Details Emerge on New UK Immigration System

February 26, 2020

The UK government has published a policy paper detailing its new points-based immigration system, as well as updates on right to work checks for EEA nationals and guidance for individuals unable to return to China from the United Kingdom due to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus outbreak.

The UK government published a paper outlining its plans for the new immigration system taking effect January 1, 2021, when free movement within the European Economic Area and Swiss Economic Area (collectively, EEA) will end. The government’s objective is to attract highly skilled workers to the United Kingdom, and the new points-based system will apply to both non-EEA nationals and EEA and Swiss nationals arriving in the United Kingdom as of January 1, 2021.

New Points-Based System

The UK Home Office has elected to implement many of the recommendations set out by the Migration Advisory Committee Report in January. The new system is due to be rolled out from autumn 2020 and should be fully operational from January 1, 2021, when free movement from the EEA ends. The new system will do the following:

  • Retain the existing framework for Tier 2 (General) for migrants with job offers in the United Kingdom
  • Remove the Resident Labour Market test
  • Expand Tier 2 (General) to include medium-skilled occupations (RQF3+)
  • Remove the cap on new entrants earning less than £159,600 (approximately equivalent to $206,800) (currently set at 20,700 entrants per year divided into monthly allocations)
  • Reduce the minimum salary from £30,000 (approximately equivalent to $38,872) to £25,600 (approximately equivalent to $33,171) per year
  • Allow for the trading of points between salary and qualifications for some jobs paying less than £25,600 (approximately equivalent to $33,171) per year
  • Retain a single national salary threshold rather than introducing regional salary thresholds
  • Require applicants to speak English (including those applying under Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer))
  • Implement stricter criminality rules for EEA and Swiss nationals
  • Continue to prohibit applicants from receiving income-related benefits in the United Kingdom (including to EEA and Swiss nationals) when arriving after December 31, 2020

Global Talent Visa

The policy paper reiterates that the Global Talent visa will be opened up to EEA and Swiss nationals. This scheme aims to allow highly skilled individuals, including artists, scientists, and researchers, to come to the United Kingdom without a job offer. Applicants would be required to instead obtain an endorsement from a relevant and competent body. The Global Talent scheme replaces the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route.

Application Process

Under the new points-based system, the immigration skills surcharge will still be levied to employers. People coming to the United Kingdom from any country in the world for the purpose of work or study, other than some short-term business visitors, will need to pay the immigration health surcharge on the same basis as now.

The government plans for EEA and Swiss nationals to submit their biometrics using a smartphone self-enrollment process; they will not initially be required to submit fingerprints. EEA and Swiss nationals will then be issued electronic visas evidencing their rights and entitlements in the United Kingdom.

Non-EEA nationals will continue to be required to submit biometrics at a visa application center, as they do now, and will continue to be issued with biometric residence permits evidencing their rights and entitlements in the United Kingdom.

EEA and Swiss nationals are expected to be treated as non-visa nationals, meaning they can come to the United Kingdom as visitors for six months without having to obtain a visa. They will also be able to continue to use the egates to enter the United Kingdom (along with Australian, Canadian, Japanese, New Zealand, US, Singaporean, and South Korean nationals in possession of biometric passports).

Future Immigration Plans

The government still aims to create a broader route into the United Kingdom for unsponsored workers. This will allow a smaller number of the most highly skilled workers to come to the United Kingdom without a job offer. The government will continue to consult on this route, which is likely to be subject to a cap and may allow points for academic qualifications, relevant work experience, and age.

Right to Work Checks: EEA and Swiss Nationals

Employers can continue to check an individual’s right to work in the United Kingdom in the same way they do now until June 30, 2021. Until this date, EEA and Swiss nationals can prove their right to work by providing a passport or national identity card or through the online right to work checking service.

EEA and Swiss nationals living in the United Kingdom prior to January 1, 2021, must apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living therein after June 30, 2021, but employers cannot require them to evidence their status under the EU Settlement Scheme until after June 30, 2021.

From July 1, 2021, employers should check EEA and Swiss nationals’ right to work by reviewing evidence of their visa or status under the EU Settlement Scheme. Read further guidance on completing the right to work check.

Steps Employers Can Take Now

Employers not currently approved by the Home Office to be a Tier 2 sponsor should consider doing so now if they think they will want to sponsor skilled migrants, including from the European Union, from early 2021. Employers holding Tier 2 sponsor licenses should do the following:

  • Audit the immigration status of your workforce to help plan for change
  • Identify EEA and Swiss nationals working in the United Kingdom
  • Decide how to support employee applications and how much to invest in the process
  • Communicate key application actions and deadlines to employees
  • Update your existing Tier 2 sponsor license to accurately reflect any UK branches or overseas entities
  • Review your current right to work procedure to ensure you are prepared for the implications of the widening of the right to work regime


In response to travel restrictions resulting from the outbreak of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), the Home Office has issued guidance for nationals who are unable to return to China from the United Kingdom.

  • Chinese nationals in the United Kingdom with visas expiring between January 24, 2020, and March 30, 2020, will receive an automatic extension to March 31, 2020. No new biometric residence permits will be issued.
  • Non-Chinese or Non-EEA nationals in the United Kingdom who are normally resident in China and have visa expiring between January 24, 2020, and March 30, 2020, should contact the Coronavirus Immigration Helpline (details below) for help extending their visas.
  • Chinese nationals in the United Kingdom on Tier 2 (Intra-Company Transfer) visas expiring between January 24, 2020, and March 30, 2020, can exceptionally apply to switch to Tier 2 (General) visas from within the United Kingdom.
  • Nationals whose passports are stuck at UK visa application centers in China should apply to their respective consulates for alternate travel documents.
  • Sponsors do not need to report student or employee absences related to COVID-19 that they have authorized, nor do they need to withdraw sponsorship if an employee is absent from work without pay for four weeks or more related to COVID-19.
  • For any other immigration query related to COVID-19, please contact the Coronavirus Immigration Helpline: call +0800.678.1767 (Monday to Friday, 9:00 am–5:00 pm GMT) or email


If you have any questions or would like more information on the issues discussed in this alert, please contact any of the following Morgan Lewis lawyers:

Yvette Allen
Jennifer Connolly

Washington, DC
Shannon A. Donnelly