The Home Office published a policy document today, 19 February 2020, outlining its plans for the future immigration system. The future immigration system will be in place by 1 January 2021, after the post-Brexit transition period and free movement end. The system will develop over time, with some elements being introduced in Autumn 2020 and others not being fully implemented for months or years.

Despite the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC)’s advice to the Government that the visa route for skilled workers with a job offer should not be dressed up as a points-based route, the Government proposes to introduce a minor points element to what will otherwise remain a visa type assessed on a strict criteria basis. Applicants under that route will need a job offer, the job will need to be at A-level or above and applicants will have to demonstrate English language ability. The Home Office is unlikely to apply the English language requirement to skilled workers transferring from linked overseas entity as it has generally accepted the MAC’s advice not to alter the route for Intra Company Transfers, but the policy document does not make this clear. Characteristics for which migrants will receive ‘tradeable’ points, to reach the minimum points requirement of 70, include salary, whether the MAC has designated the job as being in a shortage occupation or whether it is a PhD-level role.

As expected, the Home Office has confirmed that it will abolish the advertising requirement for skilled workers and the ‘cap’ on certain sponsored skilled migrants. Both these elements of the current system add a considerable amount of administrative work and time to the sponsorship process, so employers will welcome these changes.

It is simple posturing on the Government’s part to insist on injecting a points-based element into the sponsored skilled worker route. The Government will be able to claim that it has implemented the points-based system about which its representatives were so vocally enthusiastic in 2019.

Meanwhile, it draws attention away from the Government’s implementation of a more genuine points-based route, one for skilled workers without a job offer. The MAC suggested that the Government introduce a true points-based via under the Exceptional Talent route, which is rebranded on 20 February 2020 as the Global Talent route. The Government states in its policy document that this genuine points-based route will take longer to implement. You can read a summary of what this route will likely look like in my summary of the MAC report.

Contrary to a previous proposal in the December 2018 Immigration White Paper and to the advice of the MAC, the Government is not providing any particular visa route for low-skilled workers. Whilst the Government previously indicated that it would implement temporary routes for low-skilled workers based on shortages identified by the MAC, the policy document seems to limit these plans to expansion of the existing scheme for seasonal agricultural workers. The agricultural scheme itself is woefully inadequate to address the shortage of reported by the industry, even when it expands from 2,500 to 10,000 workers per year. The previous proposal was never going to be responsive enough to shortages to alleviate the recruitment difficulties of UK employers in low-skilled sectors, but it was something. The Government’s refusal to concede any allowances for low-skilled workers will put employers in the construction, hospitality, and food and beverage industries in an untenable position.

The policy document also summarised plans for increased automation. It proposes to allow EU nationals to record a digital photograph via a mobile phone app during the application process. This is likely to resemble very closely the technology employed for EU settlement scheme registration. Non-EU migrants will still have to enrol biometrics at visa application centres. The use of E-gates will continue for EEA migrants as well as migrants from certain countries deemed low-risk. The Government states that it will also introduce Electronic Travel Authorities (ETAs). These would be similar to the US’s ESTA system. In fact, it should have introduced ETAs before allowing non-UK nationals to use e-gates as there is zero scrutiny of a the intentions of someone entering through the e-gates.

The Government makes no concessions to the self-employed, though eventually it is likely to implement some visa opportunities for them under the Global Talent route. It also ignores part-time workers entirely. In doing so, the Government ignores future of work trends including businesses’ increasing reliance on contractors and the steady increase in part-time workers.

We will follow with interest the effects on businesses and the economy of the Government’s refusal to follow key MAC recommendations or to accept current and future labour market realities.  

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