The Government has published its long awaited White Paper on the future of the Immigration system envisaged to be phased in by 2021. It broadly follows the recommendations of the Migrant Advisory Committee’s report published in September 2018. Many of the proposals allow scope for further amendments following consultations and engagement with stakeholders.
A common theme of the White Paper is that there is room for manoeuvre in the form of 'mobility concessions' which could be made as part of any final Brexit deal. This could potentially mean that future arrangements are made that give preferential treatment to particular industries or nationalities in future.
Here are the main highlights:
Skilled & highly skilled workers
A single route giving access to highly skilled and skilled workers from all countries will be created.
There will be no cap on the number of skilled workers, unlike the current system which restricts the number of these visas to 20,700 per year. Another key change will be the abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test.
Employers will still have to sponsor workers, but the new system is promised to be as straightforward and light touch as possible and low cost to employers. It is recognised that the existing system needs to be adapted to accommodate the increased number of businesses that will rely on it and the Government aim to review the administrative burdens on employer sponsors to ensure that they are proportionate to the objective of minimising abuse. This could potentially mean fewer reporting obligations and greater use of information sharing between the Home Office HMRC and the DWP in order to effectively enforce immigration control.
The skills charge and Immigration Health surcharge will be maintained and could be increased to balance the removal of the RLMT as mechanisms to control Immigration. Currently the skills charge is £1000 for each year of the visa and the IHS is another £200 per year.
There will still be some preferential treatment for nationals from certain countries. It is proposed that to support labour market flexibility, nationals of the lowest risk countries will be able to apply for a work visa in the UK. These individuals will not be required to leave the UK and make return journeys to make their applications.
The current Tier 2 (General) category is only open to those offered a job at RQF level 6. The new skilled route will include workers with intermediate level skills at RQF level 3-5 (A level or equivalent) as well as graduate and post-graduate. The MAC report initially recommended that the current salary threshold of £30,000 be retained, but the White Paper confirms that the Government will engage with businesses and employers as to what salary threshold should be set. Another MAC report is expected in spring 2019 reviewing the current Shortage Occupation List and Occupations listed at levels 3-5.
Low Skilled Workers
The MAC report did not recommend creating a new route for low skilled workers, and the Government has signalled their intention to accept this recommendation. The White Paper states that:
"employers have to some extent become reliant on lower skilled workers from the EU for certain jobs and that leaving will provide an opportunity to drive business change and ensure that UK companies are at the forefront of innovation going forward."
It is recognised that this change will be difficult and it is proposed that there will be a transitional measure allowing short term workers to come to the UK for a maximum of 12 months, with a cooling off period of another 12 months before being eligible to re-apply. Again, this is caveated with the promise that the Government will engage with businesses and stakeholders on the duration of cooling off periods. This will be a transitional arrangement and will be reviewed periodically.
Workers in this category will not be able to bring family members to the UK, claim any public funds, extend their stay or switch category. The route will only be open to nationals of specified countries which are deemed to be low risk countries.
Sponsorship and Compliance
The White Paper states that employers will not be required to undertake retrospective right to work checks on existing EU employees.
The system will be reviewed to ensure that businesses are not being asked to provide information that is of little value in ensuring compliance. It is proposed that different risk-based models will be explored such as the use of umbrella organisations to act as sponsors and a tiered system of sponsorship where highly trusted sponsors will benefit from a lighter touch system.
The system for student visas will stay largely the same, but following MAC’s recommendation, six months most study leave will be given to masters and bachelors students studying at an institution with degree awarding powers, giving them more time to find permanent skilled work and to work temporarily during that period.
EU nationals will not need to apply for visit visas to come to the UK. They will be able to enter without a visa but will not be able to work. They will be able to stay for up to six months and will be able to do the same permitted activities that currently apply to other visitors under the Immigration Rules.
By Hesham Shoeb
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