techUK analysis and summary of the Immigration White Paper

The Immigration White Paper has been long anticipated by UK businesses, having been originally promised in the Summer of last year. Published today it sets out the Government’s vision for the UK’s immigration system post-Brexit and transition period (presuming there is a deal).

Widely trailed was the main headline – that EEA nationals would now be subject to the same rules as other nationals. techUK has consistently argued that simply bringing EEA nationals under the rest of world system, without significant reform, would be unpalatable for UK businesses. Whilst the White Paper makes some tweaks to the system to reduce the burden on business it remains highly problematic. 

This summary maps the White Paper against the key asks set out in our immigration report produced in September 2018. However, much of the finer detail of our 10 asks – e.g. changes to necessary supporting documentation – will not be known until the Immigration Rules are published in 12 months’ time.

Economic impact

Migrants, particularly those employed in the tech sector who tend to be high-skilled and well remunerated, make a net contribution to the UK economy. This finding was borne out in the MAC’s latest report too. But we cannot ignore that public sentiment and the Government’s manifesto commitment requires immigration levels to be reduced. This is at the heart of the White Paper, despite their own economic impact assessment indicating that ‘this reduction in long-term EEA migrants could have a cumulative fiscal cost of between £2billion and £4billion over the first five years (2021-2025)’. It is counterintuitive that the Government are proposing an immigration system that does not support UK economy.

By bringing EEA nationals under the rest of world system, businesses will now have increased costs associated with hiring overseas talent from visa fees to immigration skills charge. This will be particularly painful for SMEs but will undoubtedly affect tech companies of all sizes. techUK members have already raised concerns in this area. For example a large tech firm with a major presence in London flagged to techUK that if EEA hires were included in Tier 2, their visa costs this year would have more than doubled.

EEA and rest of world

The Migration Advisory Committee acknowledged in their report that migration may well form part of negotiations between the UK and EU on the future relationship, as well as in future trade negotiations with third countries. Today’s White Paper acknowledges and reiterates this framing point which provides some mild reassurance to industry. techUK believes preferential access to markets we strike trade deals with in the future will be essential if we are to maintain a globally competitive tech sector.

Skills and salary

The White Paper, as recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee, has removed the cap on the numbers of skilled workers entering into the UK under the Tier 2 (general) route. Removing the cap is enormously welcome. For a number of months this year tech professionals, who had jobs to come to in the UK were being denied visas just because a cap had been reached. This clearly makes no sense so we are glad to see the cap being abolished. However, this process must now be streamlined and simplified so that SMEs who previously avoided using the system because of its bureaucracy and complexity – by recruiting from the European Economic Area (EEA) - are not faced with unsustainable and unnecessary burdens

However, the White Paper maintains an assumption by Government the salary is a proxy for skill level – techUK disagrees with this. The Migration Advisory Committee acknowledges that the list of eligible occupations should be expanded though the salary cap remains at £30,000. techUK supports the Home Secretary in calling for consultation on this matter but hopes that the consultation terms allow for skills level beyond salary to be considered, rather than focussing purely on the salary threshold.

Resident Labour Market Test

The White Paper calls for an abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT), this along with the removal of caps on skilled workers are small wins for business that should be celebrated. However, this is not the end of RLMT for business and the White Paper flags that the Home Office will consider a ‘light touch form’ of RLMT for intermediate skilled jobs – e.g. graduate entrant jobs.

Mobility clause for the EU

We are relieved to see that for visitors from the EU, the future immigration system will not require individuals to obtain a visit visa. The caveat being that the EU must reciprocate with a similar system for UK citizens. One of the benefits of headquartering in the UK at present, is the ability to travel from the UK into the EU quickly and efficiently, this must continue for the tech sector to thrive.

Efficient and smart system

Looking beyond the ideologies behind the proposed new system and looking at the more granular detail, the White Paper does little to acknowledge the valid concerns about the creaking Rest of World application process.

Looking at the effective use of technology, The EU Settlement Scheme seeks to use technology to streamline the application process and provide an individual with clarity over their status and rights in the UK. The system is modern, efficient and should be used as a template for the ambitious and innovative thinking Home Office can generate. We hope that the Home Office uses the EU Settlement Scheme as a benchmark for the future systems.

Students

techUK called for the re-introduction of the post-study work visa for certain subjects – e.g. STEM. The Home Office has instead taken on board MAC recommendations by offering Bachelors and Masters students six months’ post-study leave. Furthermore, the system has been streamlined by allowing students (Bachelors and above) the ability to switch to a skilled worker route up to three months before the end of their course in the UK. We believe Government could go further in attracting students to stay post-study and will continue to advocate for this.

Stakeholder engagement

We appreciate acknowledgements to work closely with industry and wider stakeholders on a number of the proposals laid out in the White Paper for at least a year before publishing the Immigration Rules. We commend government for holding back from hasty decision-making and calling for as ‘straightforward and light touch as possible, and low cost to employers’. However, this further engagement brings with it more delays to the detail of the future system which gives businesses less time to implement. All further engagement should be reflected in increased implementation times for business before the new system is rolled out.

What come’s next?

  • The Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill will be published tomorrow (Thursday 20 December).
  • Home Office has committed to working with stakeholders for at least a year before published the Immigration Rules. This will include consultation on labour market tests for intermediate skills and the salary threshold for Tier 2 (General Worker).
  • The new immigration and borders system will be implemented in a phased approach from 2021.

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