From 1 January 2021, the Free Movement rights allowing EEA nationals and their family members to move to the UK for study or work will end. From that date, new arrivals to the UK from the EEA will need to apply for visas to work or study in the UK as other non-UK nationals do. The right to work conditions currently in place for student visas are likely to continue in 2021, e.g. 20 hours a week during term time and full-time during vacations for those on a full-time course at degree level or above.

Currently students switching to sponsored skilled worker visas enjoy certain advantages that enhance their chances as job candidates: sponsors do not have to advertise the role and they do not have to request one of the capped, or ‘restricted’, certificates of sponsorship when sponsoring students. Students will no longer enjoy these particular advantages in the sponsorship system that will be in place from January because the Home Office is abolishing the advertising requirement and suspending the cap on sponsored workers. However, under the new sponsorship system, students will earn significant ‘points’ for being ‘new entrants’ to the labour market, significantly bolstering their eligibility for sponsorship. Other business visa routes will likely be retained with few changes, e.g. Start-Up, Innovator and Global Talent.

A new Graduate visa route will open in summer 2021, affording undergraduate and master’s students 2 years, and PhD students 3 years, to find a job in the UK and start working. The Government has stated that only applicants who have completed the entirety of their degree in the UK except for permitted study abroad programmes or when distance learning due to COVID-19 will be eligible. However, the implementation will depend very much on the wording in the actual immigration rule on this point, which is yet to be drafted.

Time spent under the Graduate visa route will not count towards the residence period required for settlement in the UK. The Home Office has committed to eventually introducing a true points-based visa for the UK: candidates would earn points for age, qualifications and work experience. They could make up for a shortfall of points earned for one characteristic with points earned for other characteristics. The Migration Advisory Committee has recommended that applicants be awarded points for having studied in the UK and for high-value skills, though the government has not committed to either of these characteristics in developing the eligibility criteria. Time spent under this visa route would lead to settlement and could increase the UK’s attractiveness to visa applicants. The Home Office should be encouraged to prioritise this true points-based visa route.

A further possible change in the future immigration system is the expansion of the Youth Mobility Scheme to EEA migrants, subject to negotiations. The scheme allows applicants aged 18-30 to apply for a one-off, non-extendable, two-year visa to experience life in the UK. The Youth Mobility Visa permits work.