We take a look back at changes in immigration law over 2021 and look forward to what to expect in 2022.

The new Points Based System 

The biggest change of 2021 was the introduction of the new 'points based' immigration system in the UK on 1 December 2020 (for non-EU citizens) and 1 January 2021 (for EU citizens). Under the new system, anyone coming to the UK for work (except Irish citizens) must satisfy certain eligibility criteria, for which they are awarded 'points'. 

Bringing EU citizens within the UK's wider system for immigration control is one of the biggest changes we have seen to the immigration system in years. Prior to this, EU citizens had the right to move freely to the UK under the freedom of movement. As a result of this change, many more employers are now using the sponsorship system for recruitment and are therefore required to understand the Home Office's strict compliance requirements. 

One of the routes under the points based system is the Skilled Worker route.  Under this route, an individual must score a total of 70 points through obtaining sponsorship, and satisfying the salary, skill level and English language requirements. This visa replaced the Tier 2 (General) visa on the dates set out above, and introduced a number of key changes to the route:

  • The skill level requirement was reduced from RQF Level 6 (degree level equivalent) to RQF 3 (A-Level equivalent).
  • The general salary threshold was reduced from £30,000 to £25,600 (or the going rate) per annum. 
  • The annual cap on the number of individuals able to apply under the Tier 2 General route has been suspended. 
  • The resident labour market test was removed.
  • Applicants are no longer subject to the 12-month cooling off period which previously prohibited a Tier 2 visa holder from returning to the UK within 12 months of the expiry of their visa or from switching back to the route. 
  • Switching requirements are now less restrictive – for example, individuals can now switch from the Intra-Company Transfer route to the Skilled Worker route.

Other routes under the points based system include the Intra-Company Transfer and Global Talent routes.

EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS)

The EUSS was established to enable EU, EEA and Swiss citizen's resident in the UK by 31 December 2020 (and their family) to get immigration status in order to continue living, working and studying in the UK. The deadline for most EUSS applications was 30 June 2021.  

However, for those who missed this deadline, it is still possible to make a late application for settled or pre-settled status if there were 'reasonable grounds' for missing the deadline. Reasonable grounds include compelling practical or compassionate reasons (including those relating to the pandemic) and where a person has a serious medical condition which meant they were unable to apply by the relevant deadline.

EU, EEA and Swiss citizens who were working (and continue to work) in the UK before 31 December 2020 but reside elsewhere must now hold a Frontier Worker Permit to enter the UK for work.  

Right to work checks  

2021 also saw changes to the UK's Right to Work guidance. From 1 July 2021, EEA citizens are no longer able to present their passport or national ID cards as evidence of their right to work. EEA citizens with settled/ pre-settled status under the EUSS can demonstrate their right to work digitally through the provision of a share code to their employer. Separate rules apply to EEA citizens without status under the EUSS, and to those with outstanding applications. 

On 31 August 2021 the Home Office announced changes to Lists A and B (lists of acceptable documents) and confirmed that the temporary COVID-19 adjustments would continue until 5 April 2022. These adjustments enable employers to conduct right to work checks remotely. Further information about such can be found here.  

Looking forward

Details of some of the key changes we can expect in 2022 were discussed within the 2021 Autumn Budget, and include:

  • introducing a Scale-up visa to enable individuals with a 'high skilled' job offer on a salary of at least £33,000 from a qualifying UK-based scale-up to come to the UK to work. This visa is due to launch in Spring 2022; 
  • launching a Global Talent Network to bring highly skilled people to the UK in key science and technology sectors. The network will work with businesses and research institutions to identify UK skills needs and source overseas talent. The Network will launch in the Bay Area and Boston in the US and Bendaluru in India in 2022; and 
  • The Future Borders and Immigration System commencing work towards the introduction of Electronic Travel Authorisations for non-UK visitors, enhanced watch-listing and greater automation for passengers on arrival in the UK.

Key Contacts

Sarah Harrop

Sarah Harrop

Partner, Employment & Immigration

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Chloe Thornhill

Chloe Thornhill

Associate, Employment

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