From 1 January 2021, the UK introduced a new system of immigration control. For the first time in decades, EEA and Swiss nationals (EEA nationals) will be subject to the same immigration controls as non-EEA nationals. Free movement for European nationals ended on 31 December 2020.
Existing employees must register on the EU Settlement Scheme by the deadline of 30 June 2021 but ideally this should have been done by 31 December 2020.
European nationals who enter the UK for the first time after 31 December 2020 will need to qualify for visa clearance under the immigration system. For most European nationals intending to work in the UK, this will require visa clearance as a Skilled Worker under the new immigration system.
The new immigration system was rolled out on 1 December 2020. The new system will apply to the recruitment of European nationals as it does to all other overseas nationals. It will only apply to European nationals who arrive in the UK on or after 1 January 2021.
The key characteristics of the new system will be the same as the current system– an employer must be licenced by the Home Office, an employee must be sponsored to do a specific job, the job must meet a skill and salary threshold.
The skill threshold is being reduced from graduate occupations to occupations skilled to RQF level 3, roughly equivalent to A-levels or Scottish Highers.
The general minimum salary threshold is being lowered from £30,000 a year to £25,600 a year. This is reduced to £20,480 minimum when tradable points are applied.
Employers must also pay the going rate for the role, as defined by the Home Office.
The cap on numbers of available visas is being suspended.
The Resident Labour Market Test requirement is being removed. Sponsors must still be seeking to fill a genuine vacancy which meets the skill and salary thresholds.
The six-year maximum length of stay in the route has been removed.
The £35,800 salary threshold for settlement applications has been removed. Instead, sponsors must pay their skilled workers a salary which equals or exceeds £25,600 per year and the going rate for the occupation.
Working in the UK
Skilled migrant workers may be sponsored by organisations who hold a sponsor licence issued by the UK Home Office. Those migrant workers undertaking permanent employment will usually be sponsored under Tier 2 (General), while those who are employed overseas and being sent to the UK on a temporary intra-group assignment are usually sponsored under Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer).
From 1 January 2021, employers will need to sponsor EEA nationals who do not already have an immigration status which entitles them to undertake the role on offer. If an employer does not have a sponsor licence and regularly hires EEA nationals, they are strongly advised to apply for one now.
These proposals will make the skilled work visa more accessible and more streamlined for employers and employees. It will still require satisfaction of Home Office duties which require robust HR systems and specialist knowledge. The recruitment process under the immigration system will be more expensive than free movement.