Last month, the UK government announced its new immigration policy, which will take effect in January after the end of the Brexit transition period. As predicted, it brings an end to the free movement of EU citizens and focuses on attracting a skilled workforce from across the globe.
From Jan. 1, 2021, EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally from a UK immigration standpoint. The policy statement says:
“… distorted by European free movement rights, the immigration system has been failing to meet the needs of the British people. Failing to deliver benefits across the UK and failing the highly skilled migrants from around the world who want to come to the UK and make a contribution to our economy and society.”
European Economic Area nationals — i.e., citizens of all 27 EU member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway — who were living in the UK before Jan. 1, 2021, will not be subject to the new immigration rules. However, they must apply under the EU Settlement Scheme before June 30, 2021, to preserve their immigration status and right to live, work and study in the UK. Irish nationals will also be exempt from the new system due to existing arrangements with the UK.
Migrants wishing to come to the UK to live and work from next year will have to meet the criteria of a new points-based system. All applicants will need to demonstrate that they have a job offer from an approved sponsor, that the job offer is at the required skill level and that they speak English.
Migrants will also need to be paid the higher of the specific salary threshold for their occupation, known as the “going rate,” or the general annual salary threshold of £25,600 (US $33,159). However, applicants will be able to “trade” characteristics such as their specific job offer and qualifications against a lower salary to meet the required minimum 70 points.
The required skill levels to be eligible for a skilled-worker visa will be RQF Level 6 to RQF Level 3. Highly skilled workers will be permitted entry without a specific job offer in some circumstances, but no details have been published yet as to how this scheme will work. The Migration Advisory Committee will be commissioned to produce a shortage occupation list covering all jobs encompassed by the skilled worker route and to keep the list under regular review. Allocating extra points for occupations that the MAC determines to be in shortage in the UK will provide immediate temporary relief for shortage areas, making it easier to recruit migrants.
No Low-skilled Worker Visa
To some criticism, the government announced that there will be no general low-skilled or temporary work route to entry. Instead, they want employers “to move away from a reliance on the UK’s immigration system as an alternative to investment in staff retention, productivity and wider investment in technology and automation.”
As of the end of January 2020, more than 3.2 million applications to stay in the UK had been submitted to the EU Settlement Scheme. The government believes that these EU citizens and a further 170,000 recently arrived non-EU citizens in lower-skilled occupations together with British nationals currently inactive in the work market will provide enough resources to fill unskilled roles in the future.
Exceptions. There are certain concessions to employers in agriculture with an expansion of the seasonal worker scheme; and workers aged 18 to 30 from specific countries (including Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, Taiwan and British Overseas Citizens of Hong Kong and some Caribbean countries) can continue to live and work in the UK for up to two years under the Youth Mobility Scheme visa.
Concerns. “Jobs the government considers ‘low-skilled’ are vital to well-being and business growth,” says Tom Hadley, director of policy at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation. “The announcement threatens to shut out the people we need to provide services the public rely on. This would increase the likelihood of illegal working and exploitation.” It has been reported that women, particularly those working in the care sector, will suffer disproportionately from the general salary threshold being pitched at £25,600.
The hospitality and construction industries will be hardest hit along with health and social care. “We need access to workers that can help us look after the elderly, build homes and keep the economy strong.” Hadley says. “Employers ask that there is a temporary visa route for businesses to recruit the essential skills they need at all pay and skill levels.”
But the government believes it needs to rebalance the system and force employers to take action. While employment levels have been high, there has been weak productivity and a lack of investment in technology and training. By stemming the flow of cheap labor, the UK government expects employers to take a more holistic, long-term view of their workforce strategy and invest in automation.
This will take time and money, which many businesses don’t have readily available, but positivity and aspiration is the view of Boris Johnson’s government beyond Brexit and it is clear they will use both the carrot and the stick to achieve their aspirations for the UK.