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Migration advisory committee - more questions than answers?

The long awaited and eagerly anticipated report of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) was published at the end of January 2020. 

While it provides some much needed guidance for employers in the UK, there nevertheless remains uncertainty as to what the UK Immigration Rules will actually look like from 2021 onwards. What, then, can we take from the Report?

What was the MAC asked to look at?

The Report broadly covers 2 areas – the use of salary thresholds in the UK Immigration Rules, as well as the feasibility of a points-based system being adopted.

What did the Report recommend?

Throughout the 2019 General Election campaign, much was made of the possible introduction of an “Australian-style points based system” from 2021 onwards. However, among its 28 recommendations, the MAC actually recommended retaining the current framework of Tier 2 (General) sponsorship, albeit in an amended form. The Report suggested that the new Immigration Rules should:

• apply to EU/EFTA and non-EU/EFTA nationals alike;

• remove the need for Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) advertising;

• reduce the current £30,000 p/a salary threshold to £25,600; and

• lower the skill level for sponsorship to NQF3 (from NQF6).

Were any recommendations made about a points-based system?

The MAC studied the immigration systems of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Austria in detail, noting that points-based systems in those countries sit alongside other work visa routes that are not points-based. The Report recommended that the much maligned Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa be replaced with a ‘genuine’ points-based route to sit alongside Tier 2 (General). Under the MAC’s recommendations, individuals without a job offer could express an interest in coming to the UK and then be invited to apply via a system with tradeable points (where weaknesses in one area could be offset against strengths in another to reach the total number of points required for entry).

What did the Report say about regional variations?

A pilot visa scheme was recommended for remote areas of the UK, but the MAC otherwise recommended that the new system should operate uniformly across the UK. Scotland, in particular, requires significant net migration to maintain its current levels of working population, but the Report confirmed that “differences in earnings across regions [of the UK] are not large enough to justify the extra complication” that regionalisation would bring about.

Under the recommendations, would EU/EFTA migration become more difficult?

Given the minimal restrictions on EU/EFTA migration under the EU free movement rules, it was always likely that the MAC would recommend a system that would be more onerous than the current rules. The proposed removal of the RLMT and lowering the skill level for sponsorship to NQF3 will definitely have been welcomed by employers. However, in sectors that rely heavily on EU/EFTA migrants to fill low paid and low skilled roles, even the reduced skill level and salary threshold could still be a barrier to sponsorship.  

EU/EFTA nationals that secure status under the EU Settlement Scheme will not be subject to the new rules – whatever form that they take – so employers should encourage those already in the UK to make applications as a matter of priority.

What next?  Will the recommendations be followed?

Recommendations made by the MAC are generally followed as a matter of course. However, these are extraordinary political times and the Report certainly does not reconcile well with the Conservative manifesto pledges on immigration matters. The Home Secretary was quick to point out that the UK “voted for change” on immigration matters very shortly after the Report was published, therefore suggesting that the MAC’s recommendations against radical change may not be followed. With less than 10 months to go until the planned rollout of the new rules, we do not yet have sight of concrete Government proposals. Whatever way you look at it, designing a new immigration system in less than 10 months will inevitably be an uphill struggle.  

This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at February 2020. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.

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