Guide: The New Immigration System
Updated: Mar 1
One of the main issues which the Leave campaign focused on in 2016 was immigration – getting control over our borders. Now, as we finally leave the EU, the Conservatives’ new immigration policy is coming into effect. This is a points-based system, comparable to those of Australia and USA, which aims to ensure that the UK only welcomes higher-skilled immigrants.
Why is immigration so important?
Since the Brexit referendum in 2016, the British public have consistently ranked immigration as less and less important until it completely dropped off our radar in 2020 (people seem more concerned about something else, all of a sudden). But why, in 2016, was it perceived as the most important issue facing the EU and the second most pressing in the UK?
Put simply, identity can be dangerous. Wars have been fought for people’s country, community, religion, and ideology – it just depends on which one has formed the core of people’s belonging.
Centuries of global capitalism have radically changed most people’s identity. In the wealthier parts of the world, religion has been knocked off the top spot of things creating our identity. Instead, the rise of nation states (i.e. countries) has filled this void both by cementing one’s identity on a particular level (sometimes regional, usually national) and by normalising a global order with Britain at/near the top.
The state’s role has, therefore, been understood as the following: serving only those who belong to ‘its national group’ by keeping them above those who don’t belong. Hence, it is seen as unacceptable that immigrants have fair access to jobs in the UK, leading to the claim that ‘they’re taking our jobs’.
What does the new system change?
The new system is a points-based system, meaning you can only migrate if you tick enough boxes and, as the Government has emphasised, it treats people from the EU and outside of the EU equally.
What do you need for a Skilled Worker visa?
Some requirements are non-negotiable – you have to speak English to an acceptable standard, and you need a job offer at or above a minimum skill level of RQF3. The salary for this job has to be at least £20,480 (or 80% of the ‘going rate’ for that profession).
Those compulsory criteria get you 50 points, but you need 70 points to get the visa. The other 20 points can be made up by having a higher salary, a relevant PhD (bonus if it’s in STEM), or if the job is in a shortage occupation.
The table below shows all the ways you can get those last 20 points (the ‘tradable’ points) and how many they each get you.
Exceptions are made for new entrants (people under 26 years old, taking the graduate route, or working towards a professional qualification) and those with jobs in health and education. In health and education, the salary only needs to meet the national pay scale (not including nurses and midwives).
There will be no limit on the number of Skilled Worker visas issued.
Employers will also have to pay an ‘Immigration Skills Charge’ for every skilled immigrant they employ. This will be £1,000 for the first year of employment and £500 for each subsequent 6-month period.
Global Talent Visa
The global talent visa is for 'leaders or potential leaders' in:
Academia or research (in science, engineering, medicine, or humanities)
Arts & culture (architecture, combined arts, dance, theatre, fashion design, film & television and more)
Digital technology (financial technology, gaming, cyber security, or artificial intelligence).
This allows immigrants to stay in the UK for up to 5 years at a time (after which it can be renewed, or you can apply to stay indefinitely) and is considerably more flexible. There are no language or salary requirements, and people with this visa can be self-employed, freely travel abroad, or change jobs without informing the Home Office.
Students coming from abroad will have to pay for visas to study in the UK. The criteria for this visa are: confirmation of a place on a course, the ability to support themselves financially,
and a suitable level of English.
After university, graduates will be allowed to stay in the UK for up to 2 years (3 years if they have done a PhD) in order to find a job and switch to a work route.
The general rule is that people can visit the UK from abroad for up to 6 months. Tourists/visitors from most Western European countries or EU member states will not need a visa to come for tourism.
Otherwise, tourists will usually need a visa, although exceptions can include those with a partner or family member from the UK or another European country.
If you’re not sure whether you need a visa, head to https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa for a quick answer.
Good or bad?
Well, first things first, it probably will not reduce immigration. Other countries like Australia which already have a points-based system actually take in more immigrants per head than the UK. Instead, it will change which immigrants do come. This will not magic away the issues underlying the far-right surge for Brexit and any ethnic/nativist hostility to immigrants will not be solved by this.
The new system could benefit the economy because those who are eligible for immigration will have higher salaries and are less likely to need state support.
However, the implementation will be costly because it requires large-scale data collection and, more importantly, it could have damaging effects on businesses for two reasons:
hiring foreign employees will become more difficult and expensive for companies who rely on them.
the agricultural and care sectors are heavily reliant on foreign workers who do not meet the criteria for a Skilled Worker visa.
The situation is also likely to get worse for EU migrants who now become subject to the same rules as non-EU migrants, allowing easier deportation among other things.
For more information on this topic, head over to our UK Politics section.