The UK is introducing a points-based immigration system in 2021 – what South Africans should know

The UK government has detailed its new points-based immigration system, which will take effect from 1 January 2021.

According to migration experts Sable International, the new system will bring both EU and non-EU nationals under a singular immigration regime and UK employers will need to assess their existing recruitment practices, right to work processes, and address their sponsor licence needs as they look at ongoing business requirements moving into 2021 and beyond.

Under the new system, the Tier 2 (General) category will be replaced by the Skilled Worker category, said Darren Faife, managing director of Business immigration at Sable International.

“The headline changes to the existing scheme will be the removal of the often burdensome and time-consuming Resident Labour Market Test, although a genuine vacancy must still exist, and the suspension of the monthly limit on eligible applicants. As a result, employers should experience much quicker end-to-end processing, saving as much as eight weeks in some cases.”

Faife said that the minimum skills threshold will also be reduced from the current NQF Level 6 (graduate level), to NQF Level 3 (A-level standard), opening the scheme to a broader number of occupations.

“To reflect the lower entry requirement, the minimum salary level has been reduced from £30,000 to £25,600 or the going rate for the job, whichever is higher.”

Faife said that the English language requirement will, however, continue to apply.

To qualify as a Skilled Worker, applicants must obtain a total of 70 points.

A core 50 points will be earned from a job offer at a certain skill level from a licenced sponsor, with the applicant being able to show evidence of their English Language ability.

An additional 20 points may be obtained via a “mix and match/ tradeable” process, largely dependent on the salary rate offered, but also encompassing roles that are recognised as being a shortage occupation and those jobs requiring a relevant PhD-level qualification.

Intra-company transfers

The Intra-Company Transfer route replaces the current Tier 2 (ICT) category, but the criteria remains unchanged, said Faife.

“Eligible applicants must have been employed for at least 12 months (unless a “high earner”) at the overseas sending company before being transferred to the UK.

“Previous employment criterion is reduced to three months in the case of a graduate intra-company trainee.”

The UK role must be at NQF 6 level and meet the minimum salary threshold of £41,500 pa or £23,000 pa for a graduate intra-company trainee.

“The eligibility requirements are therefore at a higher threshold than those of the Skilled Worker route, although the concession of not having to evidence English Language ability is a key differentiator.

“The Intra-Company Transfer category still doesn’t lead to settlement and the combination of these criteria significantly diminishes the attraction of this route to UK employers as a result,” said Faife.

The key welcome change to the ICT route is that migrants will now be able to switch into the Skilled Worker route from within the UK, including those in the UK prior to the rule change, which has historically been prohibited, he said.


Expected to launch in the summer of 2021, a new route will allow international students to extend their stay in the UK following the completion of their studies.

This scheme mirrors the previous Post Study Work Visa that was abolished in 2012, allowing recent graduates to take employment at any skill level, with the ability to later switch into a sponsored work route, said Faife.

For undergraduate and Master’s degree students, this will be limited to a two-year visa and PhD students will benefit from up to three years. The main additional features of this scheme will be:

  • It is an unsponsored route;
  • The graduate will be able to work at any skill level;
  • No maintenance requirement;
  • No additional English language requirement;
  • Ability to switch into skilled worker routes.

Highly skilled workers

This unsponsored route is currently the subject of Migration Advisory Committee consideration and, once open, will permit the entry of a limited number of highly skilled workers without a secured offer of UK employment, said Faife.

Read: What to expect from the rand and South Africa’s economy heading into 2021: Nedbank

Must Read

Partner Content

Show comments

Trending Now

Follow Us

The UK is introducing a points-based immigration system in 2021 – what South Africans should know