News item

MAC publishes report on the future immigration system

5th February 2020

On 24 June 2019, the previous Home Secretary commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to carry out a fully comprehensive review of the future system of salary thresholds for the proposed skilled worker route. On 3 September 2019, the current Home Secretary also commissioned the MAC to research and provide evidence-based recommendations on how an Australian-style points-based system could work in the UK to strengthen the UK labour market.

On 28th January 2020, the MAC published an independent report responding to both commissions.

The recommendations of most interest to schools and colleges are likely to be those regarding proposed changes to the Tier 2 system. Currently most non-EEA nationals working in the UK come via this employer-sponsored route.

 

Key Recommendations for the Tier 2 Route

  • The existing framework of a skilled worker route for entry with a job offer would be retained with employer-sponsored access based on skill eligibility with a salary threshold applied (not a points-based system). This means that the relevant salary threshold for an experienced worker would continue to be the higher of the occupation-specific threshold and the general threshold.
  • Envisaged to apply to both EEA (except Irish) citizens and non-EEA citizens.
  • The monthly quota and resident labour market test would be abolished and a simplified process introduced.
  • The list of eligible occupations would be expanded to include medium-skilled jobs.
  • The inclusion of medium-skilled workers in this entry route would have the effect of reducing the salary threshold (when set at the 25th percentile of eligible occupations) from the present level of £30,000 to £25,600 (to exclude allowances).
  • A ‘new entrant’ rate would be based on 70% of the experienced worker rate (£17,920).
  • National pay scales should be used as the relevant salary thresholds for 24 occupations, covering most occupations eligible for the route in the NHS and schools. This means that nursery, primary, secondary, special school and FE teachers would only have to meet the national pay scale rate if this is lower than the £25,600/£17,920 thresholds.
  • The report also recommends that both the occupation-specific and general threshold should be updated annually using data, rather than just a percentage increase on the previous year.
  • Although it is not recommended that salary thresholds are pro-rated for part-time working, there should be more options for existing visa holders swapping to part-time working when they become parents.  

 

Key Recommendations for the Tier 1 Route (Exceptional Talent)

  • The report states that the current system to attract exceptional talent is not working; the requirements are too onerous and numbers entering the UK via this route fall far below the cap.
  • The report recommends that, if the government want to introduce a points-based system for this route, the introduction of an “expression of interest” system should be considered. Those who want to come to the UK could register that interest and a monthly invitation to apply could then be issued, drawn from that pool and subject to a cap.
  • The selection criteria should use a tradeable points-based system (based on skills/qualifications/work experience, e.g. in STEM or creative fields).
  • The report cautions that no system for picking winners will be perfect and there will inevitably be some admitted on this route where promise does not deliver.

 

Settlement

  • Although some countries (most often quoted – Australia) use a points-based system to determine settlement, the MAC urges caution in making any changes due to a lack of suitable data to evaluate whether the current UK system is working well.
  • The report recommends that there should be a review of the criteria for settlement, though that can only be done if there is better data available and, if there are to be changes, a points-based system is one option.
  • The report also recommends that occupations which have been on the Shortage Occupation List in the past six years should continue to be exempt from the general threshold for settlement until a review of the criteria for settlement has concluded.

 

Shortage Occupation List (SOL)

  • The report does not recommend lower salary thresholds for occupations on the SOL.
  • Once the new immigration system has been in place for sufficient time, there should be a review of whether the SOL is still needed and, if so, what the advantage of being on the SOL should be and what occupations should be on it.

 

Comment

The MAC is an independent body, its role is an advisory one and it is for the government to set policy, informed by its recommendations. Any government policy changes based on the report recommendations will be introduced at the end of the Brexit transition period in 2021 at the earliest.

Before the report was officially published, the government had already announced the replacement of the Tier 1 route - with effect from 20th February 2020 - with a ‘Global Talent’ route with no cap, which will be a fast-track visa scheme to attract top scientists, researchers and mathematicians to the UK, without the need for a job offer prior to arrival.

Unusually, the recommendations included in the MAC report are at odds with government policy intentions. The MAC stated view is that it is best to approach migration policy by first having a “clear view of what that policy is designed to achieve, then designing policy to best achieve those objectives”. It even goes as far as describing any attempt to package the current Tier 2 route as a points-based system as “pointless” because evidence shows that access which is based on skill and salary threshold alone works well for an employer-driven system.

It therefore remains to be seen how far the MAC recommendations will influence the future immigration system introduced in 2021.

You can view the full report on the Gov.uk website.