A new points test for skilled migration, a new student visa route and some changes to the visitor visa rules are just some of the highlights of the post-Brexit UK immigration system. Here we break down all the major changes.

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This article was originally published on The South African

Working in the UK

One of the biggest changes is the introduction of a points-based immigration system for those wishing to work in the UK from 1 January 2021. 

Now there is no cap,  no need for a formal qualification and, provided your UK employer can show the vacancy is genuine and meets the required salary, they won’t need to try to hire from within the UK first. The UK is also removing the limits on how long you can remain in the UK on a working visa.

There will be a general salary threshold of £25,600 per year (£20,480 for those in health or education positions), but exceptions may be made if the applicant has enough points. Points are awarded for mandatory criteria (sponsorship by an employer, skill level and English language ability) totalling 50 points. Up to another 20 points may be awarded if the applicant’s position is on the skills shortage occupation list, they hold a relevant PhD or they earn over a certain salary. 

A new fast-track visa route is available to top scientists and researchers that will allow them to go to the UK without a job offer. This Global Talent route replaces the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route and applicants can be endorsed directly by UKRI (UK Research and Innovation).

The Home Office has also launched a new priority service for expedited processing of sponsor licence applications, where businesses can pay an additional fee of £500 to reduce expected waiting time from eight weeks to five working days.

Studying in the UK

Education generates billions for the UK economy every year (over £20 billion in 2019), and this is under threat due to the loss of free movement from the EU. As a result, the UK has adjusted its student visa rules to make it easier for foreigners to study in the country. 

One of the standout changes is that you can now study in the UK for up to six months with just a visitor visa at accredited institutions. For “recreational courses” that are undertaken for leisure, you can study at any institution of your choosing for up to 30 days. 

For longer studies, new UK student visa routes came into effect in October 2020. The routes are now points-based and students will be able to achieve the required points by getting accepted into an approved education institution, demonstrating they can speak English and proving they are able to financially support themselves throughout their studies in the country. 

The old Tier 4 student visa did not provide an easy route to citizenship. Now students who achieve a Master’s or PhD in the UK will be permitted to stay in the country for some time (two years for Master’s, three years for PhD) to find employment and potentially switch to work visa routes that lead to citizenship. 

Visiting the UK

In addition to being able to study for a time on a visitor visa, you can also come to the UK for the express purpose of volunteering with a visitor visa. Previously, volunteering had to be incidental to the main reason for your visit.

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens will not require a visa to enter the UK when visiting for up to six months. However, if you wish to work or study while visiting, you’ll need entry clearance in advance. 

Drivers on international routes will also be able to collect and deliver goods and passengers without needing a separate visa. 

Immigration rules and suitability requirements

The UK has always had good character requirements for visas and immigration, but the new rules clarify specific thresholds and grounds to make it easier for immigrants and border control officers alike to understand and implement. 

Since 2012, the immigration rules have had a complex sliding scale to determine whether someone would be refused a visa based on how long they’d been sentenced to for a crime.  Now, if you have been convicted of any criminal offence, in the UK or abroad, and were sentenced to a year or more of imprisonment, your visa will be refused. 

The government has also outlined specific rules that enable border officers to refuse entry to those in sham marriages and those guilty of evasion of duty and tax at the border (e.g. people who carry in excess of their duty-free allowance). Previously, they had to rely on “non-conductive” power, which should be reserved for those who pose a direct threat to national security. 

The EU settlement scheme

The UK’s Withdrawal Agreement with the EU protects the rights of EU and EEA citizens and their families who are already established in the UK to continue to live, study, work as well as travel freely between the UK and the EU. 

This means that a few adjustments had to be made the EU Settlement Scheme, largely to keep families together. At the end of the transition period (31 December 2020), the government will provide routes for close family and children to join their spouse/parent in the UK. There will also be allowances made for those who miss the Settlement Scheme deadline of 30 June 2021, provided they can prove reasonable grounds.

Identity cards currently used for travel by EU citizens and their EU family members will continue to be recognised until at least 2026 for those who are resident in the UK before 31 December 2020 and hold settled or pre-settled status. 

Introduction of Hong Kong British National (Overseas) route

In mid-2020, China breached an agreement with the UK meant to ensure Hong Kong had a high level of autonomy until 2034. As a result of this, Hong Kong citizens who were granted the status of (British National (Overseas) (BNO) by the UK when it handed over the city to China are being offered a special path to UK citizenship. 

This new route allows work and study in the UK and leads to settlement. It is open to BNO passport holders and partners or children who are part of the same household as the BNO citizen. 

The new rules are largely good news for those outside of the EU who previously struggled to qualify for UK visas. They aim to treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and attract people who can contribute to the UK’s economy. 

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