What Brexit now means for South Africans looking to travel and work in the UK

2020-02-05 04:45 -
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The UK is intent on lowering low-skilled migration and with Brexit now in place since 31 January, with a year-long final transition period up until 31 December 2020 - South Africans can only stand to benefit.  

At least that's according to immigration expert, JP Breytenbach, Director of Breytenbachs Immigration Consultants

He says Brexit and the changes of the free movement after the transition period will level the playing field for South Africans - down to skills only, as opposed to nationality also being a factor.

READ: Visa-free = Hassle-free: 2019's most significant visa changes for SA  

Brexit and the EU Settlement Scheme 

During this transition time, not much will change in terms of free movement in the UK, except that UK citizens will no longer be EU citizens!

EU citizens will still be able to come to the UK to settle until 31 December 2020, and they will have time to register under the British EU Settlement Scheme until 30 June 2021. Close family members of an EU family member settled in the UK will have no time limit on when they can come to the UK. They can join the close family EU family member in the UK at any point in the future, as long as the relationship still exists.

The EU settlement scheme is, of course, welcome news for the many South Africans who also have EU passports. Despite Brexit that already took place, they will still have time to come and settle in the UK till 31 December 2020,  under the EU Settlement Scheme.  

The future of Immigration in the UK

And while low-skilled immigrant number are expected to decline, a new points-based immigration system will ensure more talented and highly skilled individuals will settle in the United Kingdom.

Set to be brought in by 2021, one would presume this would be very soon after the end of the transition period at the end of 2020 says Breytenbach. 

"To emphasise their aim to attract more global talent in the form of researchers, scientists, and mathematicians to the UK, the Global Talent Visa route will open on 20 February 2020.

"This new route is replacing the current Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Route. There are many advantages for holders of this visa, including an accelerated path to settlement, more lenient rules on absences from the UK, without this affecting your path to settlement, and full access to the UK labour market for dependents of the main visa holder."

"One can only speculate about what form the new points-based immigration route will take. However, as free movement will end at the end of 2020, this will certainly benefit South Africans looking to live and work in the UK. They will no longer have to compete with the free movement of EU citizens. EU citizens will have to apply for UK visas to live and work in the UK, together with all other nations."

READ: New Schengen visa changes to benefit South Africans who frequently travel to Europe

Migration Advisory Committee

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was set up to advise the UK Government on various matters on UK immigration, shortages in the UK labour market. 

Earlier this year (January 2020), the MAC has released an extensive report making various recommendations to the UK Government. One of the recommendations the MAC made was that the minimum salary threshold for new Tier 2 migrants must be lowered from the current 30 000 to 25 600.

If this recommendation is accepted, it will be very welcome news for overseas persons in the UK on the Tier 2 visa route, especially those working in the UK National Health Service, educational sector, and others starting their careers in the UK.

However, the UK Government seemed to snub recommendations in the report and stated that they would not necessarily accept the recommendations.

It might be a case of rather than making amendments to existing migration routes; the focus is on the introduction of the new points-based immigration that is in the pipeline.

Impact of new UK Immigration landscape on South Africans

South Africans who are already in the UK on various existing migration routes will, of course, not be affected by any changes in the UK immigration landscape or Brexit.

The UK Government allows for transitions when a migration route is closed, and visa holders already on a route will be allowed to complete their route to Indefinite Leave to Remain on the rules that were applicable on the date that the visa was granted.

Existing family visa routes, such as the Ancestral, spouse (settlement) visa will, in all likelihood, still exist in the future, and South Africans hoping to make use of these routes will, in all probability, still be able to do so.

"As mentioned earlier, after the transition period following Brexit, EU citizens will have to compete against the rest of the world when applying for UK visas to live and work in the UK. The focus of the immigration rules will be on skills and talent, and not nationality.

"South Africans might thus have a better chance to take up the opportunity to live and work in the UK," says Breytenbach.

*Compiled by Selene Brophy

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