Government plans points-based immigration system

The government plans to introduce a points-based immigration system from 2021, based on the recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) review

The Migration Advisory Committee, an independent non-departmental pubilc body which advises the government on migration issues, looked at two specific areas. One option was the possible development of a points-based system (PBS), similar to that in Australia, and the second was the appropriate level and design of salary thresholds.

Its recommendations are currently under consideration by the government, which is to provide more detail in later updates.

The Committee stated: ‘There is not much time for decision because any new system needs time to be introduced and employers given adequate notice of what are likely to be substantial changes.’

Regarding the skilled worker route for entry with a job offer (currently, named Tier 2 General), the Migration Advisory Committee said that while this was originally conceived as PBS with tradeable points, it is currently a PBS in name only, with successful applicants having to meet all criteria.

The report said the combination of skill eligibility and a salary threshold works well for an employer-driven system and said the framework should not be changed.

In the future immigration system, Tier 2 (General) is envisaged to apply to both EEA and non-EEA citizens and to be expanded to medium-skill jobs with the cap and resident labour market test abolished and a simplified process introduced.

The occupation specific threshold should be set at the 25th percentile, as it is currently. The general threshold should be set at the 25th percentile for the eligible occupations as it currently is, but the expansion of eligible jobs to include medium-skill occupations would mean this would currently be about £25,600, a reduction of around £4,400 on current levels. There is currently a £30,000 salary threshold for a work visa.

The Migration Advisory Committee said this would mean that most employers will be able to hire migrants at wages which many existing workers in those occupations are currently being paid. For most eligible occupations in the NHS and schools, the use of the national pay scales as the relevant salary thresholds would ensure they can hire migrants.

The Committee recommended a simplified formula for the salary thresholds for new entrants (a reduction of 30% on the experienced rate, which would be £17,920 under its recommendations for the general threshold) and a less restrictive definition of a new entrant.

It was against introducing any geographical variation at this time. It suggested the government should pilot a trial of a visa that caters for the specific needs of the more remote parts of the UK and evaluate this approach.

As regards the work route for entry without a job offer (Tier 1 Exceptional Talent), the Migration Advisory Committee said this is not working well, pointing out that only 600 visas were issued last year, well below the cap of 2,000 visas.

The Committee said the skills bar for entry is set far too high, targeted at those at the very top of their field and is too risk averse.

Instead, it recommended an expression of interest system in which those who want to come to the UK can register that interest and a monthly invitation to apply drawn from that pool, though subject to a cap.

The selection should use a tradeable PBS, with more points for the types of migrants the government wants to encourage. The report suggests this would currently include those with qualifications in STEM, or creative fields.

On the issue of settled status, the government has said there will be no change to the rights and status of EU citizens currently living in the UK until 30 June 2021. EU citizens and their families can apply to the EU settlement scheme to continue living in the UK.

The MAC report pointed out that Australia and other countries also use a PBS for deciding who should be given settlement.

It stated: ‘The current UK system is inflexible; those in the employer-sponsored route must meet an income threshold unless in a shortage occupation and are only eligible after a minimum of five years.

‘We have little idea whether the current system works well because we have not been able to obtain relevant data.

‘We recommend a pause in the proposed increases in the settlement income threshold. We also recommend that there should be a review of the criteria for settlement, though that can only be done if there is better data available than now. If there are to be changes, a PBS is one option.’

Lindsey Barras, UK immigration partner at PwC, said: ‘While the majority of the MAC recommendations are welcome, it remains to be seen which, if any, of these the government will adopt.

‘With only 11 months to go until the introduction of a new immigration system, employers need to understand as soon as possible the approach the government plans to take so they can plan effectively.

‘With the UK planning to introduce a new immigration system in 2021, which is also expected to apply to EU nationals, the recommendation to retain the current ‘Tier 2’ scheme will be welcomed by employers as it will ensure simplicity and certainty.

‘The relative certainty of the UK immigration system is often commented on favourably. It’s important, therefore, to understand how the proposed expression of interest pool will work to ensure this does not leave applicants with uncertain outcomes for months on end.’

PBS and salary thresholds report 

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