Points-based immigration system (United Kingdom)

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The points-based immigration system is the means of regulating immigration to the United Kingdom from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). The scheme was phased in between 2008 and 2010. It is composed of five "tiers" which replaced all the previous work permits and entry schemes, including Scotland's Fresh Talent Initiative. The system was administered by the UK Border Agency the predecessor of UK Visas and Immigration.


Tier 1 (Entrepreneur)[edit]

(Open) The Entrepreneur[1] subcategory is for those wishing to set up or take over a business (or businesses) in the UK that they will be actively involved in running. It grants three years leave and those applying must have over £200,000 of funds. This may lead to Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK provided that the business established has generated two full-time jobs or equivalent and has maintained tax and other financial records.

Tier 1 (Investor)[edit]

The Investor[2] subcategory is for those who wish to invest capital in the United Kingdom. In November 2014 the investment thresholds were increased to; £2,000,000, £5,000,000 or £10,000,000. The difference between the thresholds is the amount of time it takes a migrant to be eligible for Indefinite Leave to Remain. With the £2,000,000 threshold it is 5 years, with the £5,000,000 threshold it is 3 years and with the £10,000,000 threshold it is 2 years.[3] The funds must be invested in either share capital in UK companies or in UK Bonds.[3]

Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent)[edit]

The Exceptional Talent sub-category is for those who are recognised or have potential to be recognized as exceptionally talented leaders in the fields of science, the humanities, engineering, medicine, digital technology or the arts. This visa is issued for an initial maximum period of five years and four months.[4]

Tier 2[edit]

Tier 2[5] covers skilled workers with a job offer from a UK-based employer and was introduced in November 2008. It replaced the provisions for work permit employment, ministers of religion; airport-based operational ground staff, overseas qualified nurse or midwife, student union sabbatical posts, seafarers, named researchers, Jewish agency employees, and overseas representatives (news media).[6]

There are several categories under Tier 2, these are:-

-General (Subject to annual limit of 21,700, not including those switching to Tier 2 from within the UK);

-Minister of Religion;

-Sports and Creative workers;

-Intra Company Transfer (ICT);

There are three sub-categories in the ICT category, these are:-

-Established staff. This route is for established, skilled employees to be transferred to the UK branch of their organisation to fill a post that cannot be filled by a settled worker.

-Graduate trainee. This route allows the transfer of recent graduate recruits to a UK branch of the organisation, for training purposes.

-Skills transfer. This route allows the transfer of new recruits to a UK branch of the organisation to acquire the skills and knowledge that they will need overseas, or to impart their specialist skills or knowledge to the UK workforce.

However, before you can apply under this category you need a valid certificate of sponsor, which can only be issued by a sponsor who is registered with the UK Border Agency.

Points Scoring

Points are awarded under the points based system for the following:

-Qualifications (this ranges from GCSE A-Level equivalents to PHD's);

-Future Expected Earnings (the salary that is received by the applicant);

-Sponsorship (the type of sponsorship you are applying under);

-English language skills;

-Available maintenance (funds used to support yourself).

Tier 4[edit]

All student visas are classed under Tier 4 of the points-based system. To qualify, visa applicants must have already been offered a position at an educational institution which is licensed to sponsor migrants.[7] The duration of Tier 4 visas varies, taking into account the time needed to conclude studies (but not necessarily attend a graduation ceremony). Some additional time is provided after the course ends to enable the student to receive results and make a decision on whether to use those to make an additional application for further leave to remain, but the additional time may or may not be sufficient to cover graduation. New restrictions were implemented on 6 April 2012.[8] To get a full requirements and types of student visas see Border Agency website.

Tier 5[edit]

(Open) Tier 5 began in November 2008 and covers temporary workers and youth mobility. It replaced the previous schemes of Working Holidaymaker, au pairs, BUNAC, the Gap Year entrants concession, the Japan: Youth Exchange Scheme and the concession for research assistants to MPs.[9][10]

This category comprises five sub-categories and the Youth Mobility scheme. The sub-categories are: Temporary workers - International Agreement; Temporary Workers - Charity Workers; Temporary Workers - Creative and Sporting; Temporary Workers - Religious Workers; and Temporary Workers - Government Authorised Exchange. Of the general requirements for all of these sub-categories, a major requirement is that individuals are able to come to the UK for a maximum of 12 months (except for the Youth Mobility and International Agreement Schemes where successful applicants will get 24 months) in order to seek temporary and short-term work, after which they will be expected to leave. Applicants under all Tier 5 sub-categories need to score 30 points for a valid certificate of sponsorship from a licensed UK employer (except the Youth Mobility Scheme), and 10 points for maintenance (having enough funds to support themselves in the UK) – currently this is £800.

However, before you can apply under this category you need a valid certificate of sponsor, which can only be issued by a sponsor who is registered with the UK Border Agency.

Tiers not in use[edit]

Tier 1 (General)[edit]

The Home Secretary announced on 23 November 2010 that the Tier 1 General route will be closed.[11][12]

As of 23 December 2010, Tier 1 (General) was closed for overseas applications.[13] Tier 1 (General) closed for applications in the UK (i.e. completely) on 6 April 2011. There were transitional arrangements for applications undecided by the 6 April 2011.

Tier 1 (General) applied to highly skilled potential migrants looking for a job or wishing to become self-employed in the UK, and replaced the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP).[14] Applicants to Tier 1 (General) are awarded points for attributes including age, previous or prospective salary and qualifications. Applicants must have scored at least 75 or 80 points (depending on the time of their initial application) for primary attributes and 10 points each for English language and had the necessary funds to ensure maintenance in the UK.[14] Applicants did not need to have a formal job offer made by a licensed UK employer in order to apply under this category.

Tier 1 (Post Study Work)[edit]

Tier 1 (Post-study work) is an obsolete immigration route. Under the scheme, students who have successfully completed a degree at a UK institution could apply for permission to work in the UK for two years without needing a work permit. Holders of postgraduate certificates and postgraduate diplomas were originally eligible to apply, but these qualifications were removed from the eligibility in April 2009.

The Post Study Work scheme combined the previous one-year International Graduates Scheme (IGS) and two-year Fresh Talent - Working in Scotland Scheme (FTWiSS) into a single UK-wide two-year work scheme. Those already working under the IGS could have switched into the new scheme for a maximum total leave of 24 months.[15]

The UK Border Agency described Tier 1 (Post Study Work) as "a bridge to highly skilled or skilled work. People with Post Study Work leave are expected to switch into another part of the points system as soon as they are able to do so".[16]

Tier 1 (Post Study Work) was not affected by the cap on number of skilled migrants coming to the UK which was introduced on 19 July 2010,[17] but on 26 November 2010, the Home Secretary announced that she was consulting on closing Tier 1 (Post Study Work).[11] The scheme closed on 5 April 2012.

Tier 3[edit]

(Never used)

Tier 3 was originally designed for low-skilled workers filling specific temporary labour shortages, however it is currently suspended by the UK Government. A strong supply of labour from the European Economic Area (EEA), members of which do not require visas to work in the UK, has meant it has never been required since the points-based system was implemented in 2008.


In order to be eligible to apply under certain categories of the Points Based System, the applicant must have a sponsor which is on the UKBA register of sponsors. The register of sponsors lists all organisations that the UK Border Agency has licensed to employ migrant workers or sponsor migrant students. On 31 March 2009, the register of sponsors replaced the register of education and training providers published by the Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills (and previously by the Department for Education and Skills).

Under the points-based system, if you are an employer or education provider who wants to act as a sponsor, you will need a licence. When you get a licence, you are added to the register of sponsors.

The register of sponsors lists the name, location and sponsor rating of every registered organisation.

Only certain organisations/employers can be eligible for licences. Licences can only be applied for if:

-The potential sponsor is a legitimate organisation working within the law in the UK;

-There are no reasons to believe that the potential sponsor is a threat to immigration control; and

-the organisation will meet its sponsorship duties.

These criteria are to ensure that those working or studying in the UK do so legally. If the potential sponsor is awarded a sponsor licence, they will be given a sponsor rating - this will be an 'A rating' or a 'B rating', and will be listed on the register. Instead of an A or B rating, Tier 4 (General) sponsors can apply for a Highly Trusted sponsor licence.

Public reception[edit]

One of the justifications for the move to a new immigration system was the perceived need to restore public trust in immigration law and controls.[18] During its introduction, the system was criticised by the then opposition Conservative Party because it lacks an overall cap on the number of people who can qualify under the points criteria.[18] There have also been concerns that, in failing to provide for the possibility of low-skilled migration from outside of the EEA, the system might cause skills shortages in sectors such as the construction industry in the run-up to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.[19]

The system has been criticised by the NHS Employers Organisation because NHS trusts faced a staffing crisis because plans to recruit more Filipino nurses were frustrated by the points-based immigration system. 85 applications by Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for tier 2 certificates of sponsorship were rejected between June and September 2015. The organisation wrote on behalf of the Trust, and nine others similarly placed, to the Home Secretary, Theresa May complaining that about 1000 applications had been rejected in six months, and anticipating that a further thousand would also be rejected. The Home Office responded by saying that over 1,400 tier 2 certificates of sponsorship had been issued to nurses since April 2015, but 600 had been 'returned unused.' Nurses were removed from the Shortage Occupation List on 6 April 2015, and the pay of most nurses is not sufficient to gain priority under the points based system.[20]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Entrepreneurs". UK Border Agency.
  2. ^ "Investors". UK Border Agency.
  3. ^ a b "Tier 1 Investor Debate", "Immigration Media" 9 February 2015
  4. ^ "Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa". Home Office. 2 July 2015. Retrieved 12 July 2015. 
  5. ^ "Sponsored skilled workers". UK Border Agency.
  6. ^ "Skilled workers under the points based system - (Tier 2): Statement of intent". UK Border Agency.
  7. ^ https://www.visafirst.com/en/uk_student_visa_info.asp
  8. ^ http://ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/newsarticles/2011/march/54-student-visas
  9. ^ "Temporary workers". UK Border Agency.
  10. ^ "Temporary workers and youth mobility under the points based system - (Tier 5): Statement of intent". UK Border Agency.
  11. ^ a b http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140110181512/http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/news/oral-statement-imm-limit.pdf
  12. ^ http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140110181512/http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/newsfragments/35-t1-t2-annual-limits
  13. ^ http://ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/workingintheuk/tier1/general/
  14. ^ a b "The points-based system: How it works". UK Border Agency. Archived from the original on 27 December 2007. Retrieved 6 July 2014. 
  15. ^ "UK Border Agency- Tier 1 (Post Study) - Transitional arrangements". UK Border Agency. Retrieved 2008-08-02. 
  16. ^ "Highly skilled migrants under the points based system: Statement of intent" (PDF). Border & Immigration Agency. Retrieved 2008-04-27. [dead link]
  17. ^ http://bia.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/newsfragments/27-intro-limit-for-t1-pbs
  18. ^ a b Patrick Wintour (2007-12-06). "Smith seeks to restore trust in immigration system". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  19. ^ "Games 'may need non-EU workers'". BBC News. 2008-01-22. Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  20. ^ "Tier 2 visa problems making NHS staffing crisis worse". Workpermit.com. 17 September 2015. Retrieved 19 September 2015.