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Migration Advisory Committee Report: EEA Migration in the UK

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has now published its final report on EEA Migration in the UK.

The MAC is an independent public body that advises the government on migration issues and its report contained recommendations for the UK’s post-Brexit work immigration system. In this newsflash, we set out some of the key recommendations put forward in the report.

High skill v low skill migration

The MAC recognises the clear benefit that highly skilled migrants bring to the UK, particularly in terms of increasing productivity and increasing UK public finances and places a greater value on this than the benefit brought by low skilled migrants. As a result, it is proposed that a less restrictive regime for higher skilled workers should be introduced. The report made it clear that it should be made easier for higher-skilled workers to migrate to the UK.

In contrast, the MAC proposed to close lower skilled worker routes and stated that access to the UK should be restricted for those with low skilled jobs. The MAC acknowledges that this will result in a skills shortage. The report suggested that those who enter the UK on family visas and existing residents could alleviate this skills shortage; or alternatively, the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme could be extended (see below).  The report noted that 99% of seasonal agricultural workers are from EU countries; as such, it is unlikely that this skills shortage could be alleviated. Accordingly, the MAC proposed that a Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme could be introduced as an exception to avoiding Sector-Based Schemes for lower skilled workers.

Tier 2 – General

One of the key principles evident within the report is that there should not be a preference for EEA workers over non-EEA workers. The report suggests that the existing Tier 2 (General) visa scheme could provide a useful template for a work permit scheme that covers both EEA and non-EEA workers. However, in order to make the scheme administratively workable, the report proposed various amendments.

The MAC recommended that the Tier 2 cap, which currently allows 20,700 migrants to enter the UK per year, is abolished. The report stated that the cap creates uncertainty, and stated that “it makes little sense for a migrant to be perceived as of value one day and not the next”.  It is also noteworthy that in recent months this cap has been exceeded frequently. The report also proposed that the scheme is extended so that individuals with jobs at RQF levels 3, 4 and 5 i.e. below undergraduate degree level are also eligible to apply. This would mean that an additional 142 occupations would be eligible for the Tier 2 (General) Scheme. The MAC proposed that despite this recommendation, the existing salary thresholds should be maintained for all migrants in Tier 2. The minimum salary threshold is currently £30,000 for jobs at RQF level 6.

Additionally, the MAC recommended the abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test which requires sponsors to go through a rigorous advertising and recruitment process. The MAC is sceptical as to the effectiveness of the test, and stated that the bureaucratic costs outweigh any economic benefit. The MAC alternatively suggested that if the test is to be retained, a larger share of jobs should be exempt from the test.

Tier 5 – Youth Mobility Scheme

The Tier 5 YMS visa is currently for individuals aged between 18 and 30 who are citizens of one of eight countries and allows the visa holder to work in the UK for up to two years.

In an attempt to provide a ‘safety valve’ for employers who may struggle to fill the void of lower skilled workers, the MAC proposed the possibility of expanding this scheme. The report states that because individuals who enter the UK with a Tier 5 visa cannot bring dependants, they are more likely to be net fiscal contributors.

What happens next?

It is important to note that the proposals contained within the report are only recommendations but many of these will be welcomed by businesses who rely on both EEA and non-EEA workers to carry out vital roles in their organisations. The Government is due to publish an Immigration White Paper later this year, which is expected to contain proposals of the UK’s post-Brexit work immigration system.

Please contact a member of the Immigration Team for support with help with recruiting from outside the UK or visa queries for yourself or your employees.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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