Working in the UK


Starting on 1st January 2021, the United Kingdom implemented a new points-based immigration system for work visas. With the conclusion of the Brexit transition period on 31st December 2020, the new system applies to both EU and non-EU citizens arriving in the UK from 2021.

The implications of these reforms for UK employers should not be underestimated. The intention behind the new system, as outlined in the government’s policy paper, is to steer the UK economy away from its reliance on inexpensive labour from Europe.

Consequently, this will bring about significant transformations in how workforce requirements are fulfilled across various sectors and skill levels. The government urges employers to acknowledge that they have no alternative but to adapt to this new reality.

new UK points-based immigration system

Table of Contents

A new UK points-based system

The government’s overarching objective is to decrease overall migration levels and give priority to individuals possessing the highest skills and exceptional talents.

These modifications will impact individuals seeking employment in the UK from 2021 onwards. Both residents of non-UK European Economic Area (EEA) countries and non-EEA countries who wish to work in the UK starting from 1st January 2021 must meet the specified points criteria and apply for a visa through the new immigration system. As for EU citizens presently residing in the UK, they are required to enrol in the EU settlement scheme to secure their immigration status.

Given the changes in the definition and scope of skilled workers and the elimination of lower-skilled work visas, employers must swiftly comprehend and respond to these developments, with the imminent deadline of 1st January 2021 approaching rapidly.

UK work visas

The new points-based system will offer immigration routes for highly skilled workers, skilled workers, students and other specialists, such as global leaders and innovators.

Employers wanting to hire non-UK national workers after 1st January 2021 will need to hold a sponsorship licence. With new routes already opening to allow workers to come to the UK under the new regime, it makes sense for UK employers to apply as soon as possible for their licence to avoid disruption to operations and their recruitment pipeline.

In most cases, visitors will be able to come to the UK for up to six months without a visa but will not have the right to work. Those who come to the UK as a visitor will need to leave the country before making an application for another route.

Points requirements

Non-UK nationals will have to attain 70 points to qualify for the UK work visa.

There are three mandatory requirements:

  1. Having an offer of a job with a sponsored employer
  2. Having a job at the appropriate skill level
  3. Speaking English to the required level

These total 50 points and applicants must then make up their points to the 70 points threshold from the remaining characteristics, including salary level, occupation shortage and education qualification.

Requirement Tradeable Points
Offer of a job by an approved sponsor
Job at appropriate skill level
Speaks English at the required level
Salary of £20,480 (minimum) – £23,039
Salary of £23,040 – £25,599
Salary of £25,600 or above
Job in a shortage occupation (as designated by the MAC)
Education qualification: PhD in a subject relevant to the job
Education qualification: PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job

According to government policy guidance, point allocations in the UK’s immigration system are subject to review and potential refinements to enhance flexibility and incorporate new characteristics or tradeable attributes.

Skilled Workers

Under the plans, the definition of skilled workers is being expanded, and the skill level reduced from level 6 (degree) to level 3 (A-level), i.e. those educated to A-level/Scottish Highers-equivalent standard and not just graduate level, as is currently the case.

In a welcome move, there will no longer be a cap on the number of skilled worker visas issued to qualifying individuals.

The minimum salary threshold for skilled workers in the UK will be lowered from £30,000 per annum to either £25,600 or the “going rate” for the role. However, for shortage occupations such as nurses, civil engineers, and individuals with a relevant PhD, the salary requirement is further reduced to £20,480.

Minimum salary thresholds for skilled workers can vary based on job roles, locations, and immigration regulations. Consult official guidance or seek advice for accurate information.

The government has tasked the Migration Advisory Committee with developing the shortage occupation list for skilled workers.

Low Skilled Workers

There will be no work visas for general low-skilled or temporary workers under the new points-based immigration system. This means roles that do not require A-level qualifications or higher will not qualify under the new rules.

This change will pose significant challenges for UK employers dependent on low-skilled or low-paid workers, including farms, restaurants, hotels, and care homes.

The government aims to reduce reliance on low-skilled European workers, promote the domestic labour market and embrace innovation and technology—concerns raised by key sectors.

This will be a painful transition, particularly for employers reliant on human resources to perform critical work deemed unskilled under the new system.

The government has said the EU settlement scheme has provided employers with some reprieve in allowing EU citizens who have applied to stay in the UK to help meet short-term labour demands.

In addition, it has also referred to additional sector-focused schemes to alleviate labour shortages, for example, seasonal agricultural workers and youth mobility programmes (currently under Tier 5) allowing 20,000 young people to come to the UK each year.

Affected employers will, however, need to take action now to reassess and remodel their recruitment strategies and workforce planning to take them into 2021 and beyond.


The paper confirms that international students must also apply under the points-based system (PBS). Points will be awarded when the applicant has an offer from an approved educational institution, can speak English and can support themselves during their studies in the UK.

Freelancers & self-employed

There will be no route for freelancers or those who are self-employed. Such individuals without an employer or sponsorship will need to consider non-points-based ways such as the innovator visa, any new unsponsored routes and existing routes such as the Permitted Paid Engagement visa.

Navigating the Changes: Implications of the New Points-Based Immigration System for Employers and Workers

The new points-based immigration system introduced in the UK has several implications for employers and workers. Here are some key considerations:

  1. Employer Sponsorship: Under the new system, employers will need to hold a valid sponsor license to hire skilled workers from outside the UK. This involves meeting certain obligations, such as maintaining accurate records and complying with reporting requirements.
  2. Skill and Salary Requirements: Skilled workers will need to meet specific skill and salary thresholds to qualify for visas. The system emphasises attracting highly skilled individuals who can contribute to the UK workforce. The specific requirements vary based on the job role, with points awarded for qualifications, job offer, English language proficiency, and salary level.
  3. Reduced Access to Low-skilled Workers: The new system prioritises skilled workers, reducing access to low-skilled migrant labour. Sectors relying heavily on low-skilled workers, such as agriculture, hospitality, and social care, may face challenges recruiting staff.
  4. Shortage Occupation List: The Migration Advisory Committee will maintain a list of shortage occupations to identify roles facing labour shortages. Occupations on this list may have certain concessions or reduced requirements, making it easier for employers to hire workers for those specific roles.
  5. Focus on the Domestic Labor Market: The system aims to reduce reliance on overseas labour by encouraging employers to hire from the domestic labour market. This can drive the need for investment in training and development of local talent.
  6. Compliance and Administrative Burden: Employers will need to ensure compliance with immigration rules, including conducting right-to-work checks and maintaining proper documentation. This can create additional administrative burdens and potential penalties for non-compliance.
  7. Opportunities for Highly Skilled Workers: The system provides opportunities for highly skilled individuals with desirable qualifications and skills to secure employment in the UK. This can lead to a more competitive job market for certain roles.

Employers and workers must stay informed about the specific requirements and changes introduced by the new points-based immigration system. Seeking professional advice and referring to official government resources can help navigate the implications and ensure compliance with immigration regulations.

UK Points-Based Immigration System FAQs

A points-based immigration system evaluates and assigns points to applicants based on specific criteria, such as skills, qualifications, work experience, language proficiency, and other factors. Applicants need to meet a minimum points threshold to qualify for immigration. The system typically considers factors such as education level, job offer, salary, shortage occupations, language proficiency, and financial stability.

The points are awarded based on predetermined criteria, and applicants with the highest scores receive priority in immigration applications. This system aims to attract individuals with desirable skills and qualifications while managing immigration levels and addressing specific labour market needs.

Yes, the UK has implemented a points-based immigration system. The new system was introduced on 1st January 2021 and applied to most work visas and skilled worker routes. The system evaluates applicants based on specific criteria, including job offer, skill level, language proficiency, salary, and education qualifications.

Points are allocated for meeting these criteria, and applicants must reach a minimum threshold to be eligible for immigration. The points-based system aims to attract skilled workers who can contribute to the UK's economy and address specific labour market needs.

Yes, it is possible to move to the UK without a job. The UK offers various immigration routes that allow individuals to relocate for reasons other than employment. For example, you may be eligible for a family visa if you have a spouse, partner, or family member who is a UK citizen or has settled status in the UK.

Alternatively, you could explore study visas if you wish to pursue education in the UK or investment visas if you plan to invest a significant amount of money in the country. It's important to research and understand the specific requirements and immigration options available to you based on your circumstances.

Consulting with an immigration professional or referring to official government guidance can provide further assistance.

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