A ‘new’ immigration system?

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As we anticipated, it’s not the Australian-style system that Boris Johnson was so keen on, but instead is a revised version of our existing system which will apply equally to EU and non-EU citizens. Given the timescales the government are working to, this decision is not surprising and it’s in line with the MAC’s recommendations.

This system will come into effect on 1 January 2021, but migrants will be able to apply under the new system from Autumn 2020.  Importantly, businesses will need to become registered sponsors to employ anyone from outside the UK from 1 January 2021.  There is likely to be a deluge of sponsor applications submitted now that we have some certainty about migration post-Brexit.

So, what is the impact for businesses? Here are some of the main differences between the existing immigration system and the new one:

  • Job offers – The new system is a genuine points-based system, in a way that our current system is not. Individuals need to reach 70 points to be awarded a visa and whilst some points are tradeable, other criteria must be met in order for the visa to be granted. Most importantly, individuals will continue to need a job offer before they come to the UK.
  • Salary and skill – The skill level for the jobs being filled must be A-level or above. This is a relaxing of the current immigration system which only allows non-EU citizens to enter the UK to do degree level roles. Similarly, the minimum salary levels have been reduced to £25,600 (or £20,480 if you can gain extra points elsewhere).
  • Cap on visas – there will no longer be an annual cap on the number of visas issued each year, which has caused serious difficulties for employers in recent years.
  • Removal of the Resident Labour Market Test – this is an onerous process that employers are currently obliged to go through before recruiting someone from outside the UK. The removal of this requirement will be welcome news for employers.

Today’s announcement makes clear that the government has little interest in bringing significant numbers of low skilled workers into the UK. It points to the fact that large numbers of EU workers already in the UK will have the right to continue working here. The hope is that these individuals will plug the hole that a number of industries believe will exist from next year.  While this has been highly criticised by a number of low skilled industries, the government’s position is “employers will need to adjust”.

Instead, the focus is very clearly on skilled and highly skilled workers. The Global Talent Scheme for scientists and researchers will be extended to EU workers and the government has indicated that there will likely be a future ‘unsponsored route’ into the UK for the highest skilled individuals.

There are plans to streamline the application process. The government hopes to drastically cut the how long it takes to bring a worker into the UK. However, given that the current immigration system can be overwhelmed relatively easy, the Home Office has a big job ahead if it’s going to be ready to accept applications under this new system in a matter of months.

There is a lot of information to digest now that we have details of the new system. It seems that these are just the first changes, and we can expect further tweaks and amendments in the future.

The new system will be welcomed by some employers and not by others. Either way, if your business intends to recruit from outside the UK, these changes will impact you. We would advise that you take urgent advice on how you will be affected and what steps to take to ensure minimal impact on your business.