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How is Brexit Affecting Visas and Employment in the UK?

Jan 6th, 2023

In January 2021, the UK introduced a new immigration system ending the easy movement and migration of people between the UK, the EU, and the European Economic Area (EEA). The new rules also coincide with the UK breaking free from their long-standing EU membership for trade and cooperation purposes.

It goes without saying: The vote to leave the European Union had an unprecedented impact on both the UK and the EU. 

With the onset of these new regulations, the UK is facing a record-breaking shortage of workers across Scotland, Northern Ireland, England, and Whales. According to UK records, between June and August of 2021, there were 1,034,000 job openings. This is the first time in the history of UK records that job vacancies exceeded 1 million.

Here is an overview of Brexit's impact on visa applications and employment throughout the United Kingdom, including what changes to the visa process migrants inside the EU and around the world can expect.

What are the differences for visas post-Brexit? 

These new Brexit regulations apply to migrants moving to the UK for work, study, and family reasons. The only exception is for Irish citizens, as the regulations are the same as they would be for UK citizens. 

Workers around the world

Due to Brexit, workers from around the world actually see more liberal immigration laws compared to what immigrants and students within the EU and EEA were used to. 

EU and EEA nationals in the UK

For EU and EEA nationals and residents already in the UK, there is the option to apply to remain indefinitely under the ‘settled statutes’. Most people who fall under that category have already applied for this exception. 

Workers in the EU

One of the main differences in the post-Brexit immigration system is that workers from the EU who want to work in the UK for lower-skilled and lower-paid occupations are essentially unable to qualify or gain entrance. 

The biggest hit to the UK is that EU citizens coming to England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland for study or family reasons will have to qualify for visas following the same process as immigrants from outside of the EU. This has made the immigration process more liberal for those migrating from around the world, but more difficult for movement between the UK and the EU. 

Key differences in post-Brexit visas include

  • Skilled workers visas. Available for migrants coming to work in a job that makes more than 26,500 pounds per year, with the relevant skills and experiences to match. 

  • Lower initial salary threshold. There is a lower initial salary threshold for immigrants coming to work in areas with shortages of workers. For positions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the threshold may be as low as 22,000 pounds per year. 

  • Healthcare visas streamlined. For any workers who plan to work in the NHS and social care, the visa process has been streamlined and made less expensive. 

  • New graduate visa. Allows international students graduating from UK universities to remain in the country for two years after graduation while working a relevant job.

Almost all visa types will likely need to have an employer sponsor, instead of being able to freely move into the country as a member of the EU or EEA, which was already a requirement for those applying outside of the EU. 

What do employers need to know about visa sponsorship? 

UK employers will need keep their sponsorship licenses are up to date, which means:

  • Ensuring sponsorship licenses are linked to entities or work sites

  • Making sure enough certificates for future sponsorships are in place (and to apply for more, if necessary)

  • Identify employees and individuals who need to be sponsored and inform them of application requirements

  • Maintain records and reporting of current sponsored employees

If the employer does not already have a sponsorship license, then they will need to: 

  • Begin the application process

  • Have an HR department in charge of keeping track of the application process

  • Make sure that the entire sponsorship process is meeting "Home Office" requirements

Employers should also familiarize themselves with the UK-points based system: 

  • Most salaries must meet at least 26,500 pounds/year, unless the occupation is on the Shortage Occupation List and has relevant PhD qualifications. 

  • The effective minimum salary to sponsor a skilled worker visa is 34,300 pounds. This figure is the ‘going rate’ for the occupation, based on a 39-hour working week. If the contracted hours are higher or lower, then the going rate is adjusted pro rata. If the applicant is a ‘new entrant’, the going rate is 24,010 pounds. 

Employers should also be aware of the costs associated with sponsoring a worker. There is an immigration health surcharge of 634 pounds per year that employers must cover, as well as an immigration skills charge that ranges anywhere from 364-1,000 pounds, depending on the size of the business. 

Companies should also warn employees who are applying for a UK visa that 1) they may have to take an English language test and 2) the visa process can take up to 28 days to complete. They need to schedule their in-person visa appointment well before they plan to move. Appointments fill up quickly, so taking extra time to plan is necessary before applying. 

What does the new system mean for migration and the economy? 

Thanks to the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, immigration to the UK has been reduced drastically. Many EU-citizens chose to return to their country of origin. However, non-EU migration to the UK did not diminish nearly as much as it did with EU-citizens, so there is actually an influx of non-EU citizens who were searching and applying for jobs within the UK. 

In some of the sectors, like those for highly-skilled workers, there has been little change (in fact, there has actually been an influx of those outside of the EU applying for these types of positions). In contrast, for areas considered low-skilled, there has been a rapid decrease in employment.

Both of these trends seem to be consistent, and the numbers have not leveled out following the pandemic. This means that migration and the economy within the UK is still being monitored for change following post-Brexit legislation.. 

Why companies choose Via

Many companies want to hire workers in the UK, but do not know how to navigate the process compliantly. Via makes hiring employees and building your global team seamless. Our digital EOR platform helps you manage local HR processes for direct employment such as work visas & permits, benefits, payroll, background checks, and more. Our team of local labor lawyers and on-the-ground experts ensure that your company remains compliant while expanding abroad. As your global employer-of-record/entity in the UK, Via assumes responsibility for employment liability, so that you can focus on what matters: recruiting and managing your team. 

With Via’s transparent pricing, you can pay full-time employees or contractors in the UK with no hidden set-up fees, no foreign exchange or transaction fees, and no minimums–start with 1 employee and scale up at your own pace.

Need help building your global team?

Janelle Watson
Janelle Watson
My name is Janelle Watson and I'm a Colorado native. I have a BA in English from University of Colorado Colorado Springs and an MA in English from University of Colorado Denver. Before moving to blog and copywriting, I was an English teacher for 3 years at the University of Colorado in Denver. Prior to writing for Via, I wrote reviews and content for a local concert and promotion company in Denver.

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Frequently asked questions

  • Do I need a visa after Brexit?

  • Can a foreigner work in the UK following Brexit? 

  • Can I still work in the EU following Brexit?

  • Are EU citizens legally allowed to work in the UK?