Immigration for workers and employers in the UK

The UK exited the EU on 31 January 2020.

At the end of 2020, the UK government introduced a new immigration system for hiring non-UK workers, with the same rules for EU and non-EU citizens.

It also attempted to simplify the Immigration Rules, many of which relate to work visas.


Coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted visa applications and led the government to make temporary changes to the Immigration Rules for businesses and their employees.

Read our guide to the temporary changes

Solicitors need to be aware of the changes to support clients using the new system.

Key changes

On 1 December 2020, the Home Office introduced a new skilled worker route for foreign workers with a job offer from a UK employer.

On 1 January 2021, EU free movement ended in the UK. As a result, newly arriving EU citizens now need permission to enter, live and work in the UK.

Those who were already living in the UK before 1 January 2021 must apply for settled status by 30 June 2021 to continue living and working in the UK. For most people, this deadline has now passed.

UK employers need a sponsor licence if they want to recruit citizens from EU and non-EU countries who do not already have permission to work in the UK.

Read more about sponsorship for employers

Skilled workers with a job offer

Those coming to the UK for work from January 2021 must:

  • have a job offer from a licensed sponsor
  • meet certain skills/salary criteria
  • speak English

The skilled worker visa route replaced the tier 2 (general) visa category on 1 December 2021. This came with significant changes:

  • the general salary threshold was reduced to £25,600 (from £30,000)
  • the required skills level was reduced from degree to A-level or equivalent
  • the annual cap on certificates of sponsorship was suspended
  • the resident labour market test was abolished
  • the cooling-off period was abolished
  • the rules on switching from other types of visa were relaxed
  • the prohibition on visa applicants owning more than 10 percent of the shares in the sponsoring entity was abolished

Skilled worker visa applications are assessed on a points system. A total of 70 points is needed.

The points for some characteristics such as salary or qualification are tradeable. Therefore, if someone earns less than £25,600, they may still be able to come if they can show that they have a:

Other work visas

On 29 March 2020, the tier 1 (exceptional talent) visa for migrants without a job offer was replaced by the global talent visa.  

Migrants who want to set up or run a business in the UK who do not qualify for the global talent visa may be able to use the:

These routes and other existing routes for temporary visas (formerly known as Tier 5), such as the Youth Mobility Scheme or for specialist occupations, now apply to EU citizens as well as non-EU citizens. They include a seasonal worker visa for farm workers.

The Home Office has announced that a graduate route for international students who have completed a degree in the UK will open on 1 July 2021.

Find out more about the graduate route for international students

Sponsorship for employers

UK employers who want to recruit workers from outside the UK will need to apply for a sponsor licence, unless they only employ workers who have an existing right to work in the UK, such as:

  • EU citizens with settled or pre-settled status under the EU settlement scheme
  • non-EU citizens with indefinite leave to remain in the UK

Employers need to make sure they comply with right to work checks and other regulations – especially between 1 January and 30 June 2021, when some EU citizens may still be applying to the EU settlement scheme.

An application for a sponsor licence includes:

  • submitting an online application
  • providing evidence of the business operating in the UK

A fee is payable, and the application typically takes eight weeks to be processed.

Currently there are two main routes to sponsor individuals on a long-term basis in the UK:

  • skilled worker
  • intra-company transfer

The skilled worker route brought major changes when it was introduced on 1 December 2020 (see above). The intra-company transfer route is largely the same as the tier 2 (intra-company transfer) category which it replaced.

What we're doing

Our view

We support an unsponsored visa route that would encourage highly skilled workers to move to the UK without a specific job offer in place.

For sponsored workers, we welcome the:

  • suspension of a cap on tier 2 visas
  • removal of the resident labour market test
  • reduction of the tier 2 general salary threshold to £25,600

However, we believe a salary threshold should be fair on all UK businesses, whatever their size, sector or location.

We're also concerned that there will be significant upheaval for the economy if workers who earn below the salary threshold cannot migrate to the UK.

We've recommended that the government:

  • engages carefully with stakeholders
  • takes care to avoid potential abuse of any points-based system
  • tailors salary thresholds to account for factors such as geographical region
  • supports businesses (especially small and medium-sized ones) to engage with the sponsorship licence system, for example by reducing the rules for sponsors
  • reduces the rules and requirements that are in place for sponsor licence holders

We think that any future immigration system should be fair to all applicants, regardless of nationality.


Recruiting people from outside the UK

UK points-based immigration system: employer information

EU settlement scheme: employer toolkit

Checking a job applicant's right to work


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