On 18 September 2018 the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) presented its final EEA migration in the UK report which contains a number of recommendations for the UK's post-Brexit work immigration system.

You may recall that in July 2017, the government commissioned the MAC to gather evidence on patterns of EU migration and the role of migration in the wider economy, ahead of the UK's exit from the EU. The subsequent recommendations put, will clearly have a significant impact on those UK employers who are reliant upon migrant labour.

Summary of key recommendations for work migration post-Brexit

  • Policy changes should make it easier for higher-skilled workers to migrate to the UK than lower-skilled workers.
  • No preference for EU citizens, on the assumption that UK immigration policy is not included in the Brexit agreement.
  • Abolish the cap on the number of migrants under Tier 2 (General).
  • Expand the range of jobs eligible for sponsorship under Tier 2 (General) to include medium skilled jobs.
  • Maintain existing salary thresholds for all migrants in Tier 2.
  • Retain the £1,000 Immigration Skills Charge which will also apply to EEA migrants.
  • Consider abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test. This currently requires employers to demonstrate that there are no local workers who can fill a role which it wishes to recruit a non-EU worker to undertake.
  • For lower-skilled workers avoid Sector-Based Schemes (with the potential exception of a Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme)
  • If a “backstop” is considered necessary to fill low-skilled roles extend the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme.

Some of the recommendations highlighted above will be welcome to businesses who seek to attract talent from abroad, particularly the potential removal of the Resident Labour Market Test and abolishing the cap on Tier 2 migrants.

One of the outcomes from the report is, however, that lower-skilled workers should not get work permits to come to the UK after Brexit and that higher-skilled workers from the EU should not get preferential treatment compared to higher skilled workers from outside the EU. This assumes that the Tier 2 (General) category, which currently allows highly skilled non-EU nationals to work in the UK, will have its application extended to include EU nationals.

Significant concerns exist throughout industry about the impact of this approach on the labour market, particularly of those employers who are reliant on blue-collar workers but also those reliant on professionals such as architects.

With specific reference to Northern Ireland the MAC report notes concerns about the impact of a restrictive approach to EEA migration for important sectors such as agri-food but recommends that these issues are dealt with by support to increase investment and productivity as opposed to having a separate low-skill migration regime for Northern Ireland or letting these issues drive the design of a UK-wide system.

As we approach the Brexit endgame it remains to be seen whether a deal is agreed on the UK's future relationship with the EU and, if so, whether this results in specific UK immigration policy on how EU citizens are treated when coming to the UK to work.

In any event, based on the MAC recommendations there will be significant further work undertaken in terms of a review of how the current sponsor licensing system works, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses. Alongside this the MAC recommends improved monitoring and evaluation of the impact of migration policies and taking a closer look at how this is managed at a more local level. This could result in other substantial changes being made to the current work immigration system.

We will continue to keep you updated on developments in this area, so that your business can properly prepare and take the necessary steps to protect the immigration status of your workforce.