UK visas: How does the points-based immigration system work?

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The government has launched a new visa scheme allowing graduates from the world's top universities to come to the UK.

Graduates will be eligible regardless of where they were born and will not need a job offer in order to apply.

Most other people wanting to come to live and work in the UK have to apply via a points-based system.

How will the graduate system work?

The High Potential Individual scheme is open to people who graduated from top non-UK universities in the past five years.

The government has published lists of which universities are eligible.

Successful applicants will be given a work visa lasting two years if they hold a bachelor's or master's degree, and three years if they hold a PhD.

They will then be able to switch to other long-term employment visas if they meet certain requirements.

The visa will cost £715 plus the immigration health surcharge, a fee which allows migrants to the UK to use the NHS.

Graduates will be able to bring their families, although they must also have maintenance funds of at least £1,270.

What are the rules for everyone else?

Access to most UK visas is via the points-based system adopted after the UK left the European Union.

To secure a skilled worker visa, people have to qualify for 70 points.

Having a job offer from an approved employer for a skilled job and being able to speak English will give 50 points.

The applicant can achieve the remaining 20 points if they are due to be paid at least £25,600 a year.

They can also gain extra points for having better qualifications (10 points for a relevant PhD, or 20 points for a PhD in science, technology, engineering or maths) or an offer of a job in which the UK has a shortage (20 points), even if it doesn't pay as much money.

Certain jobs in health or education still merit 20 points even if the salary is less than £25,600. The applicant must be paid at least £20,480, and in line with set amounts for particular jobs in the UK's four nations.

The exception to this is Irish citizens, who are still able to live and work in the UK as part of the Common Travel Area.

How do you apply to work in the UK?

Applications may be started online, but some people will need to visit a visa application centre in order to prove their identity and show necessary documents.

These might include a certificate of sponsorship from a proposed UK employer, and proof of knowledge of English.

How much will it cost?

The application fee depends on how many years the job seeker plans to work in the UK, and whether their job is on a list of skills that the UK has shortages of - for instance, vets and web designers.

If their skills are not on that list then the standard fee is between £625 to £1,423 per person.

Jobseekers also have to pay the health surcharge, which is £624 per person per year when they apply - that money is refunded if they don't get a visa.

And they need to show that they have the means to support themselves in the UK, which usually involves having a total of at least £1,270 available.

What about healthcare workers?

Health and Care Worker Visas are available for doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Those eligible for this visa will pay reduced fees and be supported through the application process.

Successful applicants will be exempt from the immigration health surcharge.

Applicants via this route will still have to meet salary thresholds depending on the type of work they do.

Many care workers will not be covered by the scheme though, because applicants need to be paid at least £10.10 per hour, which many care workers do not earn in the UK.

Can people come to the UK to study?

There is no limit on the number of international students who can come to the UK to study.

The student visa application system allows them to apply six months before they are due to start a course if they are applying from outside the UK.

The government has also launched a graduate visa to allow students who have completed a degree to stay in the UK for two years. This will rise to three years for those who have done a PhD.

Does everyone need a visa?

Citizens of EU countries who were living in the UK before the end of 2020 can apply for the EU Settlement Scheme.

They had until 30 June 2021 to apply for settled status, although the government has said that it will still accept applications from anyone with a reasonable excuse for a delay.

There are also different schemes for some workers - for example, there are Global Talent, Innovator and Start-Up visas.