Mixed reaction to UK migration proposals

Business leaders have given a "curate's egg" reception - some parts good, some bad - to the Migration Advisory Committee's recommendations for a post-Brexit immigration system.

Union Jack flag with a Heathrow Airport immigration official stamp superimposed upon it
The retention of the minimum salary threshold for skilled workers, albeit at a reduced level, has not gone down well, but the committee's backing for abolishing the annual cap on numbers eligible for Tier 2 visas has been applauded.

Confederation of British Industry reaction to the latest UK immigration report

Matthew Fell, chief UK policy director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said that while the reduction of the threshold from £30,000 was welcome, "it remains unclear how firms can hire for mid-skilled roles such as LGV drivers, joiners and lab technicians who don’t meet the £25,600 test".He added, “Flexibility will be needed to build a system that lets wages rise where there are shortages while helping businesses to access the skills and labour needed to grow all parts of the UK.“Business looks forward to working in partnership with government to get this new system right.”

British Chambers of Commerce reaction to the latest UK immigration report

Jane Gratton, head of people policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), also welcomed the fact that, at least, the salary threshold had been reduced and that the list of eligible jobs had been expanded.But she added, "It is disappointing that recommendations did not take account of regional salary differences. This risks limiting access to skills for companies in regions and nations across the UK.“The MAC has also backed our call for a points-based route for skilled workers to enter the UK without a job offer. Businesses should be consulted on how points are awarded to ensure the economy has the right skills at the right time.“While companies are investing more in home-grown skills, they will continue to need access to migrant skills at all levels for the foreseeable future. At a time of critical skills shortages, the government must be clear about its plans and allow businesses ample time to adapt.”
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Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reaction to the latest UK immigration report

Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said the MAC proposals would "provide some mild, temporary relief" for employers concerned about the new immigration system.Unlike the BCC, he felt many firms would be relieved to see that the lower minimum salary threshold of £25,600 did not include sectoral or regional variations, which he said "would have added complexity to a system many already feel daunted by".Mr Davies added, "In addition, the expansion of a new unsponsored route, together with other proposed temporary routes, such as the Youth Mobility Scheme, will ease the cost and administrative burden for some employers."On the downside, other employers will be disappointed that the MAC has not supported lower salary thresholds for shortage occupations, especially public sector employers who have less scope to raise wages in response to labour shortages.”

TheCityUK reaction to the latest UK immigration report

Miles Celic, CEO of the financial services lobby group TheCityUK, said that the UK's ability to attract and retain the most talented overseas staff was a critical part of the nation's success."It is a top priority for business leaders in financial and related professional services right across the country. The UK’s future immigration system must be fit for the country’s needs, be future-focused and fair," he said.“Today’s report builds on many of the recommendations we made in our report with EY in 2018 – one of those being the recommendation to remove the cap and lower the salary threshold for Tier 2 visas."To drive growth across all parts of the country, government should work with the industry to help firms grow their regional and national footprint. For a people-driven industry like ours, that means boots on the ground with a wide range of skills and experience.”

The Institute of Directors reaction to the latest UK immigration report

Edwin Morgan, director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said the MAC had taken account of the views of business and had come up with "some sensible recommendations", such as introducing points-based visas alongside the employee-sponsored route.He added, “The government should take up the MAC’s recommendation of piloting visas for specific areas. Our members in Scotland and Northern Ireland in particular have raised concerns about the system not taking account of the different circumstances firms there face.“The overriding concern for business is bureaucracy. The government must ensure that whatever plans it takes forward, firms aren’t faced with a Byzantine system when they need talent to grow. Implementing a new system and adapting to it will be a race against the clock for both government and businesses.“As the report says, there is no perfect immigration system, and it’s extremely hard for governments to predict what skills businesses will need in future. The government have been clear they want to restrict immigration, but this will always involve trade-offs in terms of economic dynamism.”

What do immigration law specialists, Migrate UK, say about the report?

Jonathan Beech, Managing Director of Migrate UK, said, “The report overall suggests that the MAC has been frustrated with the lack of data provided by the Government in order to recommend a new Points-Based system.

Winners and losers in the latest MAC report recommendations

“There are certainly particular sectors that will be more winners and more losers. The construction industry has been given a major boost after the MAC suggested adding a list of construction jobs including carpenters and joiners, glaziers, window fabricators and fitters to the proposed plan to lower the skill level for vacancies from RFQ Level 3+ and above from the current minimum RQF Level 6.“This could be a major advantage to the construction sector, worried that their vacancies were being phased out as ‘low skilled’.“On the other side, the hospitality sector will be hit hardest due to the proposed qualifying salary threshold still remaining high at £25,600 (down from £30,000) and there being no regional variation.“Recommendations made have included, to maintain the work sponsorship based system; amend an existing category to meet the government’s requirement for a ‘Points Based System’; and look into changing the rules for settlement in the UK.

Review of Shortage Occupation List jobs

“The report calls for a review on whether the Shortage Occupation list jobs are still needed for medium and high skill levels under the new system, as there will be no cap on numbers and no Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) - advertising the vacancy.“MAC has proposed the actual Points Based System as a variation of the current Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route, but with major changes including an overall annual cap on those admitted, a monthly draw from this pool with those selected invited to submit a full application and those invited to apply should be those who have the highest number of points in the pool using a points-based system.“Points will be awarded on characteristics such as qualifications and age with extra points for having studied in the UK and priority areas such as STEM and creative skills.“Overall the report has brought much needed clarity to how the UK immigration system could look like post-Brexit but of course it’s still pending publication of the Government’s white paper in March.”

What do immigration law specialists, Lewis Silkin, say about the report?

Joanna Hunt, Managing Associate at Lewis Silkin, commented on both the Points Based System and Tier 2.

Points Based System

“Despite the Government’s rhetoric surrounding the introduction of a ‘new’ PBS the MAC is reluctant to endorse this. Instead, its proposals are quite conservative. The MAC is not recommending a wholesale importation of an Australian PBS. Rather it is recommending alterations to a visa route currently in the UK’s pre-existing Points Based System – the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa. The Government has already pre-emptively rebranded this visa yesterday as the Global Talent visa, and it is very likely this will sit outside the PBS.“They expressly do not see any value in adopting an Australian model but consider that the Tier 1 Exceptional talent visa route should be broadened allowing easier access to it.

“The most powerful message in the report is the warning the MAC makes in respect of the lack of evidence and data that there is about what characteristics could lead to the most positive outcomes for the UK. They warn that without this data that it will be hard to monitor how effective the new system is in achieving the aim of attracting highly skilled workers.“This could simply perpetuate the same mistakes of the past as previous Governments have experimented with merit based PBS systems such as this only to close them when it was found to be leading to large pools of low skill rather than high skilled workers.“With the present Government showing itself to be keen to introduce new visa route after visa route based on little evidence or assessment of the need for it or the impact it could have, they would do well to heed the MAC’s recommendations.”

Tier 2

“In respect of the Tier 2 system, the MAC consider it should be maintained but that there could be an accelerated route to settlement on offer for certain applicants. They recommend keeping the system of salary levels for Tier 2 but recommend a drop to £25,600 from the current experienced worker rate of £30,000. This is still very high and the MAC acknowledges that there will be pools of lower paid medium skilled workers who will not be able to use the Tier 2 route. They recommend other visa options for them but as the present Government has indicated that it is not keen to offer a temporary low skilled worker visa industries may be left with acute staffing shortages.“The MAC though are not recommending salary thresholds to be pro-rated, something that puts workers who want to work part time at a disadvantage. There are risks that this discriminates against female workers in particular, who make up the majority of part time workers, as they may be unable to drop their hours to look after children or other relatives.”

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