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Education Briefing - Immigration Policy After Brexit: The Proposals of the Migration Advisory Committee

  • United Kingdom
  • Education - Briefings

19-09-2018

On 18 September 2018 the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its report “EEA migration in the UK” containing its recommendations for a future immigration system for the UK after Brexit. This report was commissioned by the Government in 2017 and looks at how it will be possible for EEA nationals to work in the UK in the absence of free movement.

The report was prepared following the consideration of over 400 responses (a record for a MAC commission) to the briefing paper and call for evidence issued by the MAC on 4 August 2017 and a range of meetings and events with stakeholders across the regions of the UK.

In relation to the impact of EEA migrants on the economy and society of the UK, the MAC’s conclusions include that:

• migrants have no or little impact on the overall employment and unemployment outcomes of the UK-born workforce

• migration is not a major determinate of the wages of UK-born workers

• immigration has a positive impact on productivity - but the results are subject to significant uncertainty

• high-skilled immigrants make a positive contribution to the levels of innovation in the receiving country

• there is some evidence to suggest that skilled migrants have a positive impact on the quantity of training available to the UK-born workforce

• migration has increased house prices

• EEA migrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits

• EEA migrants contribute much more to the health service and the provision of social care in financial resources and through work than they consume in services

• there is no evidence that migration has reduced parental choice in schools or the educational attainment of UK-born children

• the share of new tenancies going to migrants is rising

• migration does not impact crime

The report makes a series of recommendations likely to have a long-lasting impact on employment-based immigration. Some of these relate to principles the new system should incorporate so that policy changes should be to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to migrate to the UK than lower-skilled workers. More specific changes are also suggested, several of which would reverse policies which have been part of immigration law in the UK for many years.

In the executive summary to the report the MAC states that the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system could be decided by the UK on its own or could be part of the negotiations with the EU and, because there are a very large range of possible scenarios, most of the MAC’s discussion focuses on what it thinks might be a desirable migration system for the UK if it was to be set in isolation.

On the thorny issue of preferential future treatment of EEA workers over those from elsewhere, the MAC says it cannot see compelling reasons to offer a different set of rules to EEA and non-EEA citizens and therefore recommends that there is no preference for EEA citizens, on the assumption that UK immigration policy is not included in any agreement with the EU. The report makes it clear, however, that it should not be taken as a MAC recommendation that migration should be excluded from negotiations with the EU and it acknowledges that, in theory, the UK may be able to trade-off some preferential access for EU citizens to the UK in return for benefits in other areas of the negotiations, such as trade.

The recommendations

The specific recommendations made in the report which are likely to be of most interest to education institutions, if free movement ends and Tier 2 (General) is extended to cover EEA citizens, are as follows:

• the monthly cap on the number of restricted Tier 2 General Certificates should be abolished

• the Tier 2 (General) immigration category should be re-opened to all jobs requiring skill levels at RQF Level 3 and above, rather, than is currently the case, being reserved to roles requiring qualification at RQF Level 6 and above

• however, the salary threshold of a minimum of £30,000 should be retained – which will affect the numbers of those below RQF level 6 who will be eligible for sponsorship under Tier 2

• the requirement for employers to conduct a resident labour market test (RLMT) before employing newly-hired staff should be abolished on the basis that a robust approach to the salary thresholds and the Immigration Skills Charge are a better way to protect UK workers against the dangers of employers using migrant workers to under-cut UK-born nationals

• if the RLMT is not abolished, the salary threshold above which there is no need to carry out the RLMT should be reduced substantially from the current level of £159,600 per annum to be below £50,000 – in addition the requirement that no settled worker could fill the vacancy should be relaxed for all jobs (rather than just those on PhD level SOC codes) to allow employers to appoint the best available candidate

• the Immigration Skills Charge should also cover EEA citizens – though the MAC recommends that the impact and level of the Immigration Skills Charge should be fully evaluated now that it has been in operation for a few years

• in-country ability to change employers should be made easier for Tier 2 migrants.

Commentary

The abolition of the Tier 2 (General) immigration cap and a reduction in the skill level required to RQF Level 3 could well benefit institutions but the maintence of a minimum salary threshold of £30,000 would appear to somewhat dilute the practical effect if the skill level is lowered to Level 3.

The abolition of the RLMT, or a substantial reduction in the circumstances when it would be required, would also be of benefit, although of course that will only lessen some of the extra administration and costs that will be incurred by institutions (and all employers) if EEA nationals are bought within the Tier 2 sponsorship system. The MAC found that the share of EEA staff in the eduction sector amounts to less then 5% of the total workforce but has been increasing over the last 20 years and accounts for 17% of academic staff at HEIs.

Next steps

Although a body which is independent, our experience is that reports of the MAC tend to be implemented, at least in part, by governments. The suggestion that there need be no preference offered to allow EEA migration appears in line with Government thinking regarding that subject and is likely to be welcomed.

Whether there would be acceptance of lowering the skill threshold for Tier 2 sponsorship is another matter. This has been progressively increased by UK Visas and Immigration since first introduced in 2008 and reduction to a lower level, together with abolition of the RLMT, seems a radical step. Wider political considerations, such as the progress of Brexit and subsequent trade negotiations, are also likely to inform the Government’s consideration.

 

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