More roles in law firms will qualify for sponsorship under the new immigration system

26 October 2020

Employers in the legal sector will be aware of changes to the UK immigration system from 1 January 2021.  EU citizens already in the UK by 11pm on 31 December 2020 can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme by the deadline of 30 June 2021. 


However, EU citizens starting work in the UK after 1 January 2021 will require sponsorship under the new system, whilst non-EU nationals can apply from 1 December 2020. The current Tier 2 (General) scheme will be replaced by the Skilled Worker category. Under the Skilled Worker category the skill level required will be reduced from Regulation Qualifications Framework (RQF) level 6 to RQF level 3 (A-level). At the same time, the salary level is expected to drop from the current Tier 2 (General) threshold of £30,000 to £25,600 or the going rate for the type of role, whichever is the higher.
Under the Tier 2 Scheme, law firms will be familiar with being able to sponsor solicitors to work in the UK. This will still be possible when the Skilled Worker category commences. However, most interestingly for law firms, more junior roles will now qualify to be sponsored under the Skilled Worker category.  Under Tier 2, a paralegal role would not qualify but under the Skilled Worker category, “Legal associate professionals” including legal executives, litigators and paralegals will qualify for sponsorship.  Whilst the minimum going rate for such a role is £21,900, it will be the £25,600 Skilled Worker category threshold which is applicable.  The minimum salary threshold could though be reduced for those recruits who are classed as a New Entrant.  New Entrants include those who are switching from being a student/graduate in the UK into the Skilled Worker category and those who are under 26 years old.  New Entrants could qualify as a paralegal on the basis of a minimum salary of £20,480.

New Graduate route

Some HR teams within law firms may remember the Tier 1 (Post-Study Work) category which was deleted in 2012. That category allowed graduates from UK universities to have a two year visa to work in the UK without a job offer and without sponsorship. Law firms will be pleased that category is to make a return in the summer of 2021 as the renamed Graduate route. This category will assist law firms with recruitment of graduates into what may be more junior roles. The category acts as a ‘bridge’ between study and work and enables the employer and employee to see whether or not there is a basis for a future working relationship. If there is, sponsorship under the Skilled Worker category can be pursued. 
If you have any queries in relation to the above or any other immigration matter, please do not hesitate to contact the immigration team. As further details on the future immigration system are released, we will keep you updated in relation to how this will affect law firms employing overseas nationals.

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