Changing immigration rules and how employers can benefit

Revisions to the immigration rules and specifically the points-based system in light of Brexit have kickstarted a huge shift in how employers hire, writes Jonathan Beech of Migrate UK.

The end of free movement has meant that worker sponsorship under the PBS has become the go-to option from January 2021, but with it comes the cost impact: visa fees, biometric residence permit fees, NHS charges, skills charges and biometric enrolment fees.

The list is long and confusing, with fees dependant on a company's size, the prospective employee's age, job type, duration of contract and immigration status.

Now, the government has thrown a lifeline to employers who could struggle to get to grips with sponsorship by re-introducing an immigration category not seen for nine years - the graduate route (previously known as post study work). From 1 July 2021, those who have successfully completed a degree at undergraduate level or above at a higher education provider with a track record of compliance, and a valid Tier 4 or student permission at the time of application can apply to remain in the UK.

Successful applicants at bachelor's or master's level will be able to stay in the UK and work, or look for work, at any skill level for two years. Doctoral students will be able to stay for three years.

Breaking this down, there will be easier-to-understand fees, no "going rate" or minimum pay threshold, the ability to work at any skill level and very little restriction on the type of work (no work as a professional sportsperson is allowed).

The only real downside is that this category does not lead to settlement and will at some point, lead down the pathway of sponsorship. But it is a great way to gauge a graduate's future potential.

As a feeder category to the skilled worker sponsorship route, it will be very important for employers to consider this option in good time. Those under the graduate route can switch into sponsorship from within the UK at any time prior to their immigration expiry. But sponsorship is not instantaneous. Firstly, employers need to hold a licence. This can take around 12 weeks on average and could take longer if the Home Office is not satisfied with supporting documents or justification to obtain one.

For those without a licence, they must check that a certificate of sponsorship (CoS) is held on their sponsor management system (SMS) to assign to the graduate. Requesting an ad-hoc CoS can take anything from 48 hours to 18 weeks, depending on whether the employee wishes to pay fees to expedite the process. So plan for sponsorship around six months prior to your graduate scheme employee's leave expiring.


When it comes to sponsorship, the huge changes to work-based sponsorship introduced on 1 December 2020 are being adjusted already. Further guidance explains what employers should be doing to prove they have a genuine vacancy under the skilled worker route. Prior to December 2020, for the majority of skilled worker applications, employers needed to meet the resident labour market test requirement. This often meant having to advertise vacancies in at least two media for a minimum of 28 days with very specific wording.

Although new guidance is not as prescriptive on the time, it does ask employers to keep records of advertising efforts, details of responses and short-listed candidates. This must be kept on HR records for each skilled worker sponsored and is highly recommended for initial sponsor licence applications to demonstrate real difficulty in securing settled workers.

From April 2021, there are further updates to the rate of pay for skilled workers. As well as having to meet the minimum threshold (£25,600/year or the lower thresholds for new entrants, shortage jobs and those with a PhD) and the "going rate" for the job being performed, employees under this category will need to be paid a minimum of £10.10 per hour. The purpose is to safeguard against sponsors requiring their employees to work long hours, to compensate for lower pay rates in meeting the salary "floor".

Shortage occupation skill list

The shortage occupational skill list has been updated including senior care workers, health professionals and laboratory technicians, among other new additions. Skilled chefs have been removed. This should not alarm employers as the advantages of hiring those in a shortage occupation are not as beneficial as they were before December 2020.

Another category could also be resurrected from March 2022; a replacement for the even older high skilled migrant programme (HSMP), later known as Tier 1 general. This was a true points-based category that did not require sponsorship or a job offer but hopefuls to score points across age, qualifications, earnings, experience and English language ability, those who qualified could work freely and set up a business. Like most sequels, this may not hit the mark - with restrictions expected on the job types covered.

The government touted this as an elite or "scientific superstar" visa and it is likely that applicants will need to work in sectors highly in demand including academia, science and fintech. Those working in these industries may not need a job offer and a further scheme could be available for those in different sectors for which a job offer (but not sponsorship) is required. There is a lot of speculation here and more details will be released soon. It is already becoming the hottest discussion topic for skilled hopefuls.