On 4th October, the Home Secretary presented plans to further limit immigration to the UK. These proposals received widespread comment.
The government has sought to reduce net migration to the UK to below 100,000 per year since 2010. This has been unsuccessful to date; current net migration is 333,000 people per year, with the figure attributable to EU citizens now 184,000. The latter will surely be impacted by the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, but measures are suggested by the Home Secretary in the interim to restrict immigration further.
There will be a consultation on restricting the test undertaken for Tier 2 sponsorship, which allows permission to work in the UK, further. This is to focus upon whether there are sufficient incentives for companies to invest in British workers and will build on the implementation of the Immigration Skills Charge in April next year. The Home Secretary described the current resident labour market test as a “tick box” exercise and therefore not an appropriate way to assess whether workers from other countries are genuinely needed. A subsequent press briefing advised that there would be consideration of publishing a list stating the number of sponsored employees at each company.
There will be further assessment of how students may qualify for Tier 4 visas. The Home Secretary advised that a consultation will consider whether sponsorship of international students should now be limited to those attending specific universities, or studying specific courses. The Prime Minister’s joint Chief of Staff, Nick Timothy, has previously argued that restriction of the number of student visas on this basis would be appropriate.
The Home Secretary spoke separately during the conference about recent calls for a specific London visa and freer movement between Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK. It appears neither suggestion is likely to find favour at the Home Office in the near future.
Much of the commentary following this proposal has focussed on the possibility of a list of sponsoring employers being published. The Home Secretary has clarified that this was only one of several proposals under discussion. Such data is available in other countries though, with detailed information about H1-B sponsorship published in the United
States, for example. Lists of those authorised to sponsor immigration applications and companies who have received fines for immigration non-compliance are already published by UK Visas and Immigration.
A further restriction upon Tier 2 may cause concern amongst both employers and employees, the former already facing increased salary requirements and the Immigration Skills Charge for staff employed from next April. The efficacy of the resident labour market test has already been considered by the Migration Advisory Committee several times, most recently in January 2016, with the conclusion that it is useful although processes could be modernised. Given the stated intention to reduce migration further, it may be that the requirements are made more difficult or, as the Committee also recommended previously, more focus is put on regulating the test and checking the results by UK Visas and Immigration.
The suggestions in respect of Tier 4 seem very wide-ranging and the consultation itself should clarify what the government wishes to consider. Reducing the number of students coming to the UK by limiting qualification to those attending specific institutions or courses seems a confrontational approach to the sector. Altering the ongoing Tier 4 sponsor requirements, such as the necessary pass mark for the Basic Compliance Assessment, may be an alternative which is explored as part of this process.
Whilst nothing is likely to change in the near future, we would anticipate a Migration Advisory Committee consultation to be forthcoming which will clarify what the government wishes to assess. Those intending to sponsor staff within Tier 2 or Tier 4 should monitor this and any further restrictions carefully.