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Future Immigration Policy

With a Conservative majority is Future Immigration Policy in the UK now clear? The simple answer to this is no. It is still unclear what the future…

A Conservative majority – Is future immigration policy in the UK now clear?

The simple answer to this is no. It is still unclear what the future UK immigration system will look like and the clock is ticking.

What does now seem clear is that the UK will leave the EU on 31 January 2020. The deadline for applying under the Settlement Scheme will be 30 June 2021 if the UK leaves the EU on 31 January 2020 with a deal, which now looks more likely due to the Conservative majority. If the UK leaves without a deal then the deadline will be 31 December 2020.

The new immigration system will have the effect of bringing EU migrants (who are not covered by the Settlement Scheme rules) and non EU migrants under the same arrangements from early 2021 after the EU’s free movement rules cease to apply to the UK.

The Conservative Party manifesto included a commitment to introduce an ‘Australian-style points based system’ in place of the UK’s current immigration arrangements.

Unfortunately, there is little clarity as to the precise form the new system will take or how it will operate in practice.

On 8 December 2019, the Prime Minister announced that the new work-based immigration system would be made up of 3 tiers:

  • A top tier for exceptional talent who would be able to obtain a UK visa without a job offer. Included in this category would be entrepreneurs and investors;
  • A second tier for skilled workers with a UK job offer – doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals would be placed in a separate category, with those eligible for an NHS visa also receiving fast track entry and reduced fees; and
  • A third tier for unskilled workers. Sector specific rules would be put in place for short-term work visas in sectors with employee shortages where UK workers cannot be found.

This does not appear to be the radical overhaul of the immigration system that was anticipated.

Top Tier

It is possible to apply for a Tier 1 Exceptional Talent visa under the present system if you have been endorsed as a leader in your field by a designated competent body (for example, The Royal Society of Medicine). It is not clear how the top tier under the new immigration system will differ

Second Tier

Non EU skilled workers coming to the UK with a job offer is not new thinking. Had the proposal mirrored the Australian system then this would have been a radical shift. The Australian government will grant a visa where the applicant scores sufficient points (considering age, English competency, employment experience and education) without a guaranteed job offer. However, for those who fall under the new second tier above, a clear job offer is required and this looks remarkably similar to the current Tier 2 (General) visa system whereby UK employers can employ nationals from outside the resident workforce to fill particular skilled jobs which cannot be filled by settled workers.

Third Tier

Although it is clearly important to attract high-skilled workers, low-level skills are very much in demand for industries such as hospitality, construction and the care sector. It is unclear what the ‘sector-specific rules’ will look like and how they will be applied. In particular, what eligibility criteria will be applied to select the applicants who will be granted a short-term work visa?  

What next?

We can expect more specifics when the Migratory Advisory Committee provides its report on the issue (expected early next year). However, by the time the report is published it is possible that the UK will already have left the EU. The new immigration system must be established and operating by 1 January 2021. This causes significant issues for businesses who rely on the recruitment of overseas labour - it is impossible to carry out workforce planning as it is not clear who they will be able to hire this time next year.

Businesses who rely on overseas recruitment will need to keep up to date with developments and may need to quickly implement training for HR professionals to upskill when the new immigration system is fully outlined.

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