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Immigration: Points-based System

Volume 705: debated on Tuesday 4 November 2008

My honourable friend the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration (Phil Woolas) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Throughout this year, the Government have been delivering the biggest shake-up of the immigration system for a generation. We are delivering a stronger border that maximises the use of new technology, a selective Australian-style points system to control migration and a clear expectation that newcomers earn the right to stay.

We have already made sweeping changes to our border protection, including checking fingerprints before we issue a visa, screening all travellers against watch-lists and introducing a single border force with police-like powers.

We are now going further. As the latest step in this reform programme, I am today laying the Immigration Rules that will:

implement one of the most important parts of the points-based system (PBS);

simplify the route for business visitors;

increase the minimum age for obtaining a marriage visa from 18 to 21;

close the little-used immigration route for retired persons of independent means to new entrants; and

support the roll out of identity cards for foreign nationals.

The PBS is part of a robust system of controls that is designed to prevent illegal migration and to welcome only those people that the country needs. We introduced the highly skilled tier of the new system in between February and June.

I am now introducing the tier for skilled workers with a job offer, the youth mobility scheme, and the temporary workers route for people coming here for cultural, charitable, religious and similar reasons.

These changes will be complemented by new rules for business, entertainer and sports visitors, covering people who wish to come to the UK for short periods to conduct business, perform at a festival, or take part in a sporting event or tournament. These changes will simplify our existing provisions for business visitors, making it clear what they can and cannot do.

Separately, this statement of changes delivers our commitment to increase the minimum age for sponsorship of a spouse and for those coming to the UK on the basis of marriage from 18 to 21.

These rules also support the delivery of ID cards for foreign nationals, by allowing us to require migrants to supply photographs of a particular standard with their applications.

Finally, we are closing the retired persons of independent means route to new entrants, as announced in the Government’s response to the consultation The Path to Citizenship: Next Steps in Reforming the Immigration System. This takes forward our policy that newcomers should earn the right to stay here permanently.

Full details of the changes appear in the Explanatory Memorandum that I am laying with them today, but I will explain some of the key points here.

Points-Based Systemskilled workers

Tier 2 of the points-based system is for skilled workers who are coming to do a specific job. The job must be one that cannot be filled by a British worker or one from the European Economic Area. Tier 2 replaces the existing work permit system, including the provisions governing intra-company transfers and the employment of sports people, as well as the rules for ministers of religion.

The new rules will strengthen our control of the process.

All migrants will need a sponsor, who will need to have been licensed beforehand by the UK Border Agency. No one will get a licence unless we are satisfied that they are bona fide, honest and capable of complying with their duties, which include informing us if the migrant disappears, or does not turn up for the job.

In most cases, the sponsor will need to have advertised the job to UK workers before being able to bring in a migrant. This will not apply where the migrant is transferring from an overseas branch of the same company, or where the job is on the list of shortage occupations, that we will publish shortly. That list will be drawn up following the advice that the Government have received from the independent Migration Advisory Committee.

Unless the job is in a shortage occupation, migrants will need to score a minimum number of points for a combination of their qualifications and prospective earnings in the UK before they will be able to come here. We will be able to adjust the points threshold to ensure that only the migrants we need are able to come.

Finally, there will be an English language requirement for most migrants under tier 2, to help their integration into society.

Youth Mobility Scheme

The youth mobility scheme replaces a number of routes for young people coming here to work temporarily, of which the biggest is the working holidaymaker scheme.

It will allow young citizens of, initially, four countries (Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand) to come to the UK and work for two years. All these countries have their own schemes that allow young Britons to spend time in their countries. Their nationals pose a minimal immigration risk, and they meet the UK Border Agency’s strict criteria for co-operating with us when we seek to return their citizens. If other countries meet our criteria and wish to join, they can be added at a later date.

Temporary Workers

The route for temporary workers, known as tier 5 (temporary workers) allows certain people to come here and work temporarily to meet cultural, charitable, religious or international objectives.

As with tier 2, all applicants will need a licensed sponsor. They will also need to fall into one of five subcategories, covering creative and sporting workers, charity workers, religious workers, people coming on government authorised exchange schemes and people coming here under various international treaties to which the UK is a party.

This is a temporary route. Therefore, anyone coming here under it will be restricted to either one or two years in the UK, depending on the subcategory under which they are coming. The only exception to this is for the private servants of diplomats, who will be allowed to stay for up to six years.


I have set the fee for tier 2 (skilled workers) at £205 for entry clearance and £400 for leave to remain. This is broadly in line with our previous fees before the PBS.

They are set above the cost of providing the service, to reflect the enhanced benefits and entitlements this route brings to applicants.

I have set the fee for tier 5 temporary workers and youth mobility at £99 for entry clearance. Leave to remain applications in tier 5 (temporary workers) will cost £100. Again, these fees are set broadly in line with our previous fees before the PBS. The lower fees for tier 5 fees are set below the cost of providing the service, to support wider government objectives to ensure we continue to attract migrants to the UK for cultural reasons.

Business, Sport, Entertainer and Special Visitors

To complement PBS, we are implementing the first part of our review of the visitor route. This is intended to remove the existing uncertainty about exactly what visitors coming to the UK on business can engage in without needing to apply under the PBS.

The rules do this by providing for the UK Border Agency to produce a list of permitted activities which business visitors may do, thus facilitating business activity in the UK and avoiding abuse of the visitor route by people who are really coming here to work.

I am also taking this opportunity to bring the existing concessions covering sports people coming to take part in one-off events or tournaments, or entertainers coming, for example, to perform at festivals, into the Immigration Rules. This simplifies the system by creating a clear boundary between the activities that a visitor may undertake and those for which permission is needed under the PBS. I am also bringing together, under a special visitor category, currently separate rules that have been introduced for specific types of visitor.

Increase in the marriage visa age from 18 to 21

This change follows the consultation we launched in December 2007 on reform of the spouse visa system. We gave careful consideration to the consultation responses and the views expressed by the Home Affairs Select Committee in its report on domestic violence, forced marriage and honour based violence before setting out our conclusions in July this year, including the commitment to increase the minimum age.

The change reflects our firm conviction that no one should be pressurised into sponsoring a marriage visa and that those who wish to sponsor a marriage partner from overseas should be encouraged to establish an independent adult life here first and to see that as an important way of helping their partner to integrate.

We believe it is important to protect young people from being forced into relationships they do not want at a time in their lives when they could be establishing a degree of independence as an adult through further education or through work.

Biometrics and photographs

We are changing the rule relating to the quality of photographs required with applications. This is in line with the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and is necessary to allow the UK Border Agency to utilise facial recognition technology, to reduce the risk of identity fraud, to prevent immigration abuses and to improve the processing of applications.

Retired persons of independent means

We have made it clear that in the future there will be only three key routes to naturalisation as a British citizen: economic migrants, family members and refugees/those granted humanitarian protection. It is therefore important to pay close attention to all the different routes that have existed in the past and as part of the consultation The Path to Citizenship: Next Steps in Reforming the Immigration System, we asked whether the retired persons of independent means route should be abolished taking into account the requirements relating to entry under the route.

We recognise that those entering under the retired persons of independent means route are required to be self-sufficient. But, as was pointed out during the consultation, these people may not have enough disposable income to match the demands they may place on public services. In light of this, and the limited numbers applying under this route, we believe it is right no longer to permit entry as a retired person of independent means. We will therefore amend the Immigration Rules to this effect by deleting paragraphs 263 to 265.


These changes are the latest steps in the Government’s bold and far reaching reform of the immigration system, and will contribute to delivering the tough but humane immigration controls that the public demands.