The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its long awaited recommendations for work migration post-Brexit, following a call for evidence from employers and other stakeholders during the summer of 2017.
The key recommendations are set out below:
1. The general principle behind migration policy changes should be to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to migrate to the UK than lower-skilled workers. This is in line with proposals in a leaked government document publicised in 2017, where the government indicated it was in favour of granting long term visas for highly skilled EU migrants and shorter term visas for low skilled migrants, subject to a salary cap.
2. There should be no preference for EU citizens unless this forms part of an agreement between the UK and the EU. As the UK government and the EU are still in negotiations to determine the nature of a future UK/EU agreement, it is possible the UK government will concede some preferential treatment for EU citizens as part of any final agreement.
3. Abolish the cap on the number of migrants under Tier 2 (General). Please see Nick Rollason’s blog, Scrap the Cap: Why it’s time for the Tier 2 immigration cap to go.
4. Tier 2 (General) should be open to all jobs at RQF3 and above. This would bring many more non-graduate level medium skilled occupations back into the SOC codes (occupation list), which have been excluded since the threshold for inclusion in the occupation list was raised first to RQF level 4 and later RQF level 6. The Shortage Occupation List will be fully reviewed in the MAC’s next report in response to the SOL Commission. If a job appears on the SOL, there is no requirement for employers to advertise the role prior to offering a job to a non-EU migrant. Furthermore, extra points are awarded to migrants under the Tier 2 cap if they will be performing a shortage occupation role.
5. Maintain existing salary thresholds for all migrants in Tier 2. The MAC believes that this will avoid downward pressure on salaries.
6. Retain but review the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC). This is currently set at £1,000 per annum and was set to double to £2,000 at some point.
7. Consider abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). If not abolished, extend the numbers of migrants who are exempt through lowering the salary required for exemption.
8. Review how the current sponsor licensing system works for small and medium-sized businesses.
9. Consult more systematically with users of the visa system to ensure it works as smoothly as possible.
10. For lower-skilled workers avoid Sector-Based Schemes (with the potential exception of a Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme). The government has already introduced a visa scheme for fruit and vegetable growers on a pilot basis to run until the end of December 2020.
11. If a SAWS scheme is reintroduced, ensure upward pressure on wages via an agricultural minimum wage to encourage increases in productivity.
12. If a “backstop” is considered necessary to fill low-skilled roles extend the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme.
13. Monitor and evaluate the impact of migration policies.
14. Pay more attention to managing the consequences of migration at a local level.
Whilst the report does contain some positive recommendations, particularly regarding the scrapping of the Tier 2 cap, it is difficult to see how the government can entertain the prospect of bringing EU migrants within Tier 2 without massively increasing its resourcing of the Home Office.
Currently EU migrants can come to the UK and immediately take up a job with minimal bureaucracy and no involvement of the immigration services. Even if the government were to introduce a more simple and streamlined application process with no RLMT and no Tier 2 cap, this would still be a substantial administrative burden for many employers.
Now that the government has the MAC’s recommendations, it is expected that a White Paper will be published shortly on the architecture of the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system.