Designing a post-Brexit immigration system
The White Paper published on December 19 contains proposals for a new regime that will apply to EU nationals arriving in the UK after Brexit, writes Clare Hedges, senior associate and head of immigration law at Birketts LLP.
The end of free movement means they will face new restrictions. However, rather than apply the current visa system as it is, the Government has suggested some amendments, to soften the impact. These changes would also affect non-EU nationals, who may find it slightly easier to work in the UK than they do now.
These are just proposals. The points covered below are not yet in force and may be subject to change.
Headlines have focused on plans for a new temporary short-term work route. Migrants would be allowed to do any job (no minimum skill level or sponsorship required), but would be limited to 12 months in this category, followed by a 12 month cooling off period.
This will help employers who rely on EU nationals to fill lower skilled roles. However it could also be used by highly skilled migrants. It is only a transitional measure, to give the economy time to adjust to a post-Brexit world. It will be fully reviewed by 2025 and may be suspended earlier depending on economic conditions.
There would be restrictions on numbers. Visas would be required and application fees would increase incrementally each year.
Furthermore, “it will only be open to migrants from specified low-risk countries”. So although presented as “a system where it is workers’ skills that matter, not which country they come from”, that is not actually the case.
Migrants could move between employers during the year of their visa. This would protect them from abuse and encourage competition. However, there would be no right to bring dependants, settle in the UK or access public funds. Whilst this should suppress net migration and reduce the burden on local services, it may exacerbate integration problems.
Changes to Tier 2 skilled work
Tier 2 sponsors will be pleased with proposals to remove quotas for Tier 2 General visas and abolish the resident labour market test. As more employers will need to become sponsors the government says it will adopt a lighter touch and speed up visa processes. But it will continue to use cost (Immigration Skills Charge) to deter employers from recruiting migrants.
Currently employers can only sponsor roles skilled to RQF level 6 or above (degree level). The proposal is to lower this to RQF level 3 (A level).
On the face of it this will broaden the type and number of roles that can be sponsored. However, this is tempered by confirmation that there will be a minimum salary level for sponsorship.
The Home Secretary suggests maintaining this at £30k, which rules out even some RQF level 6 jobs, especially outside London and in the public sector.
The Government intends to improve post-study work rights for migrants who complete a degree in the UK. They would be allowed to work for 6 months post-Bachelors or Masters and 12 months post-PhD. Concessions which facilitate switching to Tier 2 work visas would also be expanded.
Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme
The Government wishes to add more countries (i.e. EU) to this scheme. This may help employers fill vacancies at all skill levels for up to 2 years.
Tier 5 Agricultural Workers Scheme
A small scale pilot has already started and will be reviewed before deciding if it should be expanded.
Importance of Consultation
Any new system is not expected to come into force until 1 January 2021. The government wishes to spend a year consulting before laying new Immigration Rules.
It is essential that employers participate in this consultation, in particular regarding the minimum salary level for Tier 2 visas and the maximum duration and cooling off period applicable to temporary work visas. Otherwise there is a risk that promises to soften the rules will have little impact in practice.