Changes to the UK Immigration Rules – Advice for Employers

On 1 January 2021, the existing working rights of EU citizens entering the UK will end. A modified version of the current ‘Points Based System’ that is now in place exclusively for non-EU workers will extend next year to anyone who is not British and Irish. Certain EU and non-EU nationals covered under the existing provisions will also be exempt.

Within this article we address the proposed changes and what steps employers should take to minimise business disruption.

The ‘new’ Points-based system

The number of sponsored workers generally entering the UK is now capped annually at 20,700 (a significant number of UK visa holders already in the UK are exempt from this limit). The overall cap will be suspended in 2021.

As of 1 January 2021, with the exception of intra-company transfers, employers will be able to recruit EU and non-EU workers alike in lower skilled roles. A skilled role will encompass positions that are deemed to be at the equivalent of A-level qualifications and above, rather than at degree level or above. This will not preclude a graduate from undertaking a role that is less skilled.

This adjustment will bring about a corresponding drop to the minimum salary requirements. The general threshold currently in place is £30,000, but this will fall to a level between £20,480 and £25,600 depending on the role, the sector and the ‘going rate’ for a particular role (these rates are calculated by Annual Surveys of Hours and Earnings or the appropriate national public sector pay scales). As under the existing system, the going rates for individual occupations can be pro-rated depending on the individual’s working pattern provided the total general salary threshold is met.

General exemptions will apply to the new standard thresholds (as they do now) including, for example, to less experienced workers who are at the start of their career. Experienced workers will be exempt from the higher general thresholds where their roles will appear in the Government’s Shortage Occupation List and/or where the role is deemed to be PhD level.

The burden of managing the current resident labour market test requirement – a compulsory step on the part of the employer to advertise its vacancy to assess whether a UK or settled worker can undertake the role before it is offered to a non-EU candidate – will be abolished. Exemptions to this test do exist now, but a wholesale removal of this time-intensive process will hopefully result in speedier recruitment processes.

A change of employer or role will require a new application. Existing sponsored workers will be protected and can continue to extend their stay in the UK.

For most routes, visa applicants will continue their need to demonstrate an English language requirement and that they do not fall foul of the criminality thresholds. Family members will be able to apply for dependant visas.

Other routes

A number of other immigration routes will be introduced which include:

  • A Highly skilled worker route;
  • A Health and Care Visa;
  • A new Global Talent Scheme;
  • A new non-extendable 2-year (for undergraduate or master’s) or 3-year (for PhD students) Graduate Route; and
  • British Nationals (Overseas) citizens, resident in Hong Kong, including their immediate family members, will be permitted to live and work in the UK providing a pathway to citizenship.

The following schemes already in existence, will continue after 1 January 2021:

  • The one-time non-extendable Youth Mobility Scheme will continue for a defined list of nationals aged between 18 and 30 who seek cultural exchange and work opportunities in the UK
  • The Government Authorised Exchange route which provides temporary work opportunities, cultural exchange and international collaboration.
  • Sector routes to accommodate elite sportspeople, faith-based roles, charity workers, and international students will continue. The existing provisions covering seasonal workers for agriculture, overseas domestic workers and those with UK ancestry will remain in place.

The UK will continue to rely on its visa provisions that are in place for non-EU visitors. From January 2021, EU citizens be permitted entry to the UK at the border for up to six months without having to obtain a visa beforehand, but they will not be allowed to undertake employment during this time


To benefit from the changes coming into effect from 1st January 2021, we recommend employers take the following steps:

  • Complete a staff audit to identify and, where possible, forecast any skills gaps and/or people requirements. 
  • Employers wishing to sponsor EU workers entering the UK after 1 January 2021 should apply for a sponsor licence now in readiness for the new system, including the prospect of graduate recruitment a year from now.
  • Existing sponsors and/or new sponsors should ensure any European (plus any non-EU) sites that employ EU workers are registered with the Home Office to enable their transfer to a UK branch in line with the existing provisions.
  • Employers who are employing EU workers before 31 December 2020 should encourage those individuals to register with the EU Settlement Scheme for pre-settled status (if they have resided in the UK for less than 5 years) for settled status (if they have resided for 5 years or more). There is no application fee and the deadline for applications is 30 June 2021.

We hope that this article has proved useful – if you have any questions please contact our employment department at or on 02920 345511.