The recently published Migration Advisory Committee report entitled has recommended an extensive overhaul of the current UK immigration system. With the UK’s exit date from the EU under six months away, the Committee has proposed ending free movement for citizens of EEA countries and extending the current non-EEA visa application system to all potential immigrants.
The Committee’s findings have been broadly ratified at the recent Conservative Party Conference, with a white paper on the final proposals due to be published this autumn.
HOW DOES THE CURRENT SYSTEM WORK?
Presently, any person who holds the nationality of an EU country is automatically an EU citizen, and all countries within the EU are also part of the single market. The EEA includes all EU countries alongside Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, and membership of the EEA allows these three countries also to be part of the single market. Switzerland, despite being neither an EU nor EEA member, also has access to the single market. If a country enjoys single market access, rights are conferred on all resident citizens to allow them to move freely around the EAA and settle anywhere within its territory. In the UK, citizens are free to relocate to any other EAA country, and in return, all citizens of EAA countries have the right to reside in the UK. An individual moving from one EEA country to another EEA country cannot immediately claim benefits, and does not have an automatic right to stay in the new country; they must demonstrate a right to reside, often proven by the EEA national in question either being in work or actively seeking work. If a national proves this right, then they may stay in their new country for as long as they can continue to demonstrate their right to reside. The most recent UK figures available from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that for the year ending March 2018, 226,000 people from EU countries moved to the UK and 138,000 EU nationals left.
If citizens of a non-EEA country wish to move to the UK, the vast majority will need to apply for a ‘Tier 2 (general) visa’. To apply for this visa, an applicant must have been offered a ‘skilled job’ within the UK, must be employed by a licenced sponsor (who have to apply for a certificate of sponsorship of which there is a limit of 20,700 per year) and pay the appropriate fee. In addition, an applicant must show that they are being paid an appropriate salary, usually at least £30,000.00, and must also show that they have appropriate personal savings of £945.00 for 90 days before an application is made. Applicants from some, but not all, countries are also required to demonstrate their knowledge of English and provide a criminal record certificate. If an applicant already works for a company outside the EU, there is the possibility to apply for a Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer), if that company has a UK branch/subsidiary within their group and obtains a sponsorship licence.
For the year ending March 2018, the ONS reported that 162,874 work-related visas were granted, with 93,048 of those Tier 2 applications. This figure comprises extensions to current Tier 2 (General) visas, in addition to Tier 2 (ICT) visas.
WHAT HAS BEEN RECOMMENDED BY THE COMMITTEE?
The Committee has proposed ending free movement for all EEA citizens. This is likely to mean that a visa would not be needed to travel to and from the UK for holidays, but would be required if an applicant wished to settle in the UK. If free movement is indeed ended, the Committee has suggested extending the existing Tier 2 visa process to cover EEA citizens. To cope with the obvious increase in demand, the Committee proposes scrapping the cap on the number of Tier 2 (General) visas issued and also allowing people with medium-skilled, as well as highly-skilled, jobs to apply for the Tier 2 (General) visa. The current salary threshold is recommended to be retained, and, perhaps most notably of all, no migration route is proposed for low-skilled workers.
WHAT HAS THE GOVERNMENT PROPOSED?
In a keynote speech at the 2018 Conservative Party Conference, Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, set out that a white paper will be published with the government’s final proposals. However, Mr Javid confirmed that the government will back the majority of the Committee recommendations. He confirmed that a minimum salary threshold will remain and that the cap of the number of highly-skilled migrants would likely be removed. In relation to low-skilled workers, Prime Minister Theresa May said the government was already piloting a seasonal scheme for agricultural workers. However, she was reluctant to commit to exceptions for other sectors and explained instead that the hope is that UK workers will fill the low-skilled vacancies in areas such as hospitality and social care.
WHAT IMPACT WILL THESE PROPOSED CHANGES HAVE?
Businesses across the UK reacted angrily to the Committee’s decision that low-skilled workers would not be provided with an immigration route into the UK and highlighted the impact that this would have on a number of crucial industries. This will affect the hospitality and retail sectors in particular by way of example, which a number of recruitment businesses/agencies feed into. It will, therefore, have a significant impact on recruitment businesses/agencies if there is no low skilled route. It is debatable whether UK workers will be able to fill the gap caused by the loss of thousands of low-skilled workers from the EEA.
The current system does have a Tier 3 for Low Skilled roles to cover labour shortages which have never been used since the inception of the Points Based System. Could we see Tier 3 opened to help UK industries and particular sectors cover skill shortages once the impact of Brexit bites? We will have to wait and see but it is likely businesses across the UK that rely on EU migrants to undertake the low skilled roles will ask the Government to take action if they begin to struggle post-Brexit.
This article is for general guidance only and should not be used for any other purpose. It does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as legal advice.
This article was prepared by Michael Legge, who is an Associate at JMW Solicitors LLP. To contact Michael, please email email@example.com or call 0161 828 8341.
Contributors: Michael Legge, Associate, JMW Solicitors LLP