Written by Judit Adorjan
Former Home Office Secretary Sajid Javid set out the plans for a new single, skills-based immigration system replacing free movement in a white paper published on the 19th of December 2018.
The aim of the future system is to have full control of migration and enable skilled, innovative and highly productive personnel to come to the UK to make a positive contribution to the economy and society.
The White Paper was based on independent evidence from the Migration Advisory Committee and frank conversations with individuals and businesses across the UK.
Since then multiple Brexit deadlines have been passed and many leading economists, financial experts and large businesses are warning that a no-deal Brexit could have a damaging impact on the UK. In addition, the cabinet, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have changed and they have a new focus on an Australian points-based system, which could make the 2018 Immigration White Paper redundant.
On the 22nd of January 2020 the EU Withdrawal Agreement went through its last stage, the ‘Consideration of Amendments’ and is now awaiting Royal Assent.
The following Lords amendments were turned down by the House of Commons: the right of settled and pre-settled EU citizens, eligible citizens under the EEA EFTA separation agreement and eligible citizens under the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement to receive a physical document to prove their right of residence in the UK; the implementation of a declaratory registration system for EU citizens whereby their rights will not be forfeit as a result of not meeting an arbitrary deadline for registration under the EU Settlement Scheme; the removal of ministers’ power to decide which European Court of Justice rulings can be disregarded by judges in their interpretation of the UK’s legislation and referred to the Supreme Court or the High Court of Justiciary.
The European Parliament will meet on the 29 January to debate the agreement, which sets out the terms of the UK leaving the EU, the rights of EU nationals’ resident in the UK and British expats on the continent as well as arrangements for Northern Ireland.
From 1 February 2020, the UK will enter into an 11-month transition period in which it will continue to follow EU rules. The transition period will come to an end on 1 January 2021, by which point negotiations on the future economic and security partnership will have hopefully been concluded.
The 2018 white paper sets out the new immigration arrangements in the event the EU leaders do not sign the Withdrawal Agreement.
At present the UK Immigration system admits only highly skilled workers from outside the EU and workers of all skill levels from the EU. This will be replaced with a single route giving access to highly skilled and skilled workers from all countries.
Although the Conservatives are proposing an Australian-style immigration system, if migrants score certain points for their qualifications, the Prime Minister has said the migrant will still need a job offer to enter the UK. If they meet the requirements, they will be able bring dependants, extend their stay and switch into other immigration categories. In some cases, settle permanently. There will be a wider skills threshold for the first time. This means anyone with the equivalent of A levels will be eligible under the new system. We are wondering if there will be any other route for those wishing to set up a business or will the current Innovator and Start-Up categories remain?
In last year’s report the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommended not to impose a cap on the number of skilled workers, to ensure employers have access to the skills that add most value to the UK economy. Plans include abolition of the resident labour market test as a condition of sponsoring a worker and more recently, the Prime Minister mentioned scrapping the £30,000 minimum salary threshold. Instead, the migrant’s earnings, English language skills, occupation and qualification will be taken into account.
Nationals of the lowest risk countries will be able to apply for a work visa in the UK. The new skilled route will include workers with intermediate level skills, at RQF 3-5 level (A level or equivalent) as well as graduate and post-graduate.
The MAC did not recommend a route specifically for low skilled workers. Therefore, the government proposes as a transitional measure, a time limited route for temporary short-term workers. They will be able to come for a maximum of 12 months with a cooling-off period of a further 12 months with no rights to extend their stay, switch to other routes, bring dependants or settle. Workers will be able to move between employers with no sponsorship requirement.
As this route is only a transitional arrangement to allow employers to implement changes, the government reserves the right to tighten the criteria, impose numerical caps if necessary or close the route if the economic conditions in the UK warrant that.
On 7th of December 2019 Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he is planning to prevent lower-skilled workers moving to the UK unless there is a “specific shortage” of staff in their sector such as construction.
There is no intention to significantly change the rules for family migration and permanent settlement.
Free movement as it currently stands under EU Law will end. However, much of the free movement framework will remain in place under the European Union Withdrawal Act 2018 until Parliament passes primary legislation to repeal it.
The new White Paper is due from the Migration Advisory Committee next week.
Immigration arrangements do not apply to EU citizens resident here before 11pm on 31 January 2020 and their family members. These citizens have until the 31 December 2020 to regularise their status by applying to the EU Settlement Scheme.
Irish citizens are also exempt from these changes.