"Scrap visa cap on skilled migrants" say UK government advisors

The annual cap on the number of highly skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area allowed to work in the UK should be abolished after Brexit, the government's advisory body on immigration recommended in a major report on Tuesday.

Brexit image illustrating an article about the latest MAC report
The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), whose report is expected to form the backbone of the government's post-Brexit immigration policy, said the annual limit of 20,700 under the Tier 2 (General) visa system should be abolished and that there should be "no preference" in future for workers from the EU27.The report from the independent panel of experts said a new immigration system should make it easier for skilled workers to come to the UK because there was "clear evidence" they brought benefits to the UK's public finances, innovation and productivity - but that the system should also limit access for those in low-skilled roles.Ministers were advised that the "general principle behind migration policy changes should be to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to migrate to the UK than lower-skilled workers".The report also ruled out the idea of sector-specific migration schemes, except possibly for one to supply seasonal labour in agriculture.

MAC recommendation: UK should adopt a Canada-style immigration system

With free movement for EU citizens ending when the UK leaves the bloc, the MAC said the nation should adopt a Canada-style immigration system under which no preferential access to the labour market would be given to European nationals and positions would be open to anyone across the world.It described the Canadian system as one that represented “an open, welcoming approach to migration but no free movement agreement with any other country”.The report added:  "We do not see compelling reasons to offer a different set of rules to EEA and non-EEA citizens, unless the UK wishes to use migration in negotiations. A migrant's impact depends on factors such as their skills, employment, age and use of public services, and not fundamentally on their nationality."Alan Manning, professor of labour economics at the London School of Economics and MAC chairman, said: "We believe the UK should focus on enabling higher-skilled migration, coupled with a more restrictive policy on lower-skilled migration in the design of its post-Brexit system."If - and this is not an MAC recommendation - immigration is not to be part of the negotiations with the EU and the UK is deciding its future migration system in isolation, we recommend moving to a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens."The problem with free movement is that it leaves migration to the UK solely up to migrants and UK residents have no control over the level and mix of migration."

Prime Minister Theresa May's aim to reduce annual net migration "a political target rather than an immigration policy"

Prof Manning also described Prime Minister Theresa May's aim of reducing annual net migration from its current level of 240,000 a year to below 100,000 as a "a political target rather than an immigration policy".The report also debunked several popular myths, such as claims that migrants receive more from the National Health Service than they put in, both in terms of money and work, and that EEA migration has reduced employment opportunities for the indigenous population.

Migrants from the EU contribute more than the average adult Briton

Indeed, the report concludes that taxes would have to rise if there were strict curbs on migration. An analysis for the MAC by Oxford Economics found that migrants from the EU contributed £2,300 more to the exchequer each year in net terms than the average adult Briton. Over their lifetimes, they paid £78,000 more than they took out of public services and benefits. The average UK citizen’s net lifetime contribution was calculated at zero.The report said this meant that, if the value of EU citizens was lost to the economy, it would be the equivalent of adding 5p to income tax rates.
Oxford Economics graph showing that EU citizens contribute more than they cost
“When it comes to the public finances, European migrants contribute substantially more than they cost, easing the tax burden on other taxpayers,” said Ian Mulhern, lead researcher at Oxford Economics.“What’s more, this strongly positive average contribution persists over a lifetime: most migrants arrive fully educated, and many leave before the costs of retirement start to weigh on the public finances.“If the UK’s new relationship with Europe involves reduced migration, this analysis suggests the tax burden on others will have to rise.”For related news and features, visit our Immigration and Brexit sections.
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