UK – Implementation of a New Skills-Based Immigration System

What has changed

The UK Home Secretary has proposed a new skills-based immigration system, which is the first significant reform to the immigration system in over a decade. The new immigration system will create a single route for all nationalities, which does not differentiate between EU and non-EU migrants, and will maintain the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland.

The new system will begin at the end of the Implementation Period (December 31, 2020). Meanwhile, the EU Settlement Scheme will be implemented to allow EU citizens protection for their future status under the Withdrawal Agreement security. It will not be necessary for Irish citizens to apply under the future system as their current rights to settle, live, and work in the UK will be preserved.

Who is affected

All clients who currently employ foreign nationals in the UK or are planning to send foreign employees to the UK in the upcoming days/months.

What to expect

Under the EU Settlement Scheme EU citizens who are already in the UK during the Implementation Period will have the opportunity to secure their future residence in the UK. Once the free movement period ends, future immigration arrangements for EU citizens, their family members, and non-EU nationals will be set out in the UK Immigration Rules.

The proposed new immigration system aims to minimize the time to hire a skilled migrant, allowing most visas to be processed in two (2) to three (3) weeks. Additionally, nationals of low-rise countries will no longer be required to leave the UK to apply for entry clearance, because the application will be able to take place within the UK. Before going live with the new immigration system, the UK government will engage with stakeholders and businesses to address any concerns.


Highly-skilled and skilled workers will still be required to have sponsorship to work. However, the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) will no longer be required for Tier 2 General applications. The cap of the number of highly-skilled visas issued will be removed to encourage the approval of visa applicants who are skilled, rather than based on nationality. The skill level for highly-skilled and skilled workers will be lowered to RQF 3-5 level (A-level or equivalent) while the minimum salary threshold of £30,000 will remain in place (MAC recommendation).

Low-skilled workers who are unable to meet the above requirements will be able to remain in the UK for a maximum of twelve (12) months with an additional cooling off period of twelve (12) months (to prevent low-skilled workers from permanently working in the UK). This category is intended only for migrants of certain low-risk nationalities and doesn’t require sponsorship, allowing foreign workers to work for any employer and switch employers more easily. Low-skilled workers will not have the ability to access public funds, extend their stay, switch to other categories, bring dependants, or settle permanently. This is a transitional arrangement category which will be under review to ensure the UK economy’s needs are met. The UK government may tighten criteria, impose caps, or close the route.


EU nationals who intend to visit the UK will not be required to obtain a visit visa and will have the ability to use the e-gates. A reciprocal agreement for UK citizens visiting EU countries is expected to be introduced in the near future. The e-gates will also be available to other ‘low-risk’ nationalities including Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States.

Tourists will be allowed to spend up to a maximum of six (6) months in the UK, and short-term business travellers can continue the same range of activities as previously permitted.

The UK government also plans to implement an Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) with the purpose of conducting security checks on passengers, preventing travel for those who present a threat, and providing travelers with more guidance. The UK ETA scheme will be similar to the US’s ESTA which requires completion of a ‘light-touch online application form’ before traveling.


Students who have completed either a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in the UK can remain in the UK for up to six (6) months while seeking permanent employment. Students who have completed a Ph.D. in the UK will have up to one (1) year to find work.

Students who pursued a Bachelor’s degree have the option to switch to the skilled workers’ route.

What you need to do

Contact your Emigra Worldwide representative for additional details on how these updates may impact you or your client.