Commentary update: future skills-based immigration system in the UK

by | 16 Apr 2019

The Home Office published the white paper on the future skills-based immigration system at the end of 2018. Given the decision to move the Brexit deadline to 31 October 2019 we have updated our previous commentary.

Executive summary

  • UK Government accepts the MAC’s recommendations, to bring an end to free movement in the UK; and
  • to create a single system of migration, where it is workers’ skills that matter, not which country they come from.

As the UK leaves the European Union (EU) and the UK Government brings free movement to an end, different rules to the current ones must apply to migration here by EU citizens. Everyone will be required to obtain a permission if they want to come to the UK and to work or study. There will no longer be one immigration system for non-Europeans, and another for EU citizens. The future system will apply in the same way to all nationalities.

The new system will start to operate from the end of the Implementation Period as set out in the Withdrawal Agreement as 31 December 2020. In the meantime, the UK Government will implement the EU Settlement Scheme which will give EU citizens protected by the Withdrawal Agreement security as to their future status.

Position of EU citizens already in the UK

Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, EU citizens will continue to benefit from the free movement of rights they have enjoyed for the past 40 years until the end of the implementation period. Brexit was originally set to happen on 29 March 2019. The new deadline is now due to be 31 October 2019. Meanwhile all EU citizens who arrive in the UK and prior to 31 December 2020 will be eligible to apply under the settlement scheme for either pre-settled or settled status, allowing them the opportunity to secure their future residence in the UK.

General proposals for the post-Brexit immigration framework

  • An end to the current free movement system imposed by the EU so that the UK Immigration Rules will apply to EU and non-EU migrants alike in a single skills-based system.
  • UK and EU should aim not to impose a visa requirement for short-term visits; that citizens should not face routine intentions testing at the border.
  • Expansion of the existing youth mobility arrangements to include low risk countries.
  • Introduction of an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) as part of a universal ‘permission to travel’ requirement.
  • Expanding access to e-gates for specified low-risk nationalities – for example: Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the United States of America, Singapore and South Korea.

General proposals for workers

  • A single route which gives access to highly skilled and skilled workers from all countries to work in the UK. Those coming to the UK on this route will need an employer to sponsor them.
  • The current immigration cap on skilled workers will be removed as will the requirement for a Resident Labour Market Test.
  • Nationals of the lowest risk countries will be able to apply for a work visa in the UK. Therefore, these individuals will not be required to leave the UK and make return journeys to make their applications.
  • The skilled route will include workers with intermediate level skills, at RQF 3-5 level (A level or equivalent) as well as graduate and post-graduate, as the MAC recommended. The £30,000 minimum salary threshold is to be reviewed with the UK Government engaging with businesses and employers as to what salary threshold should be set.
  • A transitional measure to institute a time-limited route for temporary short-term workers. This route will allow people to come for a maximum of 12 months, with a cooling-off period of a further 12 months to prevent people effectively working in the UK permanently. This route will only be open to nationals of specified countries, for example, low risk countries with which the UK negotiates migration commitments and mobility proposals. As with other routes, all applicants would pay a fee – which may, in this instance, rise over time, reflecting the transitory nature of this scheme – and be subject to criminal record checks.


  • Students who have completed a degree who want to stay on in the UK to work after they have completed their studies will be offered a six months’ post-study leave to all master’s students, and bachelor’s students studying at an institution with degree awarding powers – giving them more time to find permanent skilled work and to work temporarily during that period. Those who have completed a PhD will have a year.
  • Students studying at bachelor’s level or above to be able to apply to switch into the skilled workers route up to three months before the end of their course in the UK, and from outside of the UK for two years after their graduation.

Published white paper

The full published white paper can be reviewed here.

Our view

Whether or not the proposed system is ‘fit for purpose’ will be tested by the number of those using the scheme which is very likely to increase by a significant order of magnitude in the future. Whilst the UKVI continue with their implementation of digitised and self-service processing it remains to be seen whether the system will cope with the anticipated volume of applications post-Brexit.

Next steps

We will continue to monitor the Government’s Post-Brexit immigration system proposals. As with all immigration rule changes we would encourage all sponsoring employers under Tier 2 to engage with their Harbour HR / K2 advisors.

The immigration team are here to help you every step of the way; please do not hesitate to get in touch (/contact) if you would like to discuss the whitepaper and what these next steps mean for your business and how we can help support you and your employees.

Contact us for help with any issue raised in this article on +44 (0)20 3151 6794 or email


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