The government should think twice about re-introducing a points based immigration system after Brexit, and lower the minimum salary necessary to get a work visa, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has recommended.
In a report published today, the MAC says that the existing Tier 2 (General) work visa system should be left intact, with employers continuing to sponsor workers with a job offer. By contrast, Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visas could be allocated using a points calculation, if the government is really so keen on it.
Key recommendations include:
- Retaining the Tier 2 (General) skilled worker route, because “the combination of skill eligibility and a salary threshold works well for an employer-driven system”.
- Reducing the minimum salary threshold to around £25,600, instead of the £30,000 recommended in the MAC’s last major report.
- Turning Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) into a points based route for skilled workers without a job offer, since at the moment it “does not work well” anyway.
While the Conservatives have plugged the idea of an “Australia-style points based system” as a radical new departure, the MAC knows that we have been here before. It reviewed the previous use of pure points-based routes in the UK, including the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, Tier 1 (General), and the early days of Tier 2 (General). The data is extremely limited, making firm conclusions difficult, but “the scraps of information available” suggest that “a sizeable proportion did not end up working in highly-skilled jobs as was intended”.
As such, the MAC cautions, “any changes should not repeat mistakes made in UK systems in the past but draw on best practice from other countries”. Such best practice would “include a cap [on numbers] and the use of the Expression of Interest system”.
The economists try to steer ministers away from interfering with Tier 2, partly because employers think being able to sponsor individual workers from overseas is rather important. Instead, their report says that the place for points is Tier 1, in particular the Exceptional Talent route which “does not work well” and is “failing to meet all its objectives”.
Given these problems, if the Government wants to have a PBS route on entry, it could make sense to re-orient Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) with the aim of increasing the numbers though the challenge is to do this without significantly affecting quality.
This may be regarded as unfortunate timing, since the government is pushing through unrelated reforms to Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) on Thursday.
But if the report’s approach were adopted, the resulting mixture of sponsorship and unsponsored migration would reflect how countries with points based immigration systems do things. In Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the MAC calculates, people arriving without a confirmed job offer through points based routes only account for about 40-60% of economic migration. Those nations still use employer sponsorship as well.
The report is expected to be influential in the design of the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system, under which EU citizens will come under the same visa rules as non-EU citizens, but those rules will be made more liberal overall. That includes a lowering of the minimum salary required for a work visa, from £30,000 today to under £26,000 (the exact number depends on a fairly technical calculation). This recommendation is not a surprise, in the sense that the MAC had previously recommended keeping the threshold at £30,000 and was told to try again.
The post-Brexit dispensation taking shape is expected to “result in a lower level of immigration, a lower rate of growth in population, employment and GDP”. But there is a glaring caveat not reflected in some of the breathless coverage of today’s report. MAC chief Professor Alan Manning writes that “almost all of these estimated impacts at the macro level are small”. In other words, while the end of free movement has real human impacts, the MAC does not think that it has particularly significant economic effects.
The report also reveals that Professor Manning is not being kept on as Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, despite his desire for a second term. The government is advertising for a replacement.