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Education E-Briefing: An Immigration White Paper Christmas

  • United Kingdom
  • Education


The Government’s long-awaited White Paper regarding the UK’s future immigration system was published yesterday, shortly before the Parliamentary Christmas recess. In contrast to the white Christmas, these proposed immigration rules are not like the ones we used to know. The White Paper will be subject to detailed consultation throughout 2019, with implementation set to commence in 2021. A consultation period of one year is proposed during which the efficacy of the new system is assessed.

The key recommendation of the White Paper is that the UK’s Immigration Rules will apply to EU and non-EU migrants alike, replacing the current immigration system with one applicable equally to both. This builds on the previous report of the Migration Advisory Committee, whose recommendations have been largely accepted. The White Paper envisages restricting immigration from EEA countries in 2021 and accommodating potential workers within a slightly expanded points based system.

There is some commentary regarding the transitional arrangements for EU nationals seeking to enter the UK following the date of Brexit. From 30 March 2019, EU citizens will continue to be able to enter and reside under the current, pre-exit immigration rules during an implementation period, although the latter is not fully defined within the document. Whilst that appears to provide reassurance that there are no plans, at least at present, to restrict such entry to the UK prior to 31 December 2020, it would remain possible for the Government to limit the right of EU citizens to live, work and study in the UK if arriving after the date of Brexit if no deal were reached, although the White Paper states that current rules will continue to apply during the Implementation Period, which is planned to run until 31 December 2020. The White Paper also advises that the immigration rights of Irish citizens in the UK are to be protected in the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill, which will end some uncertainty as to whether such rights could otherwise be enforced. The same Bill is to outline the provisions by which free movement is to end.

As recommended by the MAC Tier 2 will be the main route for EU nationals to work in the UK from January 2021. Many of the proposals in the White Paper simplify current immigration requirements which appears positive for employers. The removal of the current Tier 2 immigration quota on restricted certificates of sponsorship, an end to the resident labour market test, assistance to students seeking to remain and greater possibility to apply both in-country, and after leaving the UK, for permission to work would all reduce the considerable regulatory burdens on employers seeking to sponsor workers and will be welcome. Comments that the system should be “as straightforward and light touch as possible” and low-cost to employers where possible acknowledge long-standing concerns about a complex system which transfers significant risk to employers who choose to hire overseas workers. Suggestions elsewhere in the White Paper that the system should be self-funding and that increasing the level of the Immigration Skills Charge may regulate applications in future hint that the Government may seek to regulate permission to work in practice with high application fees, which will of course be less popular.

The greatest immediate concern for employers is likely to lie in the proposals regarding lower skilled workers as Tier 2 has skills and salary criteria. For permission to sponsor most workers, a minimum salary of £30,000 is suggested; whilst there is to be further consultation about this, that has been a major source of concern for employers to date and means the alternative suggested visa for lower-skilled workers becomes very significant, although this may be limited to certain sectors. The White Paper envisages that lower skilled workers should be limited to a twelve month working visa and this period would be followed by a “cooling off” period, meaning employers would effectively be limited to one year of employment per member of staff, then obliged to seek a replacement. There is a proposal that such a visa category should only exist temporarily to assist with short-term labour shortages following Brexit and would come with restrictions based on nationality, duration and, possibly, a quota.

As far as students are concerned, the White Paper recognises that international students enhance educational institutions both financially and culturally. It has been confirmed that EU students will be subject to the same arrangements as students from the rest of the world and will require sponsorship in order to study at an education institution. Sponsor institutions will be required to undertake the same rigorous scrutiny of students’ academic ability, English language and funding in order to prove that the applicant is a genuine student. The proposed addition of ‘low-risk’ EU countries to Appendix H will go some way in reducing the documentary requirements of those students, although sponsor institutions will still be required to undertake these checks.

It is unclear whether the current administratively burdensome monitoring and reporting obligations will apply to the future immigration system for students. The White Paper merely proposes that whilst UKVI will continue to monitor the compliance of all sponsors, the Government will consider ways in which the system can be made more ‘light touch’ through development of new digital systems and engagement with the sector. Furthermore, the paper does not deal with EU student’s entitlement to student finance and ‘home’ status fees when the new immigration system is implemented. This together with the decision not to introduce a post-study work visa will leave many within the sector dissatisfied with the proposals, although the increase to post-study leave period for students will go some way to address this concern.

The Government has accepted the recommendation in the recent MAC report that master’s students will have six months’ post-study leave to find permanent skilled work and to work temporarily during that period and the same will apply to bachelor’s students studying at an institution with degree awarding powers (this is an increase on the MAC’s recommendation of four months), while those who have completed a PhD will have a year.

Also students studying at bachelor’s level or above will be able to switch into the skilled workers route from within the UK for up to three months before the end of their course and from outside the UK for two years afterwards.

The White Paper states that the Government is not intending to lower standards under Tier 4, which it describes as working well after reforms which “stopped the unacceptably high levels of immigration abuse encountered a decade ago by non-genuine students”.

The report comments that the changes outlined represent the “most significant changes to the immigration system in more than 40 years”, with employers therefore requiring time to adjust. When introducing the White Paper to the House of Commons, the Home Secretary further commented that the year-long programme of engagement would help to refine the new system, which should not be considered final at this stage. This approach does seem appropriate; we would anticipate revision of the White Paper based on the terms of the UK’s departure from the European Union and, we hope, the sector’s feedback.