On the 18th February this year, the Government set out details of its new immigration system for when we finally leave the EU, which is due to come into force on the 1st January 2021. After that date, foreign job seekers will have to meet a number of criteria, such as having a good knowledge of the English language and holding a job offer with a minimum salary threshold of £25,600, in order to apply for a visa.

In this article we will examine what the criteria for a visa application will be, criticisms and what impact the changes to the immigration rules will have on the recruitment industry.

Visa Criteria

In order to apply for a visa, individuals must score at least 70 points. The first 50 points are awarded for the applicants' English skills and for them obtaining a job offer in their field of training from an approved sponsor.

The points breakdown is as follows:

  • Job offer (required): 20 points
  • Job has a relevant skill level (required): 20 points
  • English language knowledge (required): 10 points
  • Job salary of £23,040 - £25,599: 10 points
  • Job salary of over £25,600: 20 points
  • Job on shortage occupation list: 20 points
  • An applicant with a PhD: 10 points
  • An applicant with a PhD in science, technology, engineering or mathematics: 20 points

The 'relevant skill level' of a job will need to be at RQF3 or above (equivalent to A level) and there will not be a general route for employers to recruit at or near the minimum wage.

The Government guidelines have specified that if the candidate's salary is under £25,600 (but not less than the minimum of £20,480), then the candidate may still be able to apply for a visa by 'trading' points on specific characteristics against the salary. So for example, if the job is on the shortage occupation list or the candidate has PhD which is relevant to the job they may still qualify to apply for a visa (e.g. a nurse who earns under the £25,600 may still apply for a visa as the nursing occupation is on the shortage list).

In addition to this points system, there is a global talent scheme which will be opened up to EU, EEA and Swiss citizens which will allow highly skilled scientists and researchers to come to the UK without a job offer even after we have left the EU.

The Government has also clarified in the information they provided, there are separate rules for international students or graduates, visitors to the UK and EU citizens living in the UK by the 31st December 2020.

If you wish to research the Immigration Bill more or if you want to apply to sponsor a migrant worker, please read the latest Government guidelines, which were last published on the 13th July 2020.

Criticisms of the Immigration Changes

The Government has clearly stated that it wants to move away from relying on low-skilled and cheap workers from the EU, a move which has been criticised extensively for not fully recognising the need and the importance of low-skilled workers, who are crucial to the UK economy.

Many industries have expressed concerns about the new immigration rules, and according to research done by Zoek, the minimum salary threshold is much higher than what businesses were expecting.

Industries such as farming, catering and nursing have expressed concerns that recruiting staff will become more difficult, and organisations including transport and warehousing, believe that the new rules would have a drastic negative impact on business and trade.

According to a survey by Zoek, 55% of hiring organisations do not support the immigration changes, 35% are unsure or indifferent, and 10% see the changes as positive. A further 60% of recruitment agencies believe that the changes will impact their business negatively.

However, while it is clear that some businesses believe that sourcing candidates will be harder, according to campaign group MigrationWatch UK the new rules are weaker than the current immigration system. According to the group, there is an estimated 590 million non-EU nationals who qualify to come to the UK under the new points-based immigration system and 77 million EU nationals, which means employers will have a worldwide pool of more than 667 million people. The group also estimates that more than 7 million UK jobs will be able to take advantage of new or increased global recruitment.

What the effect of these changes on the UK job market as well as the supply of candidates will not be known until the new regime comes into force next year and then it will take many months for these changes to filter through to the UK economy.

The Future

While it is clear that the high minimum wage requirement has scared many recruiters, the minimum wage requirement is 'tradeable' and can be bypassed if the job is on the shortage occupation list. At the time of writing, both nurses and chefs were on the list. We may also see the Government adding more occupations to the list as gaps emerge according to industry shortages.

The Government has recognised concerns from the aforementioned industries and has stated that it will provide businesses with additional flexibility in the short term. For the agricultural sector, it is expanding its seasonal worker pilot scheme to 10,000 places.

The Migration Advisory Committee has also noted that even in the absence of a route for lower-skilled applicants outside of the EU, “there is an estimated 170,000 recently arrived non-EU citizens in lower-skilled occupations.” There are also separate schemes available for migrants already in the UK, and this labour source continues to be available for recruiters.

The Government has also indicated that as we reach further trade deals and agreements there will be more schemes allowing workers to apply for a visa and the rules are still being developed.

Furthermore, given the number of job losses and redundancies in the UK following COVID-19, the recruitment industry may not suffer as much as it thought it would following the introduction of the changes, with many seeking lower-skilled jobs in the current climate.

It is also worth noting that some have pointed out that the minimum wage requirement is lower than the UK average wage, and that the move will prevent exploitation of foreign workers.

Clearly there are mixed views on the future of recruitment following the changes to the immigration laws. The reality is that we will have to wait and see what the real impact will be and whether the Government changes the guidelines and legislation closer to the implementation date. However, what is clear is that recruiters must adjust and start familiarising themselves with the rules if they want to continue using foreign workers.