Lets get straight to the point: what we know so far about the new immigration system proposal

At the Conservative party conference last week, the home secretary announced a new immigration system for when Britain leaves the European Union (1). With the current deadline still set at the end of this month, Priti Patel introduced the latest proposal for a points-based system similar to the Australian model as part of her mission to “end the free movement of people once and for all”.

The aim of the new system is to ‘attract skilled immigrants to the UK’, one which in her words, “works in the best interests of Britain [and] that attracts and welcomes the brightest and the best” (1).

So, what could this mean for employers?

Well of course at this stage it’s unclear how this would work in practice, and how it differs from the previous proposal for a skills-based system set out by Sajid Javid in a white paper last year. Deputy Director of the Migration Observatory, Rob McNeil, acknowledges the confusion that employers must be feeling when faced with this new proposal, particularly when “there is a level of confusion for those of us who study these issues as we don’t have sturdy ground ourselves” (1).

Reflecting on the announcement, McNeil did cite that ‘by comparing a future arrangement to Australia’s immigration system, the government was indicating the new system was going to be “tough” and less liberal than the proposals in the earlier white paper’ (1).

What we do know is that both the white paper and latest proposal are ‘attempts to define how visas will be allocated for workers once any post-Brexit transition period has passed – affecting both EU and non-EU migrants ‘ (1).

The white paper proposed a ‘minimum salary threshold for incoming workers with no overall cap on their numbers’ (1). In contrast, the latest move towards an Australian system is likely to mean migration is carefully matched to demand for specific industries and professions, ‘with points awarded for experience, qualifications and professional expertise’ (1). It’s important to note however that an Australian system is more based on an individual’s characteristics, whilst Patel’s proposal would require or prioritise a job offer when applying for a UK work visa.

In order to maintain control effectively, Migrate UK have said that ‘visas would be granted by a central authority to a skilled migrant, rather than allocated to employers’ (1). The issue here is ‘the special focus’ being placed on science-based professions and industries, and with a central body granting the visas, this could widen the gap for lower-skilled workers in other areas (1).

What happens now then?

The Migration Advisory Committee have been asked to review how we go about implementing a points-based system in the UK, with a particular focus on how points could be awarded for qualifications, language proficiency, work experience and willingness to work in areas with worker shortages (1). It’s anticipated the committee will report back with results on salary thresholds and recommendations for implementing the system by January 2020 (1).

My advice for employers

  1. We know that EU and non-EU workers will require visas post-Brexit, but whilst we don’t know yet how the government will go about the visa process, preparations can still be made. According to a CIPD survey last month, ‘most employers were unaware the government had released proposals for future migration and hadn’t undertaken any prep work’ (1). I strongly urge employers to start planning – think about the critical areas in your business that will be impacted by this system, how this could affect your current or future vacancies over the next 18 months and what this could mean for your current workers.
  2. Keep an eye on GOV.UK for the latest announcements and preparations to stay ahead of the curve
  3. And if there are public consultations on upcoming legislation, which in our industry I’m certain there will be, please do get involved. These changes will impact all of us for years to come, so it’s important we shape legislation to ensure it’s fit for purpose.
  4. At the moment HR teams are focused on the IR35 changes but we will need a twin track approach once these proposals are firmed up as we’ll have two possible talent bottlenecks in filling key project posts

Sources

(1) https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/news/articles/points-based-immigration-system-would-make-migration-to-uk-harder?