MAC Brexit Migration Report & The Future of the UK Immigration System
Since the MAC published its report, the Government has made proposals for an overhaul of the UK immigration rules, focusing a new system on skills over nationality and removing any preferences for EU citizens coming to the UK after Brexit. Further details and the timeline are yet to be confirmed.
In October 2018, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its much-anticipated report into the effects of Brexit on UK migration.
The MAC was commissioned by the UK Government in July 2017 to assess the current and potential impact of EEA migration and to make recommendations for a post-Brexit work immigration system to better benefit the resident population.
The report is expected to be heavily influential in the Government’s proposals for a post-Brexit UK immigration system – should Britain’s immigration policy be decided outside the Brexit negotiations.
The recommendations themselves however only relate to economic migration; the impact of Brexit on family and student migration is notably outwith the scope of the report.
Key MAC recommendations in the EEA Brexit Migration Report
The MAC recommends any new UK immigration system should:
- Be fully aligned to the Government’s industrial strategy
- Better facilitate and enable higher-skilled migration
- Remove the Tier 2 visa cap on highly-skilled workers (currently 20,700 per year)
- Expand the Tier 2 route to include ‘medium-skilled’ workers
- Remove the Tier 2 Resident Labour Market Test requirement
- Facilitate easier switching of sponsors for Tier 2 workers
- Place greater restrictions on lower-skilled migration
- Offer no preferential treatment to EU citizens, unless leveraged as part of Brexit trade negotiations
- Make employers liable for the Immigration Skills Charge to hire EEA nationals
Areas of focus for UK post-Brexit Migration policy
On specific economic immigration issues, the MAC says:
Free movement: While the MAC acknowledges that it is the “level and mix of the migration flows” which cause problems with free movement, its recommendation is to move to a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens – effectively ending free movement.
Highly-skilled workers: The recommendation is for a less restrictive regime for higher-skilled workers than for lower-skilled workers, within a system where there is no preference for EEA over non-EEA workers. The focus should be on enabling migration of highly-skilled workers who bring a more positive contribution to the public finances.
The existing Tier 2 (General) visa under the current UK points-based visa system is cited as a ‘useful template’ for highly-skilled migration, although changes are put forward. These include the removal of the visa allocation cap to provide certainty for UK employers, and extending the scheme to workers in medium-skilled jobs to avert skills shortages. Existing salary thresholds are however considered appropriate to ensure to avoid downward pressure on average earnings.
Lower-skilled workers: There is no recognised need for a dedicated migration route or scheme aimed at lower-skilled workers. The sole exceptions would be the seasonal agricultural workers scheme and an extended youth mobility scheme as suggested in the Government White Paper published in July 2017.
Public sector workers: The MAC is explicit in its conclusion that the public sector should not receive special treatment within the migration system.
What does the EEA Brexit Migration Report mean for EU citizens in the UK?
It will now be for the Government to draw up specific proposals on the future of the UK’s immigration system. There is no obligation or requirement to adhere to or follow the MAC’s recommendations, although close alignment is expected.
For the time being, UK immigration rules remain as they currently stand. However, we are seeing EEA nationals taking action now to formalise their status in the UK, looking specifically at:
From 1 July 2021, EU citizens and their family members in the UK must apply to hold lawful UK immigration status under a new ‘settlement scheme’.
EU citizens and their family members with settled status will have the right to remain in the UK indefinitely and have access, as they currently do, to healthcare, pensions and other benefits in the UK.
Importantly, settled status will not be granted automatically, it must be applied for.
The scheme was opened to all eligible applicants on 21st January 2019, when Theresa May also advised there would be no application fee.
An implementation period will run between 29 March 2019 and 31 December 2020, during which time there will be no change to EU citizens’ current rights.
At the end of the implementation period in December 2020, settled status will replace permanent residence status.
Those who are in the UK by 31 December 2020 but have not attained the requisite five-year qualifying period will be eligible for ‘pre-settled status’. With this, they are permitted to stay in the UK until they have reached the five-year point, when they should apply for full settled status.
EU citizens and family members living in the UK for five continuous years by 31 December 2020 will have until 30 June 2021 to make a settled status application to remain in the UK indefinitely.
Those who have not yet lived in the UK for five years will be granted pre-settled status and be able to apply for settled status once they reach the five-year point. From April 2019, this second application will be free of charge.
Close family members will be able to join an EU citizen relative in the UK after the end of the implementation period, provided the relationship existed on 31 December 2020 and continues to exist when the individual comes to the UK. This includes spouses, children and other dependants, as well as future children.
UK permanent residence
Permanent residency is a prerequisite for any EEA national seeking to become a British citizen. While permanent residence status is automatically attained after five years in the UK spent continually exercising your Treaty Rights, you can only apply for British citizenship if you can evidence you meet the continued residence requirement. This means you will need documentary evidence of your enduring right to reside in the UK in the form of a permanent residence card.
Permanent residence holders will be permitted to transfer their status to settled status fee of charge once the settlement scheme goes live.
I you have lived in the UK for 6 continuous years and have held permanent residence status for more than 12 months, you may be eligible to apply to naturalise as a British citizen. Note that if you are married to a settled UK person, you can apply to naturalise as soon as you receive your permanent residence card without waiting the 12 months.
Post-Brexit UK Immigration
At this stage, it is a matter of waiting to hear the Government’s proposals on a post-Brexit UK immigration system and for a timeline for implementation by, theoretically, April 2019.
If we consider the MAC’s Brexit report as a strong indication of a new system, with largely skills-based assessment and criteria rather than nationality and whether new schemes or routes emerge such as those conferring benefits and relaxed entry criteria – will remain to be seen.
The immediate priority identified by the MAC is the economy, and leveraging immigration for UK economic benefit and favouring the resident workforce. Removing the cap on highly-skilled workers for example – as was done earlier this year for NHS doctors – seems a highly pragmatic solution and should address issues with regional salary variations missing out on skilled visa workers under the existing points-based cap.
However, in practice, a Tier 2 (General) style approach for non-resident skilled migrants, at least in its current form, would see increased recruitment costs for employers in the form of the Immigration Skills Charge, sponsor licence applications, management and renewals.
We are helping EEA nationals concerned about their UK immigration status and advising UK employers from across industries on future-proofing their recruitment, compliance and people strategies, including delivering support for their UK-based EU workers.
With any new scheme will come an inevitable need to police individuals’ immigration status. We expect this will fall to UK employers as part of their Right to Work document checks, following an update to the Home Office’s lists of acceptable documents.
From an HR compliance perspective, now is a good time for employers to ensure all relevant organisational policies and processes (recruitment, onboarding) are compliant with Right to Work duties and do not discriminate against individuals on the basis of nationality, and that relevant personnel are adequately trained and skilled to perform the document checks correctly. Take advice if you are concerned about the impact of the new settled scheme or your organisation’s immigration compliance.
If you have a question about the Brexit Impact Report, contact us.