Starry sky, photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

2021: A UK Immigration Odyssey

Article published/ edited on 25 February 2019

Post-Brexit, what will the UK’s immigration system look like? There has been much speculation regarding possible routes, however the government has recently published a White Paper which contains full details of the proposed new system.

For those who enjoy long documents the full 164 pages can be found here. For those who’d prefer not to read through the entire document, here at White Rose Visas we have been putting ourselves to the fullest possible use, and a summary follows:

Who will the new system affect?

From 1 January 2021 the new system will affect anyone who wants to live, work, or visit the UK. Only British Citizens or those with settled status (ILR) will have the right to reside without restriction. EU nationals will, in general, be treated in the same way as anyone from a country outside of the EU.

Will it be the same as the current system?

Broadly speaking, yes. Applicants will still need to obtain a visa for the appropriate category, e.g. Tier 4 - student, Tier 2 - worker, Family - spouse. However, there are some significant changes being introduced.

Skilled Workers

There will be two new work routes – the first will be for skilled workers and will be similar to the current Tier 2 system. The current Tier 2 General restriction (“cap”) will be removed and there will no longer be an arbitrary limit on the number of skilled workers able to come to the UK. This is good news for businesses who have struggled to recruit the staff they need from the local work force. Chefs, Retail Managers, HR Officers and Secretaries will be permitted to work within this route once again.

Skilled workers will be able to bring dependants to the UK and will be eligible for settlement (ILR) after 5 years.

Chef making noodles, photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

The minimum level of skill required for this route will be reduced from the current RQF Level 6 to RQF Level 3. This means that it will once again be possible to fill positions such as restaurant managers, shopkeepers, secretaries and chefs with workers from outside the UK. Please note that the minimum salary of £30k will still apply for these roles.

Workers will need to be sponsored by an employer, however the government has recognised that the current Sponsor Licencing system is in need of reform to make it “easier and less burdensome to businesses”. They propose therefore to introduce a lighter touch, with a risk-based approach that will make use of data sharing with organisations such as HMRC.

Nationals of “low risk” countries will be able to apply for a skilled worker visa within the UK; for example, they could enter as a visitor and switch to a work visa without having to return to their home country.

Low Skilled Workers

The second route will be for temporary low skilled short-term workers who will be permitted to come to the UK for up to 12 months, to fill gaps in industries such as construction and social care. These workers will then be subject to a 12 month “cooling off” period during which they would not be permitted to return to the UK within this category.

Temporary short-term workers will not be able to bring dependants to the UK and will not gain settlement through this route.

The government has announced that there will be restrictions within this route relating to nationality. We consider it likely therefore that this route will only be open to EU countries and other selected countries considered to be low risk.

There may be a return to the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Scheme which was largely suspended in 2008. A pilot for those workers coming to help with harvest will be introduced by summer 2019.

People in field, photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Youth mobility agreements will be expanded, although the White Paper provides no details of what changes we are likely to see.


The system will be very similar to the current Tier 4 system, with sponsorship required by an educational institution. There will be no limit on the number of students able to come to the UK. As for Tier 2 sponsors, changes to the Sponsor Licence system will be introduced to make this more user-friendly.

All students awarded undergraduate degrees or above will be permitted to remain in the UK for 6 months following completion of studies (an increase from the current 4 months). They will be able to work during this time, or seek permanent employment (after which they will then be able to move into the skilled worker route).

Other Changes

The Life in the UK test, last amended in 2012, will be updated to “better reflect modern British values”.

Paper-based visas (vignettes) will no longer be issued, but will be replaced with E-visas or ETAs for visitors.

The government have stated that “what has been proved once should not have to be proved again” and reaffirmed their commitment to departments working together. Information already provided to HMRC and DWP will be accessed when considering immigration applications, reducing the administrative burden on applicants.

Will I need a visa for every purpose, even to visit the UK as a tourist?

The White Paper states that the government does not intend to introduce a visa requirement for short-term visits by EU nationals. However, they do intend to introduce a requirement for passengers to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) similar to those required by the USA and Australia.

Ladybower Reservoir, photo by Rob Bates on Unsplash

When should I apply?

EU nationals: From 29 March 2019 – 31 December 2020 there will be an Implementation Period. EU nationals and their families will be able to apply for the EU Settlement Scheme, with applications being accepted until June 2021. After June 2021 all EU nationals will need to apply through the new scheme.

Non-EU nationals: The new system will be mandatory from 1 Jan 2021. However, the government plans to allow individuals to apply from autumn 2020 to allow sufficient time to get used to the new system before the deadline.

How much will it cost me?

The government has stated clearly their intention to keep charging for all application types. Fees are likely to be at similar or higher levels to those currently charged. The Immigration Skills Charge and the Immigration Health Surcharge will still be in place.

I’m afraid, Dave…

White Rose Visas can assist with all types of applications and can advise you fully on the best option open to you. If you would like to discuss your personal circumstances in greater detail, please contact us for a free initial consultation, and one of our qualified immigration advisers will be able to assist you.

Kim Day, photo by White Rose Visas

Kim Day, Senior Immigration Adviser at White Rose Visas, comments:

“There are some positive changes ahead which will soften the blow of Brexit in terms of immigration. We welcome the new Low Skilled Worker route and the removal of the Tier 2 cap of Highly Skilled Workers. We are also glad to see a further development of joined up government in terms of departments such as HMRC and DWP working with the Home Office”

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