UK Immigration Points & Tiers

Leandra van Wijk, Tiger Law’s Immigration & Visa specialist, explains how the UK’s points-based immigration system works.

Points-based immigration has been in place in the UK since 2008, when it was introduced by Gordon Brown’s Labour government. It currently applies to people outside the European Economic Area (EEA), but it’s something several politicians want to see extended to all potential immigrants when we leave the EU. So, how does it actually work? And would it work as a post-Brexit immigration system?

How UK Migrants are tiered for assessment
The first thing you need to know about the UK’s points-based system for assessing immigration applications is that it has 5 tiers:
Tier 1
Tier 1 applies to what the government terms “High Value Migrants”. This includes high net worth investors, entrepreneurs and those deemed to possess “exceptional talent” in their field.
Tier 2
Tier 2 covers skilled workers – people whose skills are considered valuable to the economy or country in general and are in short supply.
Tier 3
Tier 3 applies to unskilled workers where there is a shortage of what they can offer employers. This rarely arises.
Tier 4
Tier 4 is for students over 16 who have a place to study in the UK and can support themselves for the duration of their course.
Tier 5
Tier 5 is the route for temporary workers including youth mobility, creative, sporting, charity and religious workers.
The Curious Case of Tier 3

While it’s described as having five tiers, the system only uses four of them. Despite being part of the original system launched in 2008, Tier 3 has never been implemented and is currently suspended by the government.

Why? An abundant supply of visa-free unskilled workers from EEA countries means the UK has no need for unskilled labour at the moment. This may change, however, if the UK ends free movement when they leave the EU.

Different tiers, different rules

Qualifying as an applicant under any of the tiers means that you need to fulfil specific criteria and points are awarded by UK Borders assessors based on a number of specific criteria.

Immigration Tier 1

Applicants must score at least 75 points based on qualifications (35-45), previous earnings (5-75), UK experience (5) and age (5-20)

Immigration Tier 2

Applicants must score at least 50 points based on their job offer (30-50) and prospective earnings (20)

Immigration Tier 4

Applicants must score 40 points based on their course (30) and their ability to fund their studies (10)

Immigration Tier 5

Applicants must score 40 points based on their sponsorship (30) and funds (10), and youth mobility applicants must score at least 50 points based on their country being a member of the youth mobility scheme (30), age (10) and funds (10)


As shown above, some categories are quite flexible. Tier 1, for instance, allows applicants to meet the points requirements in more than one way. Others, like Tier 4, require applicants to meet exact requirements – raising questions about the need for a points system at all. Regardless of the flexibility, the system has simplified the process, replacing a previous scheme which had around 80 different types of visa.

Will it work post-Brexit?

The Leave campaign has called for a similar points-based immigration system to be extended to EU citizens when Britain leaves the EU. In the past, points-based systems have been employed in Australia and Canada, but the switch was made to expand their economy and workforce. So, who can we look to for an example of what to expect?

In comparison to Australia and Canada, the UK has much higher immigration levels and the points-based system would replace free movement, so there aren’t many parallels. What we do know, however, is that a points-based system would reduce the UK’s immigration figures considerably.

A post-Brexit points-based system would also have to consider unskilled workers if the UK were to end free movement for EEA citizens. With the UK economy heavily reliant on unskilled workers from EEA countries, the government would need to implement tier 3 or find another way to incorporate unskilled workers. Otherwise, they could face a serious problem in industries like farming, food manufacture, care and clothing.

Led by Leandra van Wijk, an immigration attorney who originally qualified in South Africa but who has herself navigated the process of applying for residence in the United Kingdom, Tiger Law has a specialised Immigration & Visa Service designed to provide easy access to the advice and assistance you need to make a successful application to visit, reside or work in the UK. We have the professional experience and expertise to help you deal with the practical issues of completing forms and providing documents and can advise you on the best route to select for your circumstances.
We help individuals and families from around the world and are also able to provide expert advice to employers seeking to sponsor overseas employees.
The Immigration & Visas team at Tiger Law is, of course, monitoring developments related to our immigration clients very closely. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for news, views and information as the situation unfolds.

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