanting to employ a civil engineer would still have to pay that rate or more.

There are two exceptions to this.

Firstly, applicants who have a PhD that is relevant to their job. If the applicant has a PhD in a STEM subject, then they can be paid 20% below the ‘going rate’. If the applicant has a PhD in a non-STEM subject, then they can be paid 10% below the going rate.

What counts as ‘related to their job’ remains to be seen. It is likely to apply where a PhD is required for the role, for example for university researcher.

Secondly, applicants in shortage occupation roles can be paid 20% less than the going rate.

This seems to create some perverse incentives. Those applicants with a PhD are ‘rewarded’ by lower rates of pay. This may be to allow universities to sponsor new-entrant level researchers. However, for experienced researchers, the going rate is currently £29,000.

The information suggests that the current high costs levied on employers will be maintained. This may undo any benefit from permitting employers to pay lower salaries.

Highly Skilled Migrants

This route would be in addition to the existing ‘Global Talent’ visa. It is not going to be ready for January 2021, and details are scarce.

Applicants would score points based on personal attributes such as age, qualifications, work experience etc.

There would be a limited number of slots available per year


The information released suggests that the current system will remain largely unchanged. Students would need an offer from a university or college with a sponsor licence. They would need to be able to speak English and have enough money to support themselves.


EU nationals will be treated as ‘non-visa’ nationals. This means that they can enter the UK as a visitor without a visa. This is similar to the arrangements currently in place for nationals of the USA, Australia, Japan, Canada and New Zealand.

Final thoughts

The tone of the policy statement indicates that the Government will not accept ‘special pleadings’ from sectors that rely heavily on low skilled migration. There is a clear focus on improving productivity and employers are expected to invest in training, recruitment and technology.

The new system is arguably more complicated that the existing system. It will continue to impose a significant burden on ‘approved sponsors’.

Employers who want to use the new system in 2021 are advised to apply for a sponsor licence in advance. This may lead to an increase in applications and delays.

Please contact us here and speak to one of our specialist Immigration Solicitors for expert legal advice.

Legal Disclaimer.

All advice is correct at time of publication.