There is a lot to like about the newly released Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report. The committee has assessed the pros and cons of implementing an Australian-style points-based-system after Brexit.
The report we publish today covers two commissions, one on the possible role of a points-based system and one on the appropriate level and design of salary thresholds. Both commissions are about the UK's future skills-based work migration system to be introduced after the end of the Brexit transition period, 2021 at the earliest.
Comments on the report have been cautiously positive. The British Chamber of Commerce stated:
"Businesses want a flexible immigration system that provides access to the staff they need, without costly delays or red tape.
"While a reduction in the salary threshold is welcome and the list of eligible jobs has been expanded, it is disappointing that recommendations did not take account of regional salary differences. This risks limiting access to skills for companies in regions and nations across the UK.
"The MAC has also backed our call for a points-based route for skilled workers to enter the UK without a job offer. Businesses should be consulted on how points are awarded to ensure the economy has the right skills at the right time.
"While companies are investing more in homegrown skills, they will continue to need access to migrant skills at all levels for the foreseeable future. At a time of critical skills shortages, the government must be clear about its plans and allow businesses ample time to adapt."
Move to full Australian-style points-based-system rejected
The MAC has rejected the idea of moving fully to an Australian-style points-based system, which, since Theresa May's premiership has been touted by many as the ideal model. Instead of the immigration system being based on "economically relevant characteristics" such as education, language skills, and work experience, a two-pronged approach is recommended. Those people coming to the UK with a job offer would require a minimum salary to gain a visa. However, there will be a points-based system for skilled workers coming to the UK without an arranged job.
Lowering the minimum salary requirement
It is recommended that people who have a job offer need only be paid a minimum of £25,600 per year, rather than the current £30,000. This would allow desperately needed teachers, nurses, doctors, and other medium-skilled workers, such as recently graduated STEM talent to succeed in getting a UK work visa.
Although the MAC recommendations would ease the burden on the NHS, those recruiting in the social care sector state that it does not solve any of their troubles, which are "very, very real problems at the moment", according to MAC chairman Alan Manning, who told the Financial Times:
"Our view is the basic problem is it just doesn't offer attractive enough terms and conditions to attract and retain staff."
Speaking also to the Financial Times, Matthew Fell, chief UK Policy Director for the employer's group said the salary thresholds for mid-skilled roles, such as truck drivers, joiners and lab technicians needed to drop below the recommended £25,600 minimum.
"Flexibility will be needed to build a system that lets wages rise where there are shortages while helping businesses to access the skills and labour needed to grow all parts of the UK."
But what about businesses which rely on foreign-born cleaners, security, and waiting staff? London First, which represents some of the capital's biggest employers, said it believes it is unrealistic to set a salary threshold so high when many businesses rely on recruiting staff who earn less than £25,000 a year. Especially given that the pool of EU/EEA nationals such operations have so far relied on to cover staffing shortfalls will be subject to the same immigration controls as those from non-EU/EEA nations.
Changes to the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa
The MAC stated that the low number of successful applicants proved that the Tier 1 Exceptional Talent Visa was not bringing in enough super-talented people to make any real impact on the UK economy.
The reason identified is that the bar for endorsement is currently set too high. Interestingly, this is not due to endorsing bodies rejecting swathes of applicants. Seventy per cent of all endorsement submissions are approved. The low applicant numbers suggest that the current requirements for endorsement are off-putting to potentially successful candidates.
Furthermore, those who do meet the high-standard often don't find the route suitable. The report identified that a talented leader in their field is unlikely to up-sticks and move to a new country without a secure job offer. And if they have such an offer, their employer will encourage them to apply under the Tier 2 route.
To overcome the lack of applications, the MAC has recommended an "Expressions of Interest" system, similar to that used in other countries, be set up. Invitations to submit a full application could be monthly, with a quota applied. This could be done using a points-based-system with applicants with the most points invited to formally apply. More points could be awarded to the skills which the country most needs at a particular time. Furthermore, greater emphasis should be placed on the 'exceptional promise' rather than 'exceptional talent' part of the current route because those with proven talent are likely to be eligible for a visa with a job offer.
It does not look promising.
Following the report's release, Home Secretary, Priti Patel, dismissed the MAC as "advisory".
A Home Office spokesperson told The Guardian:
"We will deliver on the people's priorities by introducing a points-based immigration system from 2021 to attract the brightest and best talent from around the world, while reducing low-skilled migration and bringing overall numbers down."
In other words - we will plough ahead with an Australian-style system (or something similar).
One has to have sympathy for employers regarding this situation; once again, they have received zero certainties and the clock continues to rapidly tick towards the end of the transition period.
The MAC report contains some innovative, commercially astute ideas. Sadly, it does not look like the government is listening.
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