The Government has published an immigration white paper (a consultative document) setting out its vision of UK immigration post-Brexit.
The Home Secretary recognises the “huge contributions to our society, culture and economy - enriching communities, bringing new perspectives, stimulating growth and making [the UK] the outward-looking nation we are today.”
Nonetheless, the paper argues that, to ensure the UK gets the most benefit from immigration, it must be be controlled. The new system will focus on those with the skills and investment capabilities the UK needs, who are considered to be capable of bringing the most benefit to the UK.
It is proposed that the UK will operate a single, skilled-based immigration system with no preferential treatment for EEA nationals, although this is subject to caveats, for example, the new system will contain exemptions and accord easier access for those deemed to be from “low-risk” countries or for any countries with which the UK makes reciprocal arrangements or trade deals.
The White Paper marks the start of a year-long review rather than a detailed Immigration Bill. Any changes to the Immigration Rules will only be announced after the review has concluded.
As is the case more often than not, the Government’s draft policies mirror the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee (“MAC”). The aims of the White Paper are to:
attract the brightest and the best, showing that “the UK is open for business”;
bring an end to free movement to the UK;
prioritise higher skilled workers; and
create a migration system where the basis of qualification for entry is the workers’ skills and not “which country they come from”.
The End of Free Movement for EEA nationals and their family members
The right of free movement for EEA nationals will end. The EU Settlement Scheme will remain the basis of stay for EEA citizens following Brexit and up until the end of the implementation period on 31 December 2020. Until that date, EEA nationals will continue to benefit from existing free movement rules. After 31 December 2020, EEA nationals and their family members will need to apply to stay under the EU Settlement Scheme, such applications must be made before June 2021.
Following the end of the transitional period, EEA nationals will be considered under the Immigration Rules the same as any other nationality (with the exception of Irish nationals – see below).
It is to be noted that EU nationals will be treated as non-visa nationals for the purpose of visiting the UK. In other words, they will not require a visa prior to visiting the country.
An allusion is made towards the expansion of Tier 5 Youth Mobility to European nationals.
EU citizens applying for entry to the UK as visitors will be subject to the UK Immigration Rules provisions on criminality which are much stricter than those under existing EU law.
End to the Tier 2 Skilled Worker Cap
As recommended by the MAC, the Government will not impose a cap on the numbers of skilled workers, “to ensure the brightest and best who wish to come to the UK may do so”. The current skills threshold is likely to be lowered from RQF 6 to RQF 3, i.e. from degree level to A-level) so that employers will have access to the skills that add most value to the UK economy and to increase flexibility following the loss of EU free movement labour. The impact of the reduction in the skills level will be reduced by maintaining a minimum salary threshold, presently suggested to be £30,000. However, the Government proposes that where skills in a given area are identified to be in shortage, the minimum salary threshold could be lowered.
The new sponsorship system for employers will be made “as straightforward and light touch as possible”. The streamlined sharing of records between the Home Office, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions will be used to help keep reporting requirements and upfront costs for employers to a minimum.
Individuals from “lowest risk countries” will be permitted to switch into the work.visa category from within the UK.
Finally, it will not be necessary for employers to complete a Resident Labour Market Test prior to sponsoring a skilled worker.
Temporary Low Skilled Migration Route
Addressing the reality that many employers are reliant on lower skilled workers from the EU for certain jobs, the Government proposes a temporary low skilled immigration route as a transitional measure. Under this route, workers in sectors such as construction and social care will be eligible to come to the UK for employment for a period of up to 12 months. There will be a cooling off period of a further 12 months preventing workers under this category from working permanently in the UK. This route will be open only to nationals of specified, low risk countries with which the UK negotiates agreements.
2019 will also se a return of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) albeit only as a pilot.
Post Study Work
Degree and Masters students will be permitted to remain in the UK after completing their studies it give them more time to find permanent skilled employment. During this period, individuals will be able to freely access the labour market. Bachelors and Masters graduates will be permitted to stay for a further 6 months, whilst those who have completed a PhD will be given an extended stay of 12 months.
Family Migration and British citizenship
The Government does not propose any significant rule changes for family migrants. The financial requirements will remain in place whilst the draconian dependent relative rules will not be diluted in any way.
Individual immigration status – digital visas
If an existing pilot is successful, in the future, UK visas and residence cards will be replaced with an electronic status which must be obtained before coming to the UK, Airlines, Immigration officials, employers, landlords, banks, the DVLA and NHS will all be able to check an individual’s immigration status electronically.
Common Travel Area and Irish Citizens
The Government has reaffirmed its commitment that there will be no change to the existing Common Travel Area arrangements. Irish citizens will continue to be able to travel freely within the UK without the need for a visa. Irish citizens will continue to be treated as gaining settlement on arrival in the UK.
Big changes lay ahead, not least for employers. The overhaul of UK immigration is likely to be the most significant and comprehensive in nearly 50 years. Following the year-long discussions, the Government will draw up a draft Immigration Bill which will give us the flesh on the bones. Of course, if the UK stays within the European Union, most of the proposals in the White Paper will become redundant.
Employers and individuals will need to stay abreast of the changes. RLegal Solicitors will be here to help. Please contact us if you require our assistance.