No preferential treatment for EU migrants – is the headline from today’s long-awaited Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) report. The MAC has issued recommendations around the future of the UK’s immigration policy and, in particular, the system which EU nationals should face if they arrive after December 2020.
But it’s not just this headline which is rather surprising; it’s the proposal that the much-maligned-by-business, Tier 2 of the Points Based System, the model which currently regulates non-EU migrant workers, will envelop EU nationals. The MAC is thereby extending a scheme which has high costs for businesses, both financially and administratively. This model also restricts the available positions to EU nationals to higher paid jobs in the 25th percentile of earnings, making free movement a distant memory.
Why this report is so important
The MAC report is highly important as it is likely to form the basis of the UK’s future immigration system.
Around half of all migrants come to the UK under EU free movement provisions. Whilst the position for EU nationals currently here, and those who arrive prior to December 2020, is now fixed, the Government has refrained from taking a position on EU nationals who arrive after 2020, stating that it will be informed by the findings of this MAC report. As the MAC is an independent quango, albeit sponsored by, and having a secretariat comprised of, Home Office civil servants, it was considered best placed to provide more of an ‘evidence-based’ approach to this notoriously politicised issue.
The transition model
After Britain leaves the EU, the rights-based, free movement system will formally end. However, the same rights will effectively be transposed into domestic legislation and so free movement will, to all intents and purposes, carry on until December 2020. The major proviso is that all EU nationals will have to register under the EU Settlement Scheme.
The future – key facts
The MAC report states that, post-December 2020, there should be no preferential treatment for EU nationals, over non-EU nationals. Should this change materialise, then this would be a remarkable shift from the current model. As noted, the MAC proposes to bring EU migration under the Tier 2 system, which is considered to be unwieldy by those businesses currently unfortunate enough to be running a Tier 2 sponsor licence.
The MAC attempts to soften the blow with some changes to the Tier 2 model, including the abolition of the cap on the number of workers coming from abroad who can be sponsored (although those applying from within the UK are already exempt from the cap); stopping the requirement to undertake a resident labour market test; and reducing the minimum skill level for migrants from RQF Level 6 to Level 3, so lower skilled workers can be sponsored.
However, employers may still be dismayed by the recommendation that the minimum salary level is retained at £30,000, meaning that, in reality, few lower skilled positions will be capable of sponsorship. Furthermore, the MAC recommends the retention of the Immigration Skills Surcharge of £1,000 per year, per migrant worker. Thus, a small business which wants to sponsor an EU migrant, and which doesn’t currently hold a sponsor licence, would have to fork out a whopping £3,776 to sponsor a single migrant for 3 years (the migrant would then have to pay significant visa and NHS fees).
It’s one thing to decide that there should be no preferential treatment for EU citizens, given that the UK is leaving the EU. But it’s quite another to reduce the EU model to the dysfunctional system which currently applies to non-EU nationals. The MAC also fails to address the perennial question, which whilst clichéd remains no less prescient: who is going to do the jobs which settled workers can’t, or won’t do?