Today the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) released its long-anticipated report into EEA workers in the UK Labour Market. The report, commissioned in the Summer of 2017, seeks to advise policymakers on the current use of EEA labour in the UK workforce as well as review the existing framework for the ‘Rest of World’ immigration system.
techUK welcomes the MAC’s recognition of the valuable contribution immigration makes to the UK economy, and their attempt to demystify the assumption that immigration damages the upskilling of the UK-born workforce or that EEA nationals in the UK take out of the economy more than they put in.
Disappointingly, the MAC has failed to recommend whether or not immigration should form part of the negotiations with the European Union. Instead it has premised the entire report on the new immigration system being created in isolation, where it sees no reason for preferential access to the UK for EU nationals.
The language in the report sets it up to be inaccurately reported. It is absolutely vital that parliamentarians and policymakers should not fall into the trap of thinking that the MAC is recommending that there should be no preferential access which could unlock huge value.
Bearing that very important caveat in mind, techUK has assessed the MAC’s report against the ten asks of the future immigration system we published last week. Here’s what we think:
techUK called for a split in process between short-term business critical travel and long-term immigration, something that is currently bundled together in existing Rest of World immigration and political rhetoric.
Verdict: There is an acknowledgement of this need as the report flags that ending free movement does not mean visa-free travel for EEA citizens would end, instead a visa would be needed to settle and work in the UK for any period of time. We hope the differentiation between settlement and mobility is kept at the forefront of both the debate and is reflected in the White paper.
Improvements to the existing Rest of World system
Whilst the MAC report makes a number of recommendations to improve the existing Rest of World system, these are small tweaks around the edges and would not amount to the radical overhaul of the immigration system which is currently not fit for purpose. Particularly if going forward this system would encompass EEA workers too.
techUK fully supports the removal of caps on Tier 2 workers, an action we have previously called for in our report. Furthermore, the MAC also recommends abolishing the Resident Labour Market Test. However, these are both only piecemeal solutions that does not take into account the package of recommendations techUK has called for or the ability of the current Tier 2 system to deal with this extension in remit.
The removal of caps must happen alongside a wider review of Tier 1, including both a review and rebrand of the underused Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas to make them more useful for employers to re-introduce post-study work visas for STEM graduates. Whilst the MAC have called for a review of Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) and Tier 1 (Entrepreneur), these are currently routes for the self-employed and do little to ease concerns from employers.
Verdict: The MAC report provides policymakers with a series of isolated actions. However, for the UK digital economy to continue to remain globally competitive, government must look at the bigger picture and recognise the current strains preventing the UK from accessing high skilled talent; this is a unique opportunity for the UK to recast its immigration system to make it business friendly and fit for purpose.
Creating an efficient and streamlined application process
The MAC has given a nod to the need to improve the application process by calling for the abolition of Resident Labour Market Tests and suggesting that the in-country ability to transfer employers on to a Tier 2 visa is streamlined. By extending the Tier 2 system to EEA nationals, the MAC have also extended the Immigration Skills Charge. This is despite the report acknowledging that importing migrant labour does not damage the training of the UK-born workforce. Instead, this adds yet another obligation on employers that makes accessing global talent more difficult.
Furthermore, it is important to look at the great work the Home Office has already achieved through the EU Settlement Scheme. The scheme allows individuals to register for settled status through an online application and does not require any original copies of supporting documentation, instead an individual can upload soft copies (photographs and scans). By embracing technology, the application process is less time consuming and more navigable for both individual and employer.
Verdict: techUK commends the MAC for calling for the abolition of the broken Resident Labour Market Test but hopes government provides more detail in its Immigration Bill on how the application process will be streamlined and bought into the digital age. The EU Settlement Scheme should act as a gold standard.
The need for process and consultation between government and industry
The MAC received 400 responses to their original call for evidence in August 2017 and it was promising to see how heavily digital skills and the needs of the digital economy were flagged throughout their interim report, released in March. Beyond this call for evidence, the MAC does little to require government to better consult industry before actioning any new system.
Verdict: A condition of the Tier 2 visa system is that employment is secured on arrival in the UK and employers spend a lot of time and money supporting individuals through the application process, therefore we must have a louder voice at the table of policy discussions.
Final verdict: The MAC decision to caveat their report against the Brexit negotiations makes the final messages of the report easy to manipulate depending on which side of the table one sits on the Brexit debate. Looking beyond the politics, the report does little to reassure tech and digital employers. techUK remains committed to the 10 asks of our future migration system and calls for government to fully review the needs of the UK digital economy when considering a future immigration system.