A new points-based system for migration is coming into force in the UK. How will it work in practice?
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News home affairs reporter
THE OUTGOING SYSTEM
For years, the economic migration system has been exceptionally complicated. There have been 80 different routes into the UK to work, train or study. These have developed in a piecemeal fashion over decades, sometimes reflecting economic need - and sometimes reflecting the political mood.
At present, a banker must meet different entry criteria from a student who, in turn, will be governed by rules different from those applying to a chef. The right to settle - and later possibly seek British citizenship - is handled separately.
The new system is completely different and has been some four years in the making.
Depending on the type of worker you are, your entry into the UK will be controlled by one of five types of permission.
HOW THE SYSTEM HAS CHANGED
All the 80 work permits and entry schemes are being replaced by a single points-based system. The Home Office says the system's aim is to ensure that only those with the skills most in need gain entry to the UK.
The more skills you have, and the more those skills are in demand, the more points you will gain, increasing your likelihood of entry to the UK.
But European Union workers will not be affected - they and a few other European countries will still be able to come and go under the free market rules that also allow British people to move at will around the continent.
The new British rules are very closely modelled on the Australian points system which is considered one of the simplest and most efficient in the world. Other wealthy nations use similar points-for-skills procedures.
THE FIVE TIERS OF ENTRY
There are five "tiers" within the points scheme within which people applying to work in the UK would be categorised.
Tier One: Highly skilled
The most skilled professionals will automatically have enough points to come to the UK without a job offer and seek work or set up a business. This tier includes entrepreneurs, top scientists and business people. Tier One is the first part of the system to be rolled out with ministers saying it will be fully operational worldwide by the end of summer 2008.
Workers in this category have the most flexibility in the UK and greatest opportunities to settle for good because the system regards them as having the most potential for generating wealth benefiting Britain.
Tier two: Skilled with job offer
This covers people with qualifications or important work-related experience in a huge range of sectors from health service workers to white collar jobs and the trades. People in this category will be given points on their talents and will be allowed into the UK if they have a job offer in a "shortage area" such as nursing. Tier two will come into force from late 2008 and employers will need to register as a sponsor. The government says that employers who don't meet strict criteria could be barred from bringing in foreign workers.
Tier three: Low skilled
Until now, the government has allowed temporary migration to jobs in hospitality, food processing and agriculture from all over the world.
It is has now cut these permissions in favour of workers from the expanded European Union, who do not need prior permission to arrive. No date has been set for this tier to be activated. Officials say they believe vacancies can be filled with EU workers.
Tier four: Students
This will come into force in 2009 and covers those paying for tuition in the UK. Universities and colleges increasingly depend on the income from overseas students - and many institutions have developed formal links with counterparts abroad. In previous years student visas have proved controversial, with allegations that it was a route open to abuse.
Tier five: Temporary workers, Youth mobility
This will include professional sports people or professional musicians, who want to "work" in the UK for an event such as the Olympics or a football match, or a concert. The youth mobility aspect is intended to cover cultural exchanges or working holidays by young people. This will be in force before the end of 2008.
WHO GETS IN?
The Home Office will have the final say but the recently-established Migration Advisory Committee has the responsibility of assessing gaps in the economy. It will recommend changes to the system.
For instance, if in one year there is a shortage of plumbers in the UK, the board may recommend awarding more entry points to foreign plumbers. A year later it may suggest cutting the points available to plumbers if the gap has been plugged.
The full documents are available on the UK Government's Border and Immigration Agency website - see internet links on the right-hand-side.