The MAC report has been long awaited and has been anticipated as evidence to what the UK’s future intentions in regards to Immigration policy may be following Brexit.
In general, it seems the report suggests that workers from EEA countries should not be given preference over those from other nations in post-Brexit immigration policy. As most immigration lawyers know, a huge part of the Brexit vote was around Immigration, the reality, recognised in the MAC report, is that “…(EU) migrants have no or little impact on the overall employment and unemployment outcomes of the UK-born workforce…”.
The key recommendations are set out below:
- The 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. They believe there is clear evidence they bring benefits to the UK's public finances, innovation and productivity.
- There should be no preference for EU citizens unless this forms part of an agreement between the UK and the EU. As the UK government and the EU are still in negotiations to determine the nature of a future UK/EU agreement, it is possible the UK government will concede some preferential treatment for EU citizens as part of any final agreement.
- Abolish the cap on the number of migrants under Tier 2 (General).
- Reduce the skills threshold from RQF 6 (graduate level) to RQF 3, to bring medium-skilled workers within Tier 2 General (as they were pre-2011).
- Maintain existing salary thresholds of £30,000or all migrants in Tier 2. The MAC believes that this will avoid downward pressure on salaries.
- Retain but review the Immigration Skills Charge (ISC). This is currently set at £1,000 per annum and was set to double to £2,000 at some point. Therefore extending to EU nationals will significantly increase the cost of recruitment where a resident worker is not available.
- Consider abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT). If not abolished, extend the numbers of migrants who are exempt through lowering the salary required for exemption. The RLMT currently delays the hiring of non EU migrants by 28 days, removing this will help speed the process up and reduce recruitment costs.
- Review how the current sponsor licensing system works for small and medium-sized businesses.
- Consult more systematically with users of the visa system to ensure it works as smoothly as possible.
- For lower-skilled workers avoid Sector-Based Schemes (with the potential exception of a Seasonal Agricultural Workers scheme). The government has already introduced a visa scheme for fruit and vegetable growers on a pilot basis to run until the end of December 2020.
- If a SAWS scheme is reintroduced, ensure upward pressure on wages via an agricultural minimum wage to encourage increases in productivity.
- If a “backstop” is considered necessary to fill low-skilled roles extend the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme.
- Monitor and evaluate the impact of migration policies.
- Pay more attention to managing the consequences of migration at a local level.
Whilst the report does contain some positive recommendations, particularly regarding the scrapping of the Tier 2 cap, it is difficult to see whether a new system along these lines will be adopted and how effective it will be. The rejection of any kind of preferential treatment of EU citizens suggests that the MAC report do not see Immigration from the EU/EEA as part of the crucial Brexit deal that is currently being negotiated and fails to recognise the reliance of the UK’s labour market on both skilled and unskilled workers from the EU. This conclusion will be extremely disappointing to many employers who rely heavily on EEA labor to fill low-skilled positions, especially in the social care, hospitality, construction and retail sectors.
It seems employers will need to await the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and the Brexit White Paper (due to be published later this autumn) to fully understand the future of EEA migration to the UK.