With the December 31 deadline for the end of the Brexit transition period now just weeks away, the UK opened its new points-based system of Skilled Worker Visas which is largely viewed as good news for India.
The Confederation of Indian Industry's (CII) UK-India Business Forum (IBF) had welcomed it as a recognition that immigration to the UK should be based on skills rather than country of origin and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) UK felt it met a long-standing business demand. The new points-based visa and immigration system, announced earlier in the year, formally came into effect this week with applicants for the new Skilled Worker Visa able to apply to work and live in the UK from January 1, 2021, when the Brexit transition period ends to bring European Union (EU) migrants in line with non-EU countries, such as India. Under the new points-based immigration system, points will be awarded for a job offer at the appropriate skill level, knowledge of English and meeting a minimum salary threshold.
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People will normally need to be paid at least £25,600 per year unless the “going rate” for that job in the wider economy is higher. Applications are made online, and once someone outside the UK has gone through all these steps, they will usually get a decision within three weeks and their Skilled Worker Visa lasts for up to five years before it needs to be extended.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “This government promised to end free movement, to take back control of our borders and to introduce a new points-based immigration system. Today, we have delivered on that promise.
“This simple, effective and flexible system will ensure employers can recruit the skilled workers they need, whilst also encouraging employers to train and invest in the UK's workforce. We are also opening routes for those who have an exceptional talent or show exceptional promise in the fields of engineering, science, tech or culture.”
And, it was flexibility that had been flagged by most Indian business chiefs and industry groups as a basic requirement from any new system, which is intended to bring workers from the EU at par with those from outside the economic bloc once its free movement of people rules stop applying to the UK at the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.
Alongside the work visa, a number of other routes are also now open for skilled professionals, including Global Talent Visa, for people who can show they have exceptional talent or exceptional promise in the fields of science, engineering, humanities, medicine, digital technology or arts and culture.
An Innovator Visa will be open to those seeking to establish a business in the UK based on an innovative, viable and scalable business idea, a start-up visa for someone seeking to establish a business in the UK for the first time, and an Intra-company Transfer Visa for established workers who are being transferred by the business they work for to do a “skilled role” in the UK.
The Student Route under the new system opened earlier, in October, to eligible international students for the next academic year.
The UK Home Office said its new system will encourage employers to focus on training and investing in the UK workforce, driving productivity and improving opportunities for individuals, especially those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The change in the Student Route is expected to have a further positive impact on the number of Indian students choosing the UK as a higher education destination, with the Covid-19 lockdown likely to prove only a temporary setback. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that Indian nationals already accounted for 17 per cent of the total 299,023 sponsored study visas granted by the Home Office in the year ending March 2020, with the number more than doubling from 2019 to hit a total of 49,844 grants - a continuous rise since 2016.
The current Tier 2 visa route, which will roll into the Skilled Worker route, has had a similar upward trajectory with Indian professionals accounting for at least 45 per cent of all such visas granted and India consistently holding on to its position as the top-most country for such visa grants.
Under the new system, 70 will be the points target, accrued in increments of 20 or 10 based on professional skills, English language proficiency, a job offer from an approved sponsor and salary levels. Some of the categories will fall under tradable points, such as salary levels and jobs that fall within the shortage occupation list, giving applicants some options to make up a total of 70.
The new system is a direct response to the 2016 referendum in favour of Brexit, which was seen as a vote to end the country′s reliance on cheap migrant labour and reduce overall levels of migration with tighter security. The confessed aim of the Home Office is that the new single global system will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally.
A level playing field for skills imports is expected to also define the contours of a much-anticipated UK-India free trade agreement (FTA). UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, recently assessed the progress in this area during a phone call at the end of November.
“The Prime Minister [Johnson] stressed the importance of improving bilateral trade and investment flows. Both leaders welcomed the extensive work that has taken place on this to date and shared an ambition for deepening the economic relationship,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.
They also discussed joint efforts to find treatments and vaccines for coronavirus, amid collaboration between the countries' leading scientists. Their next major interaction is set for the Climate Ambition Summit later this month, which the UK has branded as an opportunity to reinvigorate global efforts against climate change ahead of the COP26 Summit it is set to host in November 2021.