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10th October 2018

The MAC Report: a potential glimpse into the UK’s future immigration system

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In July 2017 the government commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to gather evidence in respect of the patterns of EU migration into the UK and the impact of that migration, ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU next year. The intention was that, having collated such evidence the MAC could report back its findings and provide recommendations as to how immigration could be dealt with post Brexit. It was expected that the MAC report would be used as a basis for developing the UK’s future immigration system to apply from 31 December 2020, when the agreed transitional period that will apply post Brexit will end.

On 18 September 2018 the MAC published its report into EU migration into the UK.

The key recommendations in respect of the future immigration system in the UK are:

  • There should be no preference for EU Citizens, EU Citizens should be subject to the same immigration controls as those wishing to come to the UK from outside of the EU.
  • There should be a focus on higher-skilled workers and so any new system should enable highly skilled workers to come to the UK more easily than lower skilled workers.
  • The Immigration Skills Charge which is an annual charge of £1,000 (or £364 for small companies and charities) that is payable in respect of each migrant worker that a company sponsors under the points based system, should be extended so that it will also apply to EU citizens post Brexit.
  • The Immigration Health Surcharge of £200 a year that most migrant workers under the points based systems are required to pay to access the NHS should also be applied to EU workers post Brexit.
  • The Points Based immigration system, currently used to enable workers from outside the EU to work within the UK subject to sponsorship by an employer, should be extended to cover EU workers. The most common route used under this system is Tier 2 (General), which allows employers to sponsor skilled workers to enable them to work in the UK. The MAC suggested this route could be extended to cover EU workers, subject to the following changes;
    • The annual cap that currently applies to restrict the number of migrant workers that are allowed to come to the UK to work under Tier 2 (General) should be abolished.
    • The skills level for eligible jobs under Tier 2 should be extended to medium skilled jobs at RQF 3-5. Currently the eligible roles for sponsorship under Tier 2 (General) are mainly highly skilled jobs at RQF 6, that is, degree level. However the MAC recommends that the minimum salary for an eligible role should remain at £30,000 per annum regardless of the skill level.
    • Consideration should be given to removing the requirement for employers to undertake the Resident Labour Market Test which imposes an obligation for an employer to go through a detailed recruitment campaign before they are able to employ a non-settled worker into a role.
    • Tier 2 migrants should be allowed to switch employers within the UK more easily.
    • The current system should be reviewed as it is complex, and harder for smaller businesses to use, but no further details were given.
  • There is no proposal by the MAC that low-skilled workers should be covered within the future immigration system. The MAC recommends that if there is to be a route for such workers the youth mobility scheme, which allows for individuals between the age of 18-30 from participating countries to come and live and work in the UK for up to 2 years, could be extended.

Some of the MAC’s recommendations will be welcomed by employers, for example the suggestion to abolish the cap and the resident labour market test, as they will potentially remove some of the barriers that employers face in recruiting those they need from outside of the UK. However, given the huge demands that this system places on employers in terms of costs and administration, many will also, understandably, be nervous about the potential for the scheme to be extended to cover EU citizens as well. Also, given the administrative problems and delays that employers already face in dealing with the Home Office in respect of this system as it currently stands, it remains to be seen how the Home Office will cope if EU workers are also brought into this scheme.

Another key issue that appears to have been overlooked by the MAC is the issue of low skilled workers. A great number of EU workers working in the UK are doing so in low skilled jobs, and a number of sectors, for example social care, hospitality and construction, rely on these workers. If the MAC proposals are adopted, these workers would not be able to come to work in the UK unless the youth mobility scheme is extended, but even then this will significantly limit the ability of these industries to recruit. Further, even though the MAC has recommended that the points based system be extended to cover “medium skilled” jobs, if the minimum salary of £30,000 per annum is to remain in place such jobs are unlikely to attract this level of salary in practice, and so this recommendation may not actually help employers as much as it would first appear.

Of course the MAC recommendations are just that – recommendations – and the government may or may not follow these. However, given that previous reports from the MAC have very much shaped the immigration system that we currently have, if future migration does not form part of the exit negotiations with the EU before Brexit, it seems likely that these recommendations will at least form some part of our future immigration system. It is now a matter of watching this space and waiting for the promised Immigration White Paper to see to what extent this will be.

For more information on this article please contact Gemma Hill 01604 463309 or click here to email Gemma.