Migration Advisory Committee favours “no preference” for EU workers

By Vanessa Ganguin, immigration solicitor, co-founder of London immigration firm Ganguin Samartin 

EU citizens should not be given preferential access when applying for UK visas, according to the long-awaited Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report on the future of EEA migration.

The EEA migration in the UK: Final report was commissioned by the former Home Secretary Amber Rudd in July 2017.

Its remit was to provide evidence to inform the creation of a new migration system for the UK following Brexit, which will be needed once the implementation period ends on 31st December 2020. The influential committee’s recommendations usually become government policy.

What were the Migration Advisory Committee’s key recommendations for visas post-Brexit? 

The annual cap on the number of Tier 2 (General) visas available for skilled workers with a job offer should be abolished.

Medium-skilled workers should be eligible for Tier 2 (General) visas.

The minimum salary requirement of £30,000 should be kept for Tier 2 (General) visas.

The immigration skills charge (that employees have to pay when employing some foreign workers on Tier 2 visas) should be retained.

Abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) that employers must use when recruiting from abroad to show no UK citizen or ‘settled’ worker was available to fill the role or expansion of categories of jobs which are exempt from it.

Making it easier for workers in the UK on a Tier 2 visa to change employers.

There should be no specific migration route for low-skilled workers, except possibly for season agricultural workers.

What do the MAC report’s recommendations mean for employers and EU workers?

It is very disappointing that the MAC has not recommended some kind of preferential treatment for EEA ( the EU plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – and I’m including Switzerland which has a separate agreement with the EU) nationals and also to note the potential lack of provision for the lower skilled jobs which typically are not filled by resident workers.  

This means EEA workers will be considered the same as workers from elsewhere in the world and could potentially lead to labour shortages across a range of industries.

There are, however, some encouraging recommendations in relation to making Tier 2 (General) visas more flexible by opening up the skills threshold and removing the cap on Tier 2 (General) migration. This would allow a wider range of workers to be considered “skilled” and mean there was no limit on the number of visas available for skilled workers.

Employers have been having a nightmare in the past few months. At times it has been hard to predict when the monthly limit is reached.

It should also be noted that while the government has said it will “carefully consider” the report’s recommendations, they will not necessarily be reflected in government policy. The issue of EU citizens’ rights to live and work in the UK post-Brexit are still to be decided as part of the ongoing negotiations between the UK and the EU and any decision on visas for EEA nationals is likely still some way off. 

Preferential treatment for EEA nationals may well be part of a Brexit deal struck with the EU member states.  

This is the MAC report’s full summary of recommendations for work migration post-Brexit:

  1. General principle behind migration policy changes should be to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to migrate to the UK than lower-skilled workers.

  2. No preference for EU citizens, on the assumption UK immigration policy not included in agreement with EU.

  3. Abolish the cap on the number of migrants under Tier 2 (General).

  4. Tier 2 (General) to be open to all jobs at RQF3 and above. Shortage Occupation List will be fully reviewed in our next report in response to the SOL Commission.

  5. Maintain existing salary thresholds for all migrants in Tier 2.

  6. Retain but review the Immigration Skills Charge.

  7. Consider abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test. If not abolished, extend the numbers of migrants who are exempt through lowering the salary required for exemption.

  8. Review how the current sponsor licensing system works for small and medium-sized businesses.

  9. Consult more systematically with users of the visa system to ensure it works as smoothly as possible.

  10. For lower-skilled workers avoid Sector-Based Schemes (with the potential exception of a Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme)

  11. If a SAWS scheme is reintroduced, ensure upward pressure on wages via an agricultural minimum wage to encourage increases in productivity.

  12. If a “backstop” is considered necessary to fill low-skilled roles extend the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme.

  13. Monitor and evaluate the impact of migration policies.

  14. Pay more attention to managing the consequences of migration at a local level.

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