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The countdown for the new UK immigration system 2021 and Brexit – are you ready?

24 September 2020

From 1 January 2021 there will be a new immigration system in the UK. Due to free movement ending, the new system will apply to EEA and Swiss (‘EEA’) nationals as well as non-EEA nationals. Employers need to start preparing for this change now, including understanding the proposed new rules, checking recruitment plans and budgets, obtaining or reviewing a sponsor licence and assisting staff with applications under the EU Settlement Scheme.

The below timeline outlines the areas that employers need to consider and suggests timeframes for taking action.

Inform your current EEA/Swiss employees and their family members about their eligibility for the EU Settlement Scheme and British citizenship


Now, if you haven’t already, so the relevant employees can easily prove their UK immigration status and plan the timing of any British citizenship application.


Current EEA employees and their family members who are eligible but do not apply to the scheme by 30 June 2021 will lose their right to live and work in the UK under free movement law. Aside from the obvious business disruption and anxiety  this would cause, applications under the UK’s immigration system come at a significant cost, whereas applications under the EU Settlement Scheme are free. Making sure your employees are aware of their eligibility for Pre-Settled or Settled Status under the scheme, and thinking about the timing of upcoming moves of EEA nationals to the UK can save money in the long term.

The end of the transition period also has implications for how and when EEA nationals and their family members may be able to apply for British citizenship, with it being beneficial for some individuals to ensure their application for British citizenship is submitted by 31 December 2020.

See our webinar and Q&A on Brexit and the EU Settlement Scheme for further information.

Need more detailed assistance?

Under the Brexit strand of our Immigration Solutions for HR, you can pick and mix from a range of options to help you navigate the EU Settlement Scheme including our handy FAQ guide, specific training sessions and advice surgeries for your EEA staff.

We are also able to assist individuals with EU Settlement Scheme and British citizenship applications.

Get in touch with a member of our Immigration team to discuss putting together the right tools for your business.

Update your HR policies to include remote working and remote right to work checks.



All UK employers have a responsibility to ensure that their employees have the right to work in the UK before they start work and throughout their employment. Carrying out a right to work check properly will shield you from liability for a civil penalty if you are found to have inadvertently employed somebody who does not have the right to work in the UK. The requirements remain in place, however certain temporary allowances having been made due to COVID-19 (which we cover here). HR teams need to stay on top of COVID-19 right to work compliance to avoid being exposed to illegal working penalties.

Need more detailed assistance?

Our Immigration Solutions for HR provide a full overview of the requirements for right to work compliance.

We can also arrange bespoke training sessions for your HR team to upskill them in carrying out compliant checks or do keep a look out for our event on right to work checks in December.

Get to grips with the new system. How will it work? Who will it apply to? How much will it cost?



Businesses will need to familiarise themselves with the implications of the end of free movement and the new immigration system to avoid losses in productivity and talent, as well as minimising cost. This will only be possible if employers are aware of the actions they need to take to adjust their recruitment and employee retention strategies.

The existing routes for sponsoring workers will be significantly reformed. For skilled workers, some of the existing requirements such as resident labour market testing will be removed, and it will be possible to sponsor skilled workers for jobs at A-level equivalent rather than degree level equivalent. There will also be lower salary thresholds and the introduction of ‘tradeable’ points-scoring criteria. See our overview article for further information about the main changes.

Need more detailed assistance?

Our Immigration Law Academies are a one-stop-shop for learning about the future immigration system. Our next online academy is being held on 23 and 24 November, find out more hereor get in touch with a member of our Immigration team to arrange for bespoke training.

Review HR processes to ensure that compliance standards are met.



The Home Office sets stringent compliance standards for employers of migrants, and once they have been breached, it is often impossible to correct them retrospectively. Reviewing HR processes to ensure compliance with sponsorship and right to work obligations will give you the certainty required to focus your efforts on obtaining and retaining talent. 

Need more detailed assistance?

As part of our Immigration Solutions for HR, our Immigration team can offer training, compliance guides and mock audits of your existing HR and right to work processes to analyse compliance, identify any areas of risk, suggest improvements and prepare you for a real Home Office audit.

You may consider that carrying out a sponsorship mock audit and/or right to work mock audit would be a useful exercise if you need to renew or expand your sponsor licence, particularly as the Home Office has now resumed sponsor compliance visits.

Review or apply for a sponsor licence if you anticipate recruiting from the EEA and the rest of the world after January 2021.


Before October 2020 to ensure that a new or expanded licence is obtained before the new system goes live. Sponsor licence applications can take up to eight weeks to process.


The Home Office has written to sponsors to confirm that renewals can be submitted earlier than the normal month ahead of expiry. We anticipate that the queues for consideration of sponsor licence applications will only grow longer as we move towards the end of the year, because many sponsors’ licences are due for renewal if they originally became a sponsor when the Points Based System was launched in 2008. By applying in the coming months, you will beat the inevitable rush at the end of the year and avoid suffering with delays to new hires as a result. 

Need more detailed assistance?

Our Immigration team has a wealth of experience in advising on and assisting with sponsor licence applications and can help you with any queries if you are new to the process.

Review international recruitment processes to develop an efficient mechanism for analysing skills requirements, shortage occupations and SOC codes for sponsored workers.



An out-of-date recruitment strategy will increase the risk that relationships with existing employees and new hires will be damaged if mistakes are made. Adapting early will give your recruitment team confidence they understand the new processes, saving the business headache, time and money.

Need more detailed assistance?

Consider whether you require training on what jobs will be eligible for sponsorship under the new system and the criteria that will need to be met.

If so, get in touch with a member of our immigration team to explore how we might help. As an indication, you can view our training brochure here.

We also offer a handy compliance guide for sponsors of workers, which includes insight into how best to handle SOC code allocation and revision of skills requirements.

Review whether a non-sponsored working visa route may be suitable for current and potential employees.


Identify relevant employees before November 2020 to allow time for the full range of options to be analysed before the new system is implemented.


Existing employees with upcoming visa expiries, and prospective employees due to start work next year may be eligible for an expanded range of non-sponsored immigration categories under the new system.

Global Talent, Innovator and Start-Up visas provide skill-specific routes to live and work in the UK, while Youth Mobility and UK Ancestry visas are available for some individuals. With more non-sponsored working routes set to be introduced, including a new route for Hong Kongers, companies should be aware of the immigration options available to their current and potential employees. Not only will this allow for improved recruitment strategies, but the absence of fees specific to sponsorship means that these routes can be cheaper.

Need more detailed assistance?

If you need to explore the options that might be available to existing workers and new hires under the new regime, get in touch with our immigration team. We are able to advise on and assist with any necessary applications.

Consider bringing extension or switching applications for current employees forward where they would usually be completed in early 2021.


Identify relevant employees before November 2020 to allow for applications to be processed under current arrangements where appropriate.


Companies are currently able to employ individuals on temporary visas which may not qualify to switch into permanent routes under the new system. Failure to identify relevant employees early enough to submit applications to switch into permanent routes by the end of this year may result in the individual being unable to continue working in the UK for a period of time once the new system is implemented, or may delay their future eligibility for settlement.

Need more detailed assistance?

If you are looking to explore the options available to your employees in the new regime, contact a member of our immigration team. We will be able to assist with any necessary applications.

Upskill your HR team on sponsor licence management and the requirements of the new system.


Before December 2020 so that they are ready to go in January 2021.


Delays to new hires and early mistakes in recruitment processes can lead to additional cost and missed compliance duties.

Need more detailed assistance?

Our Sponsoring Workers  guidance provides an overview of sponsor licence management and compliance requirements.

We are alternatively able to arrange bespoke training for HR teams.

Stay ahead of the curve with changes and updates.


Always. Immigration policies normally have at least two major updates per year in April and October, however the pace of change has significantly increased in recent years. Significant adjustments will continue to be necessary as the post-Brexit immigration system is established, so we anticipate frequent updates throughout 2021 and beyond.


Falling behind on the requirements of hiring and retaining international talent can happen quickly in a constantly changing legal landscape. This can lead to missed opportunities and mistakes that are stressful, costly and time-consuming to deal with.

Need more detailed assistance?

Sign up to our email updates to remain ahead of the curve. 


You can download a timeline reminder of the areas to be aware of as we countdown to the new immigration system 2021.


Related items


The UK left the EU at 11pm (UK time) on 31 January 2020. The EU Parliament officially approved the terms of the revised deal negotiated by the Johnson Government, and the UK Parliament has finally passed the legislation needed to implement it in the UK. This provides more certainty for UK businesses, although trade talks will now need to decide the shape of the ongoing future relationship between the UK and the EU.


Brexit has substantial implications for immigration between the UK and the EEA/Switzerland (excluding Ireland). Businesses and individuals should use 2020 to plan how to deal with the new immigration requirements that will apply from 2021.

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