UK Markets closed

The UK's new points-based immigration system explained

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter


The UK government on Wednesday vowed to “end the reliance on cheap, low-skilled labour” with a new points-based immigration system.

The system — which will apply to both EU and non-EU visa applicants — will take affect from 1 January 2021.

Here is what it means:

UK border signs at passport control in London's Heathrow Airport. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images)

What is a points-based immigration system?

A points-based immigration system ranks a potential immigrant based on a number of factors, such as skills, experience, and language abilities.

Under new proposals published on Wednesday, visa applicants — including those from the European Union — will need 70 points to be eligible to come and work in the UK.

Having a job offer from an approved employer, having an “appropriate” skill level, and being able to speak English will get an applicant 50 points.

If the job they have been offered comes with a salary of at least £25,600, they will get a further 20 points, meaning they would be eligible for a UK visa.

But applicants will also get 10 points if they have a PhD relevant to the job, or 20 points if they have a PhD in the fields of science, technology, engineering, or maths.

If the UK has a shortage of qualified workers in the field in which the applicant has gotten a job offer, they will get an additional 20 points.

The Home Office said on Wednesday that it hoped to add further criteria in the future.

Read more: UK to 'end reliance on cheap labour' with new immigration system

What is the current immigration system?

Under the European Union’s freedom of movement system, workers from other countries in the bloc do not currently need to apply for a visa to work here. This will change once the UK exits the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020.

The current visa application process for workers from other countries already operates on a points-based system.

There are four categories: temporary workers, students, skilled workers, and “high-value” applicants.

Applicants get points for being able to speak English, for meeting a salary threshold of £30,000, and for being sponsored by an approved company.

There is currently also a limit of 21,000 work visas per year.

What are the big changes under the new system?

While the government will continue a pilot of its seasonal agricultural worker scheme — quadrupling the quota to 10,000 places — there will be no route for low-skilled immigrants to come and work in the UK.

This is because the system will treat EU and non-EU migrants in the same way.

A high proportion of low-skilled immigrants currently come from other EU countries, meaning that, from 2021, they will essentially be shut out of working in the UK.

A report from the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which recommended a points-based system and salary thresholds, estimated that 70% of the EU citizens who came to work in the UK since 2004 would be ineligible under the new system.

The lowering of the salary threshold, from £30,000 to £25,600, was also a key MAC recommendation. This, in theory, will make it easier for skilled migrants to come to the UK from other countries.

While low-skilled workers such as waitresses and baristas will not be able to come to the UK, those in medium-skilled occupations, such as painters, carpenters, and plumbers will now have more opportunity.

Home secretary Priti Patel said the aim of the system was to reduce overall migration while still attracting “the brightest and the best” to the UK.

“We’re ending free movement, taking back control of our borders and delivering on the people’s priorities by introducing a new UK points-based immigration system,” she said.

Students from the European Union will now also have to prove they speak English, that they have an offer at an approved educational institution, and that they can financially support themselves while living in the UK.

Which other countries have a points-based immigration system?

Much has been made about Australia’s points-based immigration system, but Canada was actually the first country in introduce this kind of application process, which it did in 1967.

New Zealand also has a system like this, but the criteria in each country differs significantly. For instance, applicants aged between 25 and 33 garner 30 of the required 65 points in Australia.

Australia also has a health requirement for immigrants, which is designed to limit public health risks and reduce the impact of immigration on the country’s health and community services.

Applicants must also undergo a character test that is designed to exclude those with a serious criminal record.