The Migration Advisory Committee has now released its long awaited report on EEA Migration which runs to 131 pages and although there are some high points which will benefit employers, if implemented, there are no real surprises.

The facts

The recommendations to Government can be summarised as follows:

  1. The focus should be on high skilled migration so by implication low skilled migration will be limited;
  2. There should be no preference for EU nationals;
  3. The existing Tier 2 (general) visas should be extended to EU nationals;
  4. Abolition of the Tier 2 (general) cap – currently 20,700;
  5. Open up scope of Tier 2 (general) to roles at RQF level 3 and above but retain minimum salary of £30k;
  6. Reduction in the bureaucracy involved in Tier 2 system including the abolition of the resident labour market test;
  7. Avoid sector based schemes for low skilled workers bar in agriculture;
  8. As a backstop for low skilled roles extend Tier 5 (youth mobility);
  9. No preferential treatment for the public sector;
  10. No regional variations in immigration system and in particular in salary levels for Tier 2 – the report specifically comments on N Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The Government has confirmed it will carefully consider MAC's recommendations and confirmed a White Paper detailing how the new system will work will be published this autumn, so fairly soon, ahead of an Immigration Bill next year. It has also confirmed that:

  • high-skilled workers will be given priority over visa applications and low-skilled immigration will be curbed;
  • there will be a new single immigration system that treats EU countries the same as non EU countries;
  • applicants will need to meet a minimum salary threshold to ensure they are not competing for jobs that could otherwise be recruited in the UK;
  • people arriving for a short stay will have access to e-gates in airports, train stations and ports, for so-called ‘fly-in, fly-out’ visitors from "low risk" countries;
  • successful applicants for high skilled work would be able to bring their immediate family but only if sponsored by their future employers.

What this means for employers?

Organisations that don't already have a Tier 2 licence need to start thinking about obtaining one and preparing their organisation for the rigid compliance and reporting regime that comes with it. Given the MAC recommendations, the hope is that the Government will remove some of the bureaucratic headaches that come with having a licence and recruiting skilled workers such as the resident labour market test and the need to go through a monthly allocation process to obtain a certificate of sponsorship. These processes alone add around three months as a minimum to the recruitment process. The record keeping that also goes with the process is onerous and, in our view, disproportionate.

The potential for more roles to be sponsored is also a positive given the recommendation to reduce the skill level applicable to Tier 2 visas to "RGF level 3" but the prohibitive cost of recruiting someone and obtaining a visa makes it uncommercial. The immigration skills charge alone would be £5,000 for 5 years and the Government has indicated that it will be doubled in time.

One of the big concerns, and low points, is the insistence that low skilled immigration is curbed and employers in the agricultural, retail, hospitality and social care sectors will be very worried. We already know employers are feeling the effect of Brexit and there is no clear commitment, apart from in agriculture, to any sector specific scheme allowing low skilled labour to enter the UK. Further, the numbers involved mean that even the one sector specific scheme proposed will be massively oversubscribed.

The MAC report also appears to be ignoring the regional disparity in vacancy and salary levels insisting that a regional immigration scheme will only distort wages in the London and South-East. Rolling out a system which is already creaking and which employers find difficult to navigate and understand is not going to

Read the full report here.