UK Points-Based Immigration System

The UK uses a points-based immigration system to regulate immigration to the United Kingdom from outside the European Economic Area (EEA).  The system is administered by the UK Border Agency.  The tiers are as follows:

  • Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) - for those wishing to set up or take over a business(es) in the UK that they will be actively involved in running. Those applying must have over £200,000 of funds. The visa lasts for three years and may lead to Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK provided that the business established has generated two full time jobs or equivalent and has maintained tax and other financial records. 
  • Tier 1 (Investor) - for those who wish to invest £1,000,000 in the UK. Like the Entrepreneur type, it offers three years grant of leave.
  • Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) - for those who are recognised or have potential to be recognized as exceptionally talented leaders in the fields of science, humanities, engineering or the arts.   This visa is issued for an initial maximum period of three years and four months. 
  • Tier 2  - covers skilled workers with a job offer from a UK-based employer.  However, before you can apply under this category you need a valid certificate of sponsor, which can only be issued by a sponsor who is registered with the UKBA.   There are several categories under Tier 2, these are:-
    • General (Subject to annual limit of 21,700, not including those switching to Tier 2 from within the UK);
    • Minister of Religion;
    • Sports and Creative workers;
    • Intra Company Transfer (ICT);
      • Established staff.
      • Graduate trainee.
      • Skills transfer

Points Scoring

Points are awarded under the points based system for the following:

  • Qualifications (this ranges from GCSE A-Level equivalents to PHD's);
  • Future Expected Earnings (the salary that is received by the applicant);
  • Sponsorship (the type of sponsorship you are applying under);
  • English language skills;
  • Available maintenance (funds used to support yourself).


Tier 4 

New restrictions were implemented on the 6th of April 2012. To get a full rundown of the process, requirements and types of student visas see this Get Started guide or visit the Border Agency website.

All student visas are classed under Tier 4 of the points-based system. To qualify, visa applicants must have already been offered a position at an educational institution. The duration of Tier 4 visas varies, taking into account the time needed to conclude studies and attend graduation.


Tier 5 

Tier 5 covers temporary workers and youth mobility. It replaced the previous schemes of Working Holidaymaker, au pairs, BUNAC, the Gap Year entrants concession, the Japan: Youth Exchange Scheme and the concession for research assistants to MPs.  This category comprises five sub-categories:

  • Temporary workers - International Agreement;
  • Temporary Workers - Charity Workers;
  • Temporary Workers - Creative and Sporting;
  • Temporary Workers - Religious Workers; and
  • Temporary Workers - Government Authorised Exchange.

Individuals are able to come to the UK for a maximum of 12 months (except for the Youth Mobility and International Agreement Schemes where successful applicants will get 24 months) in order to seek temporary and short-term work, after which they will be expected to leave. Applicants under all Tier 5 sub-categories need to score 30 points for a valid certificate of sponsorship from a licensed UK employer (except the Youth Mobility Scheme), and 10 points for maintenance (having enough funds to support themselves in the UK) – currently this is £800.

However, before you can apply under this category you need a valid certificate of sponsor, which can only be issued by a sponsor who is registered with the UK Border Agency.


In order to be eligible to apply under certain categories of the Points Based System, the applicant must have a sponsor which is on the UKBA register of sponsors. The register of sponsors lists all organisations that the UK Border Agency has licensed to employ migrant workers or sponsor migrant students.

Under the points-based system, if you are an employer or education provider who wants to act as a sponsor, you will need a licence. When you get a licence, you are added to the register of sponsors.

Only certain organisations/employers can be eligible for licences. Licences can only be applied for if:

  • The potential sponsor is a legitimate organisation working within the law in the UK;
  • There are no reasons to believe that the potential sponsor is a threat to immigration control; and
  • The organisation will meet its sponsorship duties.