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Migration Advisory Committee: scrap the cap on Tier 2 work visas after Brexit


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The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its long-awaited research into migration from the EU and how it should be managed after Brexit. The report will disappoint advocates of a fairly liberal regime, recommending as it does that if there is no specific agreement with the EU on migration, there need be no preferential treatment of EU workers over non-EU workers in future. But that does mean that the overall work visa regime would have to be loosened a bit: by abolishing the cap on Tier 2 visas, for example, as well as the requirement to advertise jobs to British citizens before recruiting from abroad. It also takes aim at the bureaucracy of the Points Based System.

The MAC deals largely with economic and social impacts of migration rather than legal issues, the gist being that everyone should calm down a bit:

The evidence presented in this report suggest that despite the significant scale of migration from EU countries over the past 15 years, the overall economic impacts have been relatively small with the main effect being an increase in population. EEA migration as a whole has not harmed the existing resident population overall, as has been claimed by some, but also has not had the significant benefit claimed by others.

Cut out and keep table 7.1 for a summary of the economic and social research.

As the committee has political influence, the report has already received blanket media coverage, so I won’t bother giving a full summary that you can get elsewhere other than to quote its recommendations:

Summary of recommendations for work migration post-Brexit

1. General principle behind migration policy changes should be to make it easier for higher-skilled workers to migrate to the UK than lower-skilled workers.

2. No preference for EU citizens, on the assumption UK immigration policy not included in agreement with EU.

3. Abolish the cap on the number of migrants under Tier 2 (General).

4. Tier 2 (General) to be open to all jobs at RQF3 and above. Shortage Occupation List will be fully reviewed in our next report in response to the SOL Commission.

5. Maintain existing salary thresholds for all migrants in Tier 2.

6. Retain but review the Immigration Skills Charge.

7. Consider abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test. If not abolished, extend the numbers of migrants who are exempt through lowering the salary required for exemption.

8. Review how the current sponsor licensing system works for small and medium-sized businesses.

9. Consult more systematically with users of the visa system to ensure it works as smoothly as possible.

10. For lower-skilled workers avoid Sector-Based Schemes (with the potential exception of a Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme)

11. If a SAWS scheme is reintroduced, ensure upward pressure on wages via an agricultural minimum wage to encourage increases in productivity.

12. If a “backstop” is considered necessary to fill low-skilled roles extend the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme.

13. Monitor and evaluate the impact of migration policies.

14. Pay more attention to managing the consequences of migration at a local level.

Translating a few of these: number 4 means that “medium-skilled jobs should be eligible for Tier (2) General not just high-skilled jobs as at present”. Nichola points out that this change, combined with the requirement for EU nationals to be sponsored, would “require significant numbers of UK employers to enter the sponsor licence system”. Recommendations 8 and 9 reflect the profound unhappiness of business with that very system:

criticisms of the administrative burdens the scheme imposes should be taken seriously if it is to be extended to EEA citizens.

Recommendation 6 means “the Immigration Skills Charge should also cover EEA citizens” (this logically flows from recommendation 2). The justification for abolishing the Resident Labour Market Test is that “a robust approach to the salary thresholds and the Immigration Skill[s] Charge are a better way to protect UK workers against the dangers of employers using migrant workers to under-cut UK-born”.

On recommendations 10 and 12, the explanation is:

if there is to be a route for low-skilled migrant workers we recommend using an expanded youth mobility scheme rather than employer-led sector-based routes.

The committee also recommends easier switching between employers for migrants on Tier 2 visas and better evaluation of the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) and Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa routes. All eyes now on the political response.


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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.