The Government published its long-awaited White Paper on “The UK’s future skills-based immigration system”. With the UK’s impending departure from the EU in March 2019, the White Paper sets out how the UK Immigration Rules will change following the end of the Implementation Period (December 2020) when the EU Settlement Scheme ends the free movement of EU nationals (and their family members) in the UK.
The new system is yet to be designed but key principles to be adopted are set out in the White Paper. Many of the Migration Advisory Committee (“MAC”) recommendations from its 2018 reports have been accepted and form a large part of the proposed changes to the Immigration Rules. The Government intends to engage with a wide range of stakeholders for at least one year before amended Immigration Rules are published, with implementation of the new system expected to begin towards the end of the Implementation Period.
Overall, the new system will be based on skills and will apply to all nationalities, with no preferential treatment for EU nationals. If a bilateral agreement is reached with another country (such as through a trade agreement) this may result in a preferential visa process with nationals of that country. Whilst this may be the case with the EU, it is unlikely to apply to any one EU member state over another given that the EU negotiates trade agreements as a bloc rather than as individual member states.
A summary of the key points and changes from the White Paper are as follows:
- Effectively scrapping Theresa May’s target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands (which has never been met), preferring instead to reduce net migration to “sustainable levels”;
- Removal of the Tier 2 annual cap (currently set at 20,700) for sponsored workers;
- Removal of the requirement to conduct the Resident Labour Market Test prior to sponsoring a worker;
- Reduction in the minimum skill level required to sponsor a worker under the Tier 2 regime (to include RQF levels 3-5), but no separate low skilled worker route;
- Reviewing with stakeholders and employers the minimum salary requirement of £30,000 per annum for Tier 2 sponsored workers, as well as reviewing the Shortage Occupation List across skill levels RQF3-6 (the report for which is expected in Spring 2019);
- The administrative burdens (such as reporting requirements) on sponsoring employers will be reviewed in order to make the system “as straightforward as possible” and reduce the length of time to sponsor an overseas national to work in the UK;
- Introduction of a new (“transitional”) temporary short-term worker route for low risk country nationals (with whom the UK has an agreement), for a maximum of 12 months with a 12 month cooling off period, no right to bring dependants and no access to public funds. This is not intended to be a sponsorship based working visa and would enable an individual to change employers from within the UK. This route is to be kept under review with a full review in 2025;
- For low-risk country nationals, the ability to apply from within the UK for a work visa, instead of, as currently, being required to leave the UK to submit the application;
- No sectoral working visa routes, except for a short-term agricultural worker route being piloted in 2019;
- Introduction of innovative tech solutions to streamline operations, including with electronic visas verifiable by airlines and border officials, digital checking services for employers and landlords, automatic record of exit data; sharing of data between Government departments such as Department of Work & Pensions and HM Revenue & Customs, and online immigration status checks;
- Expansion of the Youth Mobility routes beyond the current 8 countries (Australia, Canada, Japan, Monaco, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea and Taiwan);
- Stricter criminality thresholds being applied to EU nationals;
- EU nationals will not be required to apply for a visa before visiting the UK, as non-visa nationals are currently not required to do so, provided this is reciprocal with the EU;
- Visitors will continue to be permitted up to six months’ stay in the UK and permitted activities will be reviewed with stakeholders;
- No cap on the number of students coming to the UK, and all student visitors will require an Electronic Travel Authorisation prior to arriving in the UK;
- Re-introduction of the post-study work scheme for students: six months post-study leave for Bachelor’s or Master’s students, 12 months for PhD students;
- Students to be permitted to switch into Tier 2 up to three months prior to completing their course, and for two years after graduating – including from outside of the UK;
- Requirement for academic progression for student extensions to be maintained;
- No significant changes proposed for the family routes or for settlement criteria, save that the Life in the UK Test will be “refreshed” and there is an indication that the English language requirement will be strengthened;
- Maintaining immigration checks by employers (“right to work”), landlords (“right to rent”) and banks (to open current accounts), but introducing an electronic system to do so;
- No retrospective right to work checks required for EU nationals post-Implementation Period;
- Fees for using the immigration system will remain burdened on those within it, i.e. visa fees, Immigration Health Surcharge (due to double to £400 shortly), the Immigration Skills Charge, etc.;
- Disappointingly, in relation to asylum and refugees, no certainty on how the UK’s obligations will change under the EU Dublin Regulation, the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme or the Vulnerable Children’s Resettlement Scheme. These discussions are continuing.
- Commitment to the Windrush Lessons Learned Review and the immigration detention reforms.
The Economic Appraisal annex to the White Paper indicates that these changes will result in an 80% reduction in long-term migration to the UK. However, the Executive Summary omits the detail from the annex which admits the damage this is predicted to cause to the UK economy (between a 0.1-0.2% reduction in GDP per capita in 2025).
Magrath Sheldrick LLP will continue to monitor and advise on Brexit related developments as we enter the crucial first quarter of 2019. In particular, if a “managed no deal” scenario emerges from the current political impasse we will advise on the practical and legal implications for immigration policy and practice.
Please contact your Magrath Sheldrick representative for further information.