UK immigration plan 'should be more humane'

The Home Office is being urged to amend the points-based immigration system to be introduced on January 1, to make it "more humane and flexible".

Although Sophia Wolpers, programme director at the business advocacy group London First, and Ian Robinson, a partner at international immigration consultancy Fragomen, say the new policy is heading in the "right direction" from a business perspective, they have gone public with concerns over faults they see in the new system.In an article published in London's City A.M. business newspaper, the pair say thousands of SMEs needing foreign labour in the future, will need help adapting to the new system. They also criticise the government for giving "next-to-no consideration" over how immigrants themselves will experience the system."UK immigration policy sometimes reads like we are doing skilled people a favour by letting them come and work here. That just feels ungrateful and surely those applying will feel bruised by the process," they say."It cannot be right that we will let workers in on £25,600 salaries but make them leave after five years if they aren’t on £35,800. Likewise, if you wanted to work and stay permanently, it costs £6,600 in government fees alone or £33,000 for a family of five. That is an extortionate amount of money. It could be a deposit on a house."Elsewhere, there have been also been concerns voiced over how skills will be assessed under the new system. Stuart McWilliams, an employment specialist at Scottish law firm Morton Fraser, points out that while the Home Office sets the level of skill required for a role to be defined as skilled, it does not decide whether an individual job is skilled or not, relying instead, on the Standard Occupational Classification system or SOC codes."There has already been debate regarding whether the new immigration system contains an appropriate skill level to meet the UK's needs, as many of the roles we've come to think of as 'key' in recent months are not considered suitably 'skilled' to qualify for a visa," he says."As the UK seeks to recover from the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus, it will be interesting to see if the visa category is opened up to a wider range of applicants as time progresses."The Wolpers-Robinson article says the new system should also possess "a presumption of kindness" and questions, for example, why spouses and families of visa holders who die will be expected to return to their home countries.And even before the new system comes into force, the article says: "Ministers also need to think carefully about the 'No Recourse to Public Funds' restriction on migrants during the coronavirus pandemic."Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs, and more may follow as the furlough scheme winds down. It cannot be right that taxpayers who lose their jobs have no cushion to fall back on, just because they are foreign."It could not be more important to ensure that the objectives of the system are rooted in humanity across the board. Time is ticking for both businesses and people to get this right and the UK back to full strength after this economic crisis, and there is some low-hanging fruit for the Home Office to create a more humane and flexible system."Nevertheless, the pair believe the new system should be effective for larger businesses with the skilled worker route having the potential to become one of the world's best."It will be a faster and more certain work permit regime than in most countries, with many of the unnecessary controls in our existing immigration system removed. It won’t be as helpful to employers as free movement, but employers who tick the right boxes will still get the skilled people they need."However, the authors voice concerns over "cavalier" restrictions on workers deemed to be low skilled. "More will be needed for smaller employers in all sectors. Tens of thousands of businesses will need to be licensed to employ international workers from the end of the year, and the Home Office must step up preparations to prevent backlogs forming."Even so, the pair believe that the central thrust of the new system is the right one for UK businesses and that "employers who need to bring skilled workers to the UK can be reasonably optimistic".

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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