UK government reveals new immigration points system

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Details of the UK government's points-based immigration system have been revealed.

The system is designed to make it easier for highly-skilled workers to enter the UK, but more difficult for those with fewer or lower skills. It is similar to schemes used in Canada and Australia, where foreigners win points for factors including qualifications, work experience and language skills. The UK's Highly Skilled Migrant Programme also works in a similar way.

Underpinning the new system will be a five Tier framework. The government says this will help people understand how the system works and direct applicants to the category that is most appropriate for them.

Here, presents the new Tier system with a look at how the old system compares to it:

Tier 1: Highly skilled individuals to contribute to growth and productivity. Workers in this category will have the most flexibility in the UK and greatest opportunities to settle for good because the system regards them as having the most potential for generating wealth - such as by setting up companies and creating jobs.

If you were thinking about applying under the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) you would, under the new system, apply as a Tier 1 immigrant.

Tier 2: Skilled workers with a job offer to fill gaps in UK labour force. People in this category will be given points on their talents and will be allowed into the UK if they have a job offer in a "shortage area". Two areas at present that would fall into this category are teaching and nursing.

If you are a work permit holder in a shortage occupation, you would now fall into Tier 2.

If you are a work permit holder in a non-shortage occupation, you would also fall into the new Tier 2 but you will need to demonstrate the necessary skill and salary levels for this Tier.

Tier 3: Limited numbers of low skilled workers needed to fill specific temporary labour shortages. Until now, the government has allowed temporary migration to jobs in hospitality, food processing and agriculture from all over the world. It is now ending these permissions in favour of workers from the expanded European Union, who do not need prior permission to work in the UK.

If you want to come to the UK temporarily to do low-skilled work, you would fall into Tier 3 but you will have to be from a country which has effective returns arrangements with the UK and find an employee who will act as your sponsor.

Tier 4: Students

For students looking to come to the UK to study.

Tier 5: Youth mobility and temporary workers: people allowed to work in the UK for a limited period of time to satisfy primarily non-economic objectives

Under the old system, working holiday makers would now fit in under "youth mobility," Tier 5, while musicians coming to play a concert series, for example, would come under Tier 5's "temporary worker" provision.

For each Tier, applicants will need sufficient points to obtain entry clearance or leave to remain in the UK. Points will be scored for various qualities that are believed to help an immigrant's success in the labour market.

Points will be awarded according set criteria, the government says, in order to produce a structured and defensible decision-making process. Prospective migrants will be able to assess themselves against these criteria, reducing the number of applications that fail.

Only Tier 1 applicants will be able to immigrate without having a sponsor or job offer. This is similar to the current system, where only Highly Skilled Migrant Programme applicants are allowed to immigrate without having first secured a job offer.

Further analysis

The Home Office says it will establish an independent advisory board which will aim to give accurate information on where the gaps exist and to recommend changes to the system.

For example, if there is a shortage of electricians in the UK, the board may recommend awarding more entry points to foreign electricians. A few months later, when there are enough electricians, it may suggest cutting the extra points.

There will be two key sanctions against overstaying. Firstly, workers in some sectors prone to abuse will be expected to hand over a financial bond, repayable when they leave at the end of their visa. Secondly, employers themselves will be fined £2,000 for each illegal worker.

The government says that the new system will effectively end the migration of low-skilled workers from outside the EU into the UK. This is however a complicated issue and the system allows the government to open up routes should shortages emerge.

Some organisations which lobbied the government during the consultation for the system argue that a block on low-skilled workers from outside the EU will lead to exploitation and exacerbate illegal migration. For instance, two sectors which rely on cheap non-EU labour are cleaning companies - particularly in London - and Indian and Chinese restaurants.

The new system is expected to be in use at the earliest in mid-2007.