17 January 2019

UNITED KINGDOM: The future of the UK’s immigration system

The U.K. Government has published a white paper regarding the proposed future immigration system. Effective in January 2021, further operational details are expected in early 2020.

The core changes are follows:

  •  Movement to a single immigration system, meaning no separate immigration system is being created to accommodate EU nationals, marking the end of free movement for EU nationals to the U.K This would replace the current Tier 2 system.
  • A skills-based system will replace the current points-based system. A goal of attracting quality workers, with skills as the main qualifying criteria. UK Prime Minister Theresa May states “it will be a system where it is workers’ skills that matter… and not which country they come from.”


Skilled workers

  • Immigration cap abolished, “ensuring that there are no limits on the volumes of skilled migrants to meet the needs of businesses and the U.K. economy, the brightest and the best can always come to work here and EU migrants are accommodated in the future system.”
  • The Resident Labour Market Test would be removed, meaning that employers would not have to advertise roles before hiring a foreign national.
  • The minimum annual salary threshold would be set at £30,000 (but this may change subject to consultations with employers)
  • The government wants to maintain a route for intra-company transfers for skilled workers that would allow companies to transfer their existing employees from outside of the U.K.
  • The shortage occupation list would continue to safeguard critical workers earning less than £30,000 per year.
  • The skilled-worker route would be a sponsored route but the intention is to make this route simpler and easier to use, with shorter processing times to reduce the burden on employers (end-to-end 2-3 weeks in contrast to the current Tier 2 processing time of 3-6 months.
  • The skills charge and National Health Service charge would continue to apply.

Temporary short-term workers route

  • This route is not sponsored, so individuals would need to apply for their own visa allowing them to work in a temporary worker category.
  • Low-skilled EU nationals are no longer permitted to enter the U.K. to work and settle
  • From January 2021, individuals can enter and work for 12 months, but would then have to leave the country for 12 months before they can return
  • The temporary short-term workers route will only be open to workers from ‘low-risk’ countries such as Europe, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, U.S., Canada and Australia.
  • The Government intends to monitor nationalities, duration and may introduce restrictions on numbers for this category.
  • No workers in this route will be able to bring dependants or access state benefits.
  • The final decision on whether this route would continue is likely to be made in 2025.

Youth Mobility Scheme (YMS)

  • The scheme that currently exists with Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, South Korea and Taiwan, which allows people aged 18-30 to come to the U.K. for two years to work or study, is to be rolled out to the EU, intended to be reciprocal.
  • This is “to ensure that young people can continue to enjoy social, cultural and educational benefits of living in the EU and the U.K.” and “provide an additional source of labour for the U.K. labour market…and provide continuing opportunities for British people to gain experience of living and working in the EU.”

Students & post-study

  • The new student system would be similar to the existing Tier 4 (students) system, however the post-study work route will be reinstated which allows undergraduate and master degree students to work for six months after completion of their studies and Ph.D. students would be able to work for 12 months.
  • Those in this post post-study worker category will also be allowed to switch to the skilled-worker category.


  • There will not be a visit visa regime for EU and EEA nationals, meaning they can visit the UK for up to 6 months and undertake a variety of activities, except work activities as they require a work permit.
  • Electronic travel authorization, or ETA, would be introduced for all (non-visa) visitors entering the U.K., but may possibly exclude EU and EEA nationals depending on the outcome of arrangements with the EU.EU and EEA nationals and visitors from low-risk countries would be able to use electronic gates (e-gates) when entering the U.K.
  • Significantly, the Government would allow “low risk” visitors to switch into other immigration routes; i.e., they would be able to apply for their work visa while visiting in the U.K.

UK benefits system

  • Proposed to align the rights of EU migrants to access U.K. state benefits with those of non-EU nationals
  • This means that expectation is that full access to the U.K. benefits system would only be available after settled status is granted, which is usually after five years. This would be a significant change from the current position of rapid access 

No deal?

  • The UK Government’s position on EU nationals entering the U.K on or after March 29, 2019 if there is no Brexit deal, which is expected to be released shortly.
  • Regardless, the Settled Status scheme is still anticipated to go live in early 2019 


How does this affect the client?

Overall the immigration system is pro-business, favouring and welcoming skilled foreign nationals into the UK and attracting talent, while allowing temporary workers, visitors, students and the provision for certain visas to be transferred.




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