The UK Government has recently asked the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the independent committee that advises on UK immigration policy, to review the main employment category for immigration – the  Tier 2 visa system – with a view to making recommendations about 'significantly reducing economic migration to the UK'.

This commission is the second part of the MAC's review, supplementing a report (expected shortly) about increasing the minimum salary thresholds which Tier 2 migrant workers must be paid. The MAC is currently consulting about ways to restrict Tier 2 and has requested employers, advisers and interested parties to provide evidence through responses to a series of questions.

The political context of this review is the UK government's desire to reduce the level of net migration – the number of migrants coming to the UK less those emigrating overseas. When he was appointed Prime Minister in 2010, David Cameron made a pledge to reduce annual net migration to 'tens of thousands'. The latest figures reveal that net migration for calendar year 2014 was 318,000, driven by an increase in Tier 2 visa approvals and an increase in migration from other EU countries. Since the General Election in May 2015, the Conservatives are no longer part of a coalition government and are trying to take further steps to significantly reduce migration levels and to address their perception that employers are overly reliant on non-EU workers.

Employers may be apprehensive about a reduction in future inward migration opportunities. As we reported in our update, in June and July the cap on Tier 2 General visas was reached. These developments – coupled with the MAC's review – have forced employers to review ex-patriate compensation packages and to consider acceleration of planned international assignments to the UK, before any further restrictions are introduced.

The MAC launched a call for evidence on 2 July 2015. They have requested responses by a deadline of 25 September 2015, so that they can report to the Government by mid-December 2015.

The MAC is currently preparing a report on a possible increase in minimum salaries in both Tier 2 General and Tier 2 Intra-Company Transfer (ICT). To supplement that work, the committee has also been asked to advise on:

  • restricting Tier 2 General recruitment to 'genuine skills shortages and highly specialist experts only', possibly through a change to the shortage occupation list;
  • how to limit the length of time occupations can be classed as having shortages;
  • applying a skills levy (surcharge) to businesses recruiting from outside the EEA, the proceeds from which would fund apprenticeships in the UK for UK resident workers;
  • the impact of restricting the current automatic right of the dependant family members of Tier 2 visa holders to work in the UK without restriction; and
  • the scope to tighten the Tier 2  ICT rules, including whether the current exemption for ICT visa holders from paying the immigration health surcharge should be removed.

We urge all businesses and organisations holding a Tier 2 sponsor licence to provide a written response to MAC to some or all of the questions in the call for evidence. Although the Government is not bound by the MAC's findings, historically it has implemented most of its recommendations. To ensure that the views of sponsors of all sizes and across the business spectrum are taken into account, it is important that there are as many responses as possible, providing specific case studies or experiences where possible.