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Education ebriefing – MAC publishes long anticipated report on the future immigration system

  • United Kingdom
  • Education - Briefings


Two important announcements this week are relevant to the UK’s immigration requirements for several years. Brexit is, of course, scheduled for 11pm on 31 January 2020. In addition, a report published yesterday makes recommendations for the future immigration system to apply in the UK from 2021. The new system will apply to EEA (with the exception of Irish citizens) as well as non-EEA workers.

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) which advises the Government about the implications of immigration policy, has responded to the Government following commissions on two issues. Firstly, to consider salary thresholds for the future immigration system and secondly to assess how an “Australian Points Based System” might operate in the UK. The recommendations of most relevance to institutions from the MAC are those regarding the proposed changes to the Tier 2 system after Brexit. Tier 2 is the route by which most non-EEA nationals currently work in the UK – requiring sponsorship by the institution.

The MAC has recommended that the existing framework for Tier 2 (General) is retained rather than replaced by an Australian style tradeable points route. Suggested features of a new Tier 2 system include:

• a streamlined process which abolishes the current resident labour market test and monthly quota for restricted certificates of sponsorship and expands the list of eligible occupations to those at RQF Level 3 and above - rather than currently Level 6 and above

• the current structure on salary threshold – where the relevant figure is the higher of the general or occupation specific salary – be retained but that the minimum general salary required should be around £25,600 (rather than the current figure of £30,000) but excluding allowances (which can currently be taken into account where they are guaranteed)

• new entrants to an occupation would require a minimum general salary of £17,920 (rather than £20,800) and allowed to be paid at this level for up to 5 years – rather than 3 years

• the definition of a new entrant be widened to include those who are working towards recognised professional qualifications and those who are moving directly into postdoctoral positions

• national pay scales should be used as the relevant threshold in 24 occupations in the health and education sector rather than the general and occupation specific thresholds – this means that for those jobs (which include teaching professionals in further education, secondary education, primary and nursery education, and special needs education) where the national pay scale rates are lower than £25,600/£17,920 these lower rates will apply

• whilst salary thresholds are not pro-rated for part-time working, the Government should look at this for visa holders who switch to part-time work after becoming a parent

The MAC also considered the advisability of a geographical variation in the salary threshold but on balance has decided against that – instead recommending a pilot scheme to deal with particular problems faced by remote areas.

Tier 2 sponsorship comes at a cost and those who have employed EEA workers relying on free movement provisions in the past may need to pay substantial immigration application fees to use this system from 2021.

The MAC says it expects the reduction of the salary threshold and the lowering of the skills threshold to RQF level 3 to result in a lower level of migration when compared to the position under free movement.

One area where the MAC has raised the possibility of a points based system is for skilled workers without a job. Here the MAC suggests that if the Government does want to introduce a points based system on entry it should consider modifying the existing Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route by introducing a system that those who wish to come to the UK register an interest and those in the pool could be invited on a monthly basis to apply subject to a cap on numbers.

The MAC comments that the current skill bar is set too high and that a new system could be focussed more on those with high potential rather than exceptional talent, using a tradeable points based system with more points for the types the Government wants to encourage, such as those in STEM or creative fields, or those in areas where promising workers might find it hard to get a job offer. The proposed criteria seem similar to those which existed for Tier 1 General, which closed to new applicants in 2011, but with greater scrutiny on work activity in the UK which was absent in the old route and was the catalyst for its closure.

Given, however, that on Monday the Government announced that it would be replacing Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) with a new Global Talent route (which would not appear to be points based) it may well be that the MACs comments here are not taken forwards.

Although the MAC comments that some of the largest expected impacts are in sectors that primarily employ lower-skilled workers that would not be eligible to work under Tier 2 (General), there are no specific recommendations in relation to this. However, the MAC does say that this could be addressed through another route such as a temporary worker route or sector-based schemes.

Reports from the MAC are advisory only. These are usually accepted by the Government with few amendments but, on this occasion, there seems to be a real difference here between the recommendation (a liberalised version of the current immigration system) and the stated political intention of the review (the introduction of an Australian-style points based system with stricter controls). It may be therefore be that the immigration system ultimately introduced in 2021 is different to this, with greater emphasis on skills, tradeable points and flexibility.

Institutions should continue to monitor the development of the post-Brexit immigration system carefully.