The Post-Brexit immigration White Paper: the biggest shake-up in 40 years?

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A bitter row over Britain’s post-Brexit immigration policy has erupted following the publication of the Government’s long-awaited plans to end free movement – just 100 days before the UK leaves the EU.

Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, says that the plans, published on 19 December 2018, will not include a “specific target” for reducing numbers coming into the UK, but would instead bring net migration to “sustainable levels”.

As had been anticipated, the plan is to introduce a new skills-based immigration system which applies to everyone from outside the UK. The system would favour experience and talent over nationality with EU citizens no longer receiving any preferential treatment.  The government says this will benefit Britain and its economy.

In line with recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee, the new system would:

  • remove the annual cap on the number of worker visas issued
  • widen the skills threshold to include people with qualifications equivalent to A levels
  • end the requirements for labour market tests by employers wanting to sponsor a worker.

The White Paper proposes a minimum £30,000 salary threshold but, following significant backlash when this was announced by Sajid Javid, this has now been put out to a 12-month consultation.

The new system will, irrespective of the minimum salary level eventually agreed, have a significant impact on businesses which rely on low skilled workers from the EU.

To try and combat this, there will be a new route for workers at any skill level. The visa will last for 12 months but will not provide any access to benefits and individuals working under this visa will not be able to bring family members to the UK with them. It is not clear how long this visa will be available, but the intention is that, for a temporary period, it’ll ensure businesses to have the staff that they need as we transition to the new immigration system.

Other proposals in the White Paper include removing any limit on the number of genuine international students who can come to the UK to study, and extending the time that they can stay post-education to find employment to 6-months for individuals with a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and 12-months for individuals with a PhD.

There are also various suggestions as to how to make Britain’s borders more secure but easier to use for legitimate passengers.

The intention of the White Paper is to deliver “clear instructions to get control over our borders”, but there’s still concern that the sudden reduction of EU migrant workers in key sectors will threaten the UK economy. Many have commented that ‘high-skilled’ does not necessarily equal ‘high pay’, and the concern regarding minimum salary levels is unlikely to be resolved for at least 12 months. This means that we will be without certainty on key issues for quite some time yet.

On the whole, the White Paper proposes modifications to the existing points-based system rather than a complete overhaul as the government has suggested. With 99 days to go until the UK officially leaves the EU, we must continue to keep our ‘ears to the ground’ in the hope of getting further clarification from the Home Office.

If you have any specific questions about how Brexit will impact you or your business, or you would like to understand how to sponsor migrant workers then please do get in touch with our immigration team.