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What did the old immigration system look like?

Before 1 January 2021, EU and EEA nationals could travel freely to the UK to live and work without a visa.  There was a separate system  for migrants from outside the EEA – a four tier points based system.

In order to be eligible for a visa in any of the four tiers the individual must have passed a points-based assessment. These visas covered most work, study and investment opportunities in the UK:

Tier 1 – High-value migrants

Tier 2 – Skilled workers

Tier 3 – Low skilled workers (never introduced)

Tier 4 – Students

Tier 5 – Temporary workers

There were also other visa types for non-EEA nationals which fell outside of the points based system and were primarily for visitors, family and limited business categories.

Read more about this and other questions in our

The UK Immigration System section.


Given the fast pace of change, we would stress that this information is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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