Last Monday, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced more details on the new points-based immigration system, which is set to come into force under six months from now on 1 January 2021. The new system is designed to compensate for the end of free movement of people with the European Union (EU), a system which allowed EU citizens to work in the UK (and UK citizens in the EU) without having to apply for immigration status.
The 130-page document published by the Home Office last week gives more guidance on how this Points-Based System, which in reality is not new, but a rebranding of the system currently in force, might work.
From the outset, the document states it sets out the main “economic migration” routes for post-Brexit Britain. Indeed, the document solely addresses immigration issues which bring some type of direct economic gain to the UK – from high-skilled workers and investor visas to student and seasonal visas. It does not deal with other (problematic) aspects of the immigration system, be it the insanity of indefinite detention, the abysmal amount of asylum support for asylum seekers during the pandemic, the cruelty of the hostile environment or the many faults of the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). There is no mention of the stringent family requirements, or extortionate visa fees, except to say that the Immigration Health Surcharge is here to stay. It may be refunded or cancelled for NHS and social care workers, and wider health workers.
As known from previously released guidance, the points-based visa system takes different factors like skills and language into account when awarding visas which allow foreign nationals to work in the UK.
As such, workers need to score 50 points from the general requirements (meaning they need to have a job offer for a job at the “appropriate” skill level from an approved employer). In addition, they need to speak English, and then score an additional 20 points based on the salary level, job type or, alternatively, by possessing a PhD. The general minimum starting salary for a job offer is £25,600, unless it is a job on the shortage occupation list, or if the applicant has a PhD relevant to the job. In those cases, the salary threshold may be lowered to £20,480.
Hoping to live up to their promise to take back control, the government has previously said it hoped Britons would fill a shortfall of around 120,000 workers, equating to 10% of all vacancies. In addition, the cap on the amount of migrant workers allowed to come to the UK is removed to allow employers to recruit more from overseas.
Initiatives like the much-awaited NHS visa, are also supposed to plug one of the main gaps in the labour market. Branded the new “Health and Care visa,” NHS clinical staff applicants will enjoy reduced visa fees and fast-track processes. Despite the name, however, the visa does not actually extend to care workers, as salaries and/or skill-levels for care jobs are often below the required threshold. Considering 17% of care jobs are currently filled by foreign citizens, there would still be a shortfall of at least 7% even if the ambitious Home Office goal of 10% is met. A solution to this shortfall could be to put these carer jobs on the shortage occupation list – but, in Home Office organisational tradition, that list has not been published yet.
So, not only is it unknown which jobs will qualify as shortage occupations, leaving people guessing at which jobs they may apply for and at which rate, but the logic of such a lowered threshold also seems flawed – if these positions are hard to fill, then how would offering lower salaries help attract more applicants?
A similar problem arises when it comes to seasonal (agricultural) workers. Whilst the government has made arrangements for seasonal harvest workers, the cap et on foreign harvesters falls below what the National Farmers’ Union recommended. The updated guidance fails to address this, instead stating that the farming sector will be reassessed at the end of this year after the end of a pilot scheme. In the meantime, crops are left to wither as the looming end of free movement is compounded by pandemic-related border closures, and seasonal harvesters fail to make it in time.
For businesses, the Immigration Skill Charge levied on employers remains unchanged, meaning that in addition to third-party nationals, ‘new’ EU/EEA/Swiss citizens from 1 January 2021 will cost businesses £1,000 per employee, per year. There is a reduced charge of £364 per employee, per year for small or charitable organisations. There will also not be a charge levied on EU citizens with status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
For students, the old ‘Graduate Route’ reopens in summer 2021, allowing students to stay in the UK for two years after their graduation to work or look for work. If they want to stay beyond those two years, they will have to switch into another visa category. The updated guidance focuses on working visas, rather than other options such as spousal or family visas.
As promised, the new guidance focuses on economic migration, wilfully overlooking other, more humane visa routes such as family or asylum. The focus of the guidance is on jobs, economic worth and border security. Yet, even for workers and economic supply chains, it fails to deliver, as it lacks overall detail on who will and won't be able to work in the UK once the points-based system actually takes effect.