Brexit and the Labour Market Contents

Appendix 4: Current migration system

The UK’s current immigration systems

1.Whilst the UK remains a member of the EU, it has two distinct systems governing the rights of migrants to enter and work in the UK.

EEA nationals

2.EEA nationals have the right to enter the UK without entry clearance and to stay for three months without conditions. They have a right to reside for longer than three months if they fit into certain categories, including being employed, self-employed, job-seeking, or a student. Family members of EEA nationals satisfying these criteria are also entitled to reside and work in the UK.182

Box 5: Temporary restrictions on EU nationals

The UK has placed temporary restrictions on the rights of certain EU nationals to enter the labour market. These controls were applied to new EU countries for a limited period after they joined the Union:

  • 2004: workers from the EU8 countries183 were required to register (and pay a £90 fee) within 28 days of starting work in the UK. These limited restrictions were lifted in 2011.184
  • 2007: greater restrictions were applied to workers from Bulgaria and Romania. Access to skilled employment was on broadly similar terms to non-EEA nationals. Unskilled workers were limited to two quota based schemes.185 These arrangements came to an end on 1 January 2014.
  • 2013: Croatian nationals are subject to the same restrictions as workers from outside the EEA.186 These restrictions remain in force.

Non-EEA nationals

3.Those seeking to migrate from outside the EEA are separated into one of five Tiers depending on their reason for wishing to enter the UK.

Figure 3: Routes of Entry to the UK for non-EEA nationals187

organogram showing routes of entry into the UK for non-EEA nationals

4.There are a number of different visas available within each tier. The eligibility requirements, permitted length of stay, and the right to bring family differ for each visa type. Figure 3 illustrates some of the basic criteria for each type of visa. The criteria for Tier 2 visas are considered in more detail below.

5.In 2016 the Home Office granted over 347,000 Tier 1 to 5 visas to migrants and their dependents. As illustrated by Figure 4, nearly three quarters of this total were student visas.

Figure 4: Visas granted under each tier, 2016188

bar chart showing visas granted under each tier 2016

Source: Home Office, Immigration Statistics: October to December 2016: Entry Clearance Visa data tables, 23 February 2017: [accessed March 2017]

Tier 2 process and requirements

6.Most non-EEA migrants entering the UK to work do so using a Tier 2 visa. The Tier 2 (General) visa scheme imposes a number of additional requirements on employers seeking to recruit from outside the EEA. They must:

(1)Obtain a licence to sponsor migrants and comply with conditions to ensure this licence is maintained.

(2)Carry out the resident labour market test by advertising the vacancy in two places for a specified length of time.189

(3)Obtain and pay for a Certificate of Sponsorship. The number of certificates that can be issued each month is limited.190

(4)Comply with the relevant occupational code of practice and minimum salary requirements.191

7.Once the employer has obtained the Certificate of Sponsorship, then the migrant makes a visa application.

Box 6: The Shortage Occupation List

The Shortage Occupation List sets out skilled jobs where the Tier 2 visa requirements are relaxed because there is a shortage of resident workers. In particular there is no requirement to undertake a labour market test and some jobs with qualification requirements below degree level are included.192 Employers are still required to meet the minimum salary and other qualification requirements.193

The Migration Advisory Committee decides which occupations are placed on the list by considering: (a) is the job skilled, (b) is it in shortage, and (c) is it sensible to fill those shortages using migrant labour.194

Current jobs on the list include civil and electrical engineers, radiographers, nurses, secondary school teachers, and children’s social workers.195

Family members

8.Dependents of most migrants on Tier 1–5 visas may apply to join their family members in the UK, subject to demonstrating that there is the necessary level of support available and paying a health surcharge.196 Family members are permitted to work once in the UK.

9.Non-EEA family members197 of British citizens or those settled in the UK may apply to join their relatives, subject to financial and English language requirements (currently this is, each year, £18,600 for a spouse/partner; £22,400 for a partner and child; and £2,400 for each additional child).198 Family members entering the UK on such visas are able to work.

Policy to control migration since 2010

10.In November 2010 the then Home Secretary, Theresa May MP, told Parliament that the Government would reduce net migration by “taking action across all routes of entry” for non-EU migrants.199 Between 2010 and 2015 the Government narrowed the entry criteria for each type of visa and closed some categories entirely.

182 Directive 2004/38/EC, 29 April 2004, on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States (OJ L 158/77, 30 April 2004, pp 77–123) Transposed into UK law by the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016 (SI 2016/1052). This Directive consolidates and codifies the rights of EU citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within the EU. Swiss and European Economic Area (EEA) nationals (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) enjoy similar rights due to agreements with the EU.

183 Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia joined the EU in 2004. No controls were placed on citizens of Cyprus and Malta who joined at the same time.

184 Home Office, The Worker Registration Scheme, [accessed 12 July 2017]

185 Accession (Immigration and Worker Authorisation) Regulations 2006 (SI 2006/3317)

186 Home Office, Working in the UK if you are a Croatian national, 18 March 2016: [accessed 12 July 2017]

187 Sources: HM Government, Work Visas: [accessed 12 July 2017]; UK Visas and Immigration, Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) of the Points Based System: Policy Guidance, December 2016: [accessed 12 July 2017]; The Sirius Programme, ‘Frequently Asked Questions’: [accessed 12 July 2017]; The Home Office, Tier 4 of the points based system: policy guidance, February 2017: [accessed 12 July 2017]. The length of stay is given is the maximum length that can be granted under the initial visa. Under many visas the migrant may apply to extend their stay.

188 These figures do not include migrants who enter under one visa and switch to another (such as students applying for a Tier 2 visa to allow them to work when they complete their studies).

189 Home Office, Tiers 2 and 5: Guidance for Sponsors, November 2016: [accessed 12 July 2017]

190 The annual limit is 20,700. This is split into uneven monthly allocation which can, if not reached, be carried over into the next month. If the limit is reached a points system is used to rank applications with priority being given to shortage occupations, then PhD level jobs. Inter-company transfers and migrants applying from within the UK to ‘switch’ to a Tier 2 visa from another category do not count towards this monthly limit.

191 The minimum requirements are a graduate degree and a salary of £20,800 for new entrants and £30,000 for experienced workers. For some occupations additional qualifications and a higher salary is required. UK Visas & Immigration, Codes of Practice for Skilled Workers, 6 April 2015 [accessed 12 July 2017] For example the minimum salary for an experienced ‘elected officer and representative’ is £49,500; for an experienced barrister or judge it is £31,900; and an experienced journalist £25,100. The figures are calculated using the 2014 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. ONS, Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, November 2014: [accessed 12 July 2017]

192 UK Visas & Immigration, Tier 2 shortage occupation list, January 2017: [accessed 12 July 2017]

193 UK Visas & Immigration, Codes of Practice for Skilled Workers.

194 Migration Advisory Committee, Report: Assessing labour market shortages, a methodology update, January 2017: [accessed 12 July 2017]

195 UK Visas & Immigration, Tier 2 shortage occupation list, November 2015

196 Dependents are the migrant’s husband, wife or civil partner or unmarried partner; children under 18; and children over 18 if they are already in the UK as a dependent. Current the level of support is £630 per dependent (and per annum) [accessed 12 July 2017]. There is no right to bring dependent attached to Tier 4 (child student) visas or Tier 5 (youth mobility) visas.

197 Family members in this context include spouses, civil partners, or fiancés; children under 18; parents of children under 18 who are in the UK; and adult dependent relatives requiring long-term care from the UK family member.

198 Home Office, Immigration Directorate Instruction Family Migration, Appendix FM, Financial Requirements, May 2016:; [accessed 12 July 2017]

199 HC Deb, 23 November 2010, col 169

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