The new Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has written to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) and instructed its members to add three more questions to their current review of salary levels for skilled workers in the context of Tier 2 sponsorship. The previous Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, commissioned this piece work in June 2019 and the MAC is due to publish findings in January 2020.
The Prime Minister has referred many times to the benefits of an “Australian-style points based system” in the context of a post-Brexit framework for immigration control. Many observers have questioned what this means given the fact that the UK has had a Points-Based System for non-EEA economic migration since 2008. These new questions reveal that that the Government is considering re-opening a form of Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP) to enable skilled and experienced foreign nationals to bring valuable skills and attributes to the UK as part of a managed migration policy. The UK introduced an HSMP scheme in 2002 and it then morphed into Tier 1 (General) in 2008. As part of the attempt to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands annually, Theresa May, when Home Secretary, abandoned the scheme in order to focus more on employer-led compliance programmes and quantitative controls.
The questions the MAC will consider are:
- How additional flexibility could be added to the operation of salary thresholds through the awarding of “points” to prospective migrants for the attributes they possess, such as their educational qualifications, language proficiency, work experience, willingness to work in particular areas and occupation; and the degree to which points in one area should be “tradeable” to make up for a lack of points in another.
- Which migrant characteristics should be prioritised within the immigration system in order to produce the most beneficial outcomes for the UK.
- What best practice can be learned from international comparators, including the Australian immigration system, to strengthen the UK labour market.
In her letter to the Chair of the MAC, the Home Secretary asks the committee “to conduct a review of the Australian immigration system and similar systems to advise on what best practice can be used to strengthen the labour market and attract the best and brightest from around the world.”
The Government wants to replace the current dual system, comprising freedom of movement for EEA nationals and a five tier Points-Based System for non-EEA nationals, with a level playing field for citizens of all countries. Whether it will be possible to do this whilst at the same time negotiating a mutually beneficial free trade agreement with the EU remains to be seen.
The MAC has a major piece of work to deliver within a relatively short timeframe. Employers and other stakeholders will be asked to influence the outcome when the MAC publishes a Call for Evidence shortly.