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UK - new points based system to begin in February

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On 06 February 2006, the Border and Immigration Agency announced details of its new points based system for those wishing to immigrate to the United Kingdom for the purpose of work, study, or training. The new system is being phased in over the course of 2008 and 2009. Those who wish to assess their ability to extend their leave to remain or immigrate to the UK under the new Tier 1 rules for General Highly Skilled Migrants can use this points calculator.

The UK's new points based system is modelled after Australia's skilled immigration system, which has proven very successful.

"Our points system is starting on time and on plan. I've no problem with taking the best systems in the world, like Australia's points system, and bringing them to the UK," said Byrne.

On 29 February, the UK will begin implementing Tier 1 for highly skilled migrants currently within the UK applying to extend their leave to remain. On and after this date, those individuals applying for an extension to their Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) visa will have to do so under the new Tier 1 rules.

In April, the new Tier 1 rules will start to take effect for individuals from India who wish to come to the UK as a highly skilled migrant. By the summer, the new Tier 1 rules are expected to go into effect worldwide for migrants applying for an initial highly skilled migrant visa.

"We want India to come first because India is Britain's most important market for highly skilled migrants," Immigration Minister Liam Byrne said during his recent trip to India.

"A strong system for highly skilled migrants is vital to Britain winning these benefits because these migrants are well-educated and pay lots of tax," he added.

Tier 1 for highly skilled migrants is split into a number of sub-categories, including General Highly Skilled Migrants, Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Post-Study Work. The HSMP will be replaced by the General Highly Skilled Migrants sub-category.

There are a few differences between the current HSMP and the new Tier 1 General Highly Skilled Migrants sub-category. The MBA provision will be removed, which allows migrants who graduated with an MBA from select top universities to automatically score enough points to qualify under the current HSMP rules.

English language requirements have also been increased slightly. Under the current HSMP, an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) qualification at least at Band 6 is required. Under the new Tier 1 rules, a migrant's English language ability must be equivalent to C1 of the Council of Europe's Common European Framework for Language Learning, which translates to an IELTS score of 6.5.

Probably the most significant change will be the general increase in immigration fees. In the near future, the UK stated that fees will increase across the board, with the most significant fee increases related to highly skilled migrant visas.

Fees for first time highly skilled migrant immigration visa approvals will rise from GBP 400 to GBP 600. Fees for further leave to remain as a highly skilled migrant are expected to rise from the current GBP 350 to GBP 750.

With the more stringent rules and increased cost of applying under the new points based system, many people thinking of coming to the UK as a highly skilled migrant may benefit from applying or extending an HSMP visa while the current rules are still in effect.