Brexit discussions have reached fever pitch in recent weeks. Central to those discussions has been the Government's future immigration policy in a deal or no deal situation. In this review, we comment on the Government's recent Immigration White Paper as well as other changes coming into force this month.
Shortage Occupation Review
The deadline for submission of evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) in its review of the shortage occupation list has been extended to 13 January. Employers have an extra week to respond with examples of job titles which they consider to be in shortage and for a chance to inform future Government policy.
Immigration White Paper
On 19 December 2018 the Government issued its long-awaited White Paper on the future UK immigration system post Brexit. This appears to be the most comprehensive review the Government has had of the immigration system for at least a decade. The new proposals will be phased in from January 2021 after the end of the transitional period in December 2020. Before then, the Government is planning a 12-month consultation period with stakeholders on aspects of the proposed new system.
We will provide a more in-depth review of the report separately and address here some of the key points.
The headline, as expected following the MAC's recommendations to the Government, is that there will be a single immigration system for EU and non-EU nationals. The current system distinguishes between 'low risk' (USA, Australia, Japan) and 'high risk' (Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria) nationalities. It is likely that EU nationals will be treated as 'low risk nationals' and will have greater flexibility. In particular, it is proposed that EU nationals will not require a visa to enter the UK for up to six months and they will be able to continue to use the e-gates to enter the UK, thankfully avoiding long queues at the border.
EU nationals arriving under the new system will however be required to obtain permission to work which is not currently the case. The Tier 2 sponsorship system will apply to those in skilled roles. The Government has taken on nearly all of the MAC's recommendations, which include doing away with the requirement for employers to advertise to local workers first, as well as ending the cap on Tier 2 applications.
The main bars to employers sponsoring EU workers are, however, likely to be:
- First, the role will need to meet the minimum salary level which is recommended to be kept at £30,000 (although the MAC proposes to consult further on this);
- Secondly, employers will need to show that the skills level of the role is sufficiently high, although the overall skills level may be lowered to intermediate 'A-level' skilled roles;
- Thirdly, the Immigration Skills Charge, currently £364 per year of the visa for small companies and £1,000 per year of the visa for medium or large companies, is likely to apply to EU nationals in addition to the visa fees and the Immigration Health Surcharge which has doubled as detailed below. Therefore costs will be a significant factor for employers when considering whether to take on EU nationals from 2021.
Some of the further proposals which we will look at separately are as follows:
- 'Low-risk' nationals will able to switch from visitor to Tier 2 status from within the UK instead of having to return to their home country to apply;
- Greater flexibility for students to remain in the UK post-study and to apply in Tier 2;
- A review of the Tier 2 compliance requirements and looking at reducing the administrative burden on sponsors;
- Temporary short-term route for workers;
- A youth mobility route for EU nationals.
The proposed new system looks to be more flexible and less administratively burdensome overall, which is welcome. However the level of costs involved and the additional burden on employers having to sponsor visas for EU nationals may impact the flow of EU labour into the UK and the willingness of sponsors to engage EU skilled workers. There will be short-term relief given that the current EU workforce can apply for settled or pre-settled status to remain, and as it is proposed to introduce a 'temporary worker' route to address short-term skills shortages. However in the longer-term hiring EU nationals will become more difficult and the question for employers is 'at what cost?'.
Immigration Health Surcharge
As from 8 January 2019 the Immigration Health Surcharge has doubled from £200 per year per person to £400. The fee increase applies only to those making applications from that date and not to those with existing visas. In some cases there are exemptions from the Health Surcharge and there is a lower fee of £300 for students and those on the Youth Mobility scheme.
EU Settlement Scheme
A new phase of the pilot of the EU Settlement Scheme will open from 21 January 2019. From that date, EU citizens and their non-EU citizen family members who hold a valid biometric residence card, will be able to apply for settled or pre-settled status. This is a voluntary test phase. The Scheme will be fully open by 30 March 2019 and EU citizens will have until 30 June 2021 to apply.
Feedback during the pilot phase has been positive however only straightforward applications have been processed to date and it remains to be seen how the system copes with larger volumes and more complex circumstances.
Residency of UK citizens in the Netherlands assured in 'no deal'
The Dutch Government announced on 7 January 2019 that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, UK citizens and their families who are lawfully resident in the Netherlands prior to 29 March 2019 will be entitled to continue to live and work there. They will be invited to apply for a permanent residence permit after a transitional period.
Similar announcements have been made by the German and Italian Governments. However, the recent announcements do not address the rights of UK nationals who enter after 29 March 2019 in a 'no deal' situation.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Gillian McKearney.