It looks like the government is pressing ahead with Brexit despite the upheaval caused by Covid-19. Yesterday the government announced major changes to one of the pillars of Brexit – freedom of movement. If you own a business that employs labour from abroad, expect changes to the way your business operates.

From the 21st January 2021, free movement for EU citizens who wish to live and work in the UK will end. Anyone who wants to live and work in the EU will need to accumulate 70 points to get a visa. Points will be awarded if the applicant can show that they speak English, have a job offer and can show that they will be awarded a minimum salary.

Currently there are no limits on figures, but the visa system will be aimed at cutting the number of low skilled immigrants entering the UK and making it easier for higher skilled workers to acquire visas.

What is the points system?

“Skilled” workers can only get a work visa if they have 70 points and will earn a bare minimum of £20,480 a year.

The applicant will first need to get 50 points in the following non-negotiable ways:

  • Have a job offer from a licensed sponsor (20)
  • Speak English to an acceptable standard (10)
  • Ensure their job requires A-levels or an equivalent level of skill (20)

The applicant will need to earn an additional 20 points through any of the following criteria:

  • Earning at least £25,600 or the “going rate” for the profession (20)
  • Having a job in a “shortage” occupation (20)
  • Being a “new entrant” to the labour market (20)
  • Having a PhD in a STEM subject (20)
  • Having a PhD in a non-STEM subject (10)

Realistically, for most of the workers looking to enter the UK, to earn the extra 20 points, they will need to show that they earn at least £25,600.

What will this mean for businesses?

There will be a special Health and Care visa for health workers such as for nurses, paramedics and podiatrists. The government has confirmed that carers do not fall under the ambit of Health and Care. One in six workers in the care industry is foreign, earning an average of between £16,400 and £18,400. Although the care industry says they are facing a staffing “black hole”, the government has reiterated that immigration is not the answer to these staffing challenges.

It will be interesting seeing how businesses adapt to these changes. Taking the government's approach with the care industry, any complaints are likely to be given short shrift by the government.

Low skilled immigrants are essential to the construction, agriculture and hospitality industries, and companies in these sectors will be wondering how they will recruit in the future. Even when companies are recruiting skilled workers, there will be more costs and paperwork to complete. Stricter immigration, increased customs bureaucracy and Covid-19 will ensure that 2021 will be quite the year.

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