MAC report on new structure for UK immigration rules

On 28 January 2020, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) released its recommendations on the new structure of the UK immigration rules from 2021. Our friends at Migrate UK have summarised below its recommendations, outlined the pros and cons, and consider whether the report will make a difference as well as the implications for EU citizens and future immigration control.

The MAC report is advisory, and the government is due to release the planned rules and framework in March 2020.

The overall feeling, says Migrate, is that the MAC has been frustrated with the lack of data on the evaluation of specific visa routes provided by the government in order to make recommendations for a new points-based system. Despite this, key recommendations have been made to:

  • maintain the current Tier 2 General work visa system
  • turn the existing Tier 1 Exceptional Talent category into a points-based route for skilled workers without a job offer, and
  • look into changing the rules for settlement in the UK

What are the main points?

  • Lower the overall qualifying salary threshold for sponsored work under Tier 2 General (which should be retained but maybe under a different name) from £30,000 to £25,600. Migrants would still need to be offered at least the ‘going rate’ for the vacancy they are filling, and the appropriate salary threshold should continue to be the higher of the occupation specific and general threshold – either £25,600 or the going rate. There will be no regional variation unless a pilot scheme is introduced for specific areas.
  • Maintain the plan to lower the skill level to include medium skill occupations at RQF Level 3 and above. Currently, in the majority of cases the minimum is RQF Level 6 and above.
  • Adding the following RQF3+ occupations to those that qualify for work sponsorship: air conditioning and refrigeration engineers, rail and rolling stock builders and repairers, skilled metal, electrical and electronic trades supervisors, carpenters and joiners, glaziers, window fabricators and fitters, plasterers, floorers and wall tilers, painters and decorators, construction and building trades supervisors, childminders and related occupations, teaching assistants and educational support assistants. Removing the following from RQF Level 3 for sponsorship purposes: fishing and other elementary agriculture occupations, waiters and waitresses.
  • Abolition of the cap on the number of skilled workers and the Resident Labour Market Test.
  • Use of national pay scales as the relevant salary threshold in 24 occupations in health and education instead of occupation specific and general thresholds.
  • More flexibility for existing visa holders to switch to part-time work after becoming a parent – no pro-rated salary thresholds for part-time work.
  • Not lower salary thresholds for shortage occupations. Review whether jobs on the Shortage Occupation list are still needed for medium + high skill levels under the new system.
  • Introduce the actual Points-Based System as a variation of the current Tier 1 Exceptional Talent route but with major changes:
    • There should be an overall annual cap on those admitted
    • The route should operate on an expression of interest basis creating a pool of migrants interested in coming to the UK
    • There should be a monthly draw from this pool with those selected invited to submit a full application
    • The selection of those invited to apply should be based on those who have the highest number of points in the pool using a Points-Based system with tradeable points
    • There should also be an absolute minimum number of points
    • Points should be given for characteristics that the government wants to attract through this route and for whom other routes are not suitable
    • Among the characteristics that the government might want to consider in assigning points are:
      • Qualifications with a rigorous process to assess the quality of qualifications and not just the level
      • Age
      • Extra points for having studied in the UK
      • Priority areas such as STEM and creative skills
      • Changes should only be made if data is collected on the outcomes of migrants on this route, with monitoring and evaluation of the route
  • To look into the rules for settling in the UK. Freeze the current yearly increase in required earnings to qualify for settlement

What are the pros and cons?

The MAC recommendations would reduce levels of immigration, the size of the UK population and total GDP, and increase pressure on social care. But it would probably reduce pressures on the NHS, schools and on social housing.

The National Federation of Builders (NFB) welcomes the MAC recommendations and has urged the government to accept them. According to Richard Beresford, chief executive of the NFB the recommendations are a step in the right direction as these changes will reduce pressure on the skills crisis, provide more certainty for the construction sector and avoid devastating consequences for many industries.

Will the report make any difference?

Too early to say. Shortly after publication, the Home Secretary Priti Patel stressed that the MAC proposals were merely advisory, and that the government is not backing away from a points system.

The report also reveals that Professor Manning is not being kept on as Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, despite his desire for a second term.

What are the implications for EU citizens?

The report is expected to be influential in the design of the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system, under which EU citizens will come under the same visa rules as non-EU citizens, but those rules will be made more liberal overall. EU nationals will also be subject to sponsorship. Therefore, employers are advised to roughly forecast how many vacancies the organisation will have for the next financial year, including EU nationals as well as any non-EEA RQF Level 3 vacancies. These should be included in the justification for numbers of Certificates of Sponsorship requested.

It is important to note that the RQF job codes could be shaken up again prior to implementation of the rules in 2021.

What are the implications in terms of immigration control?

Although, the cut in the salary threshold was largely welcomed by business, campaign group Migration Watch warned it was a dangerous move that the abolition of caps reduced government control over migration.

Options that could be considered to limit reliance on overseas workers might be:

  • an increase in the NHS Surcharge for each worker and family member (it currently stands at £400 per year of sponsorship, and /or
  • an increase in the Skills Charge placed on some skilled workers (currently £1,000 per year per worker for medium/large organisations and £364 per year per worker for small organisations)