The UK government has introduced major changes to its immigration system after Brexit, implementing a points-based system that makes it significantly harder for overseas skilled workers to migrate to the UK.
Overview of the New UK Immigration System
As of January, the UK has ended free movement with the EU and introduced a new points-based immigration system. The key aspects include:
- Skilled workers now need to meet a minimum salary threshold of £25,600 to qualify for a work visa, with some exceptions for those in shortage occupations or with a job offer from an approved sponsor. This is a significant increase from the previous £20,800 threshold.
- A universal points-based system is used to assess applications, awarding points for criteria like having a job offer, qualifications, English language ability, and salary level. Workers need to reach 70 points to be eligible.
- The Tier 2 (General) visa route has been replaced by the Skilled Worker route. However, the overall system and criteria are largely similar under the new points-based system.
- The resident labour market test has been abolished, so employers no longer need to prove they cannot fill a role with a British worker before sponsoring an immigrant.
- The cap on the number of skilled work visas that can be issued has been suspended until 2026.
Salary Thresholds and Exceptions
The £25,600 general salary threshold for skilled workers is set at the 25th percentile for full-time UK employees. It aims to ensure employers do not use migrant labour to undercut the domestic workforce.
However, the Home Office has accepted recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee to introduce some flexibility and set lower salary thresholds for specific shortage occupations. These include:
- Nurses and health professionals – £20,480
- Secondary school teachers and social workers – £20,480
- Carers – £20,480
- Medical radiographers – £20,480
- Paramedics – £20,480
- Artistic and creative professionals – £20,800
There are also lower salary thresholds for new entrants and workers under the age of 26.Additionally, if the job offer is from a Home Office licensed sponsor and appears on the shortage occupation list, applicants may qualify with a salary as low as £20,480.
The UK Points-Based System Explained
The new UK immigration system uses a universal points-based assessment to judge visa applications from skilled overseas workers and professionals.To qualify for a Skilled Worker visa, migrants need to score 70 points across the following categories:
Offer of a Skilled Job (20 points)
Applicants must have a confirmed job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor for an eligible skilled occupation.
Education Qualification (20 points)
A relevant bachelor’s degree or higher PhD qualifies for 20 points. Without a degree, applicants can also qualify based on relevant professional qualifications or work experience.
Appropriate Salary Level (20 points)
The job offer must meet the required minimum salary threshold, which is generally £25,600. But lower thresholds apply to shortage occupations or new entrants as highlighted above.
English Language Ability (10 points)
Applicants need to prove their English language ability by passing an approved test like IELTS or TOEFL.
Financial Requirement (10 points)
Skilled workers need £1270 in funds to support themselves for up to one month after arriving in the UK.Some routes may award points for additional criteria like qualifications and experience, age, UK experience etc.
Key Impacts on Overseas Workers
The new system poses some key challenges for overseas skilled professionals seeking to work in the UK:
1. Higher Salary Thresholds
The £25,600 minimum general salary threshold has been widely criticized as being unrealistic and uncompetitive globally. It prices many experienced workers out of the UK job market if they do not qualify for shortage occupation exceptions.
2. Restricted Occupation Shortage Lists
Although lower salary thresholds apply to shortage occupations, these shortage lists are restrictive. Many experienced professionals in teaching, engineering, tech and healthcare roles still struggle to meet the higher general salary criteria.
3. Challenging Points Targets
While achieving 50-60 points may be feasible for many applicants, getting the 70 points required across all categories poses a significant barrier – particularly for workers from developing countries.
4. Reduced Post-Study Work Visas
The UK has cut back on post-study work rights for international students. Graduates now get just 2-3 years to live in the UK after finishing their degree, making it harder to find long-term skilled employment and transition to a Skilled Worker visa.
5. Bureaucracy and Rising Costs
The new system brings added layers of bureaucracy, costs and paperwork for employers and employees. Fees for a 5-year Skilled Worker visa start at £624, not including healthcare surcharges, which have also increased.
Outlook for Skilled Workers: Things Are Not Looking Good
The UK government claims the new system will attract only the ‘best and brightest’ from around the world. However, current evidence suggests the reforms are deterring skilled workers and damaging UK business competitiveness compared to rival economies like Canada, Australia and Ireland.Unless serious efforts are made to lower salary thresholds, expand shortage lists, and remove barriers to entry, the UK risks major skills shortages across many sectors of its economy.
A recent survey found that 63% of UK businesses fear they will struggle to attract and retain talent due to the immigration changes. Without skilled foreign workers, UK firms may shift investments and jobs abroad. For overseas professionals, the picture looks bleak. The new points-based system slams the door shut for vast numbers of qualified, experienced and talented workers who could contribute to the UK economy.Unfortunately, things are not looking good for global skilled workers seeking opportunities in the post-Brexit UK.
The government appears to be prioritizing anti-immigration policy over economic evidence and business needs.Unless the Home Office makes urgent reforms, employers and migrants will turn away from the UK in favor of more welcoming and accessible destinations.