New immigration system: what impact on equality?

The Home Office regularly publishes equality impact assessments to consider potential impacts of the new points-based immigration system on equality. Alex Christen sums up the findings of the report, and highlights its limitations.

Under the Equality Act 2010, there are nine specified protected characteristics. The Home Office’s assessment, last updated on 23 February 2022, analyses the adverse effects the new points-based system might have on those with protected characteristics.

Salary thresholds: a barrier to women getting a skilled work visa?

The equality impact assessment begins by stating it is roughly an equal split of men and women who migrate to the UK. It recognises that prescribing a minimum salary threshold (for example for skilled worker visas) could have differential impacts on individuals on the basis of their sex, given that women will find it ‘disproportionately more difficult to meet the threshold than men’.

However, it confirms that the salary thresholds under the new system have been set at the 25th percentile of the relevant full-time earnings distribution, meaning someone looking to come to the UK would need to be paid, as a minimum, at or above the level of the bottom 25% of earners in that category. The assessment concludes that this reduces the risk that the current salary thresholds are a barrier to women getting a skilled worker visa. The assessment provides justification for salary thresholds, reiterating the importance of people entering the UK being able to support themselves.

Consideration of regional variations

The assessment also addresses whether there should be regional variations for minimum salary, something the points-based system does not account for. The evidence shows that for women in the North East and East Midlands for example, the median salary does not meet the minimum salary thresholds. The report concluded that any indirect discrimination arising from this is justified, as consideration of regional variations would ‘overly complicate the immigration system’ and cause difficulties for employers. It continues to suggest the government does not want to act in a way that reinforces regional inequalities.

Part time workers more likely to be excluded from the points-based routes

The assessment also considered the effect on women who are more likely to work part time, as the general salary threshold is not pro-rated. ONS statistics show that 37% of women are likely to work part time, compared to a much smaller 12% of men, indicating that women who work part time are more likely to be excluded from the points-based routes.

The impact statement did not suggest making any changes to address this point and suggests that part time roles are more likely to be low skilled (and not qualify for sponsorship under the skilled worker route anyway). The government defends its minimum salary approach (regardless of number of hours) by saying the minimum salary is needed so that the worker makes an economic contribution to the UK. It argues that pro-rating the minimum salary levels would be difficult to enforce and could lead to abuse by unscrupulous employers who actually make migrant workers work more than their part time hours.

Mitigation measures (or lack thereof)

Whilst the assessment identifies areas where women may be disadvantaged, it fails to suggest any substantive mitigation. The assessment concludes that any additional mitigations ‘may entrench any equalities rather than eliminate them’.

It remains unclear whether a lower salary threshold alone is enough to mitigate any inequalities women may face under the new immigration system and the government’s justifications for its approach do not appear to be fully explored. For example, many part time roles attract a high salary that benefits the economy and allows individuals to support themselves and their families.  The system is already complex and further minor steps in the process (such as allowing pro-rated salaries for part time employees) is a small price to pay when tackling gender pay inequality.

Overall, the assessment contains some interesting information but the analysis from the government seems one-sided and appears to lack any real understanding of the issues contributing towards regional pay variations or the large pay gap in the part time workforce. Whether any impact between the sexes is actually proportionate and justified remains to be seen.

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