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The Conservative plan for immigration after Brexit
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The Conservative plan for immigration after Brexit

The Conservative Party has won the general election and a mandate for its policy of an “Australian-style points based system” for immigration, whatever that means. The party manifesto leaves readers none the wiser.

We can reveal that more details do exist. Last weekend, a rash of media stories emerged stating that the Conservatives had “published” or “set out” more details of their plan for a points based system. But there was no document published for voters to read: the plan was circulated by email to selected journalists, meaning that those interested in the detail could only read second-hand accounts.

Free Movement has a copy, reproduced in full below. Beneath the political spin is the governing party’s most detailed account of its plans for the immigration system since last year’s white paper

The document describes three categories of visa after Brexit. The first is “exceptional talent/contribution”, with some tweaks that had already been announced. This category incorporates entrepreneur and investment visas — so Tier 1, as we call this category today, rebranded but essentially unchanged.

The second is “skilled workers”, what we know today as Tier 2. The “vast majority” of these visas would require a job offer, which is in line with how work visas for non-EU citizens are allocated now, but of course would be a big change for European citizens who would eventually come under this regime with the end of free movement. It is also unlike the Australian points based visas that the system is supposedly modelled on, which do not require a job offer. That will fuel suspicion that the Australian comparison is merely a branding exercise

The third category is “sector-specific rules-based”. This is the replacement of free movement of labour from Europe with state planning, outsourced to the Migration Advisory Committee. This is where the government will attempt to match the demand for workers in specific sectors with enough visas to supply that demand — a task so fraught with difficulty in the real world that the Home Office will not touch it with a bargepole, instead offloading it to the MAC. The MAC’s expanded role will also include the thankless remit of, simultaneously, “lowering overall immigration” and “meeting the needs of the UK’s economy”.

The document’s final section is about the Conservatives’ recent record on immigration, mostly examples of where they have reversed their earlier policies.

Readers with long memories will also be amused at the solemn promise that “the points system must be clear and easy for applicants and employers to understand”. A 2006 white paper, A points-based system: making migration work for Britain, pledged that “applicants will find the system simpler to understand and the rules for entry clearer and more consistently applied. It will be quicker and simpler for employers and educational institutions to bring in the migrants they need”.

While many of the ideas in the document are reheated, the governing one — ending free movement of workers from the European Union — suffices to make it radical. But the plan only covers economic migration. The Conservative manifesto envisages that the often ugly status quo will persist in many other areas of the immigration system: a “compliant environment” of citizen-on-citizen document checking, restrictive rules on visas for spouses and elderly relatives, sky-high fees and a creaking asylum system. The manifesto also heralds an attack on judicial review, which with the erosion of appeal rights in immigration cases represents a more important tool than ever for vindicating the rights of migrants.

The press release follows in full.

THE CONSERVATIVE PLAN FOR IMMIGRATION AFTER BREXIT

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

For too long, politicians have been out of touch with the hardworking majority’s concerns about immigration. The vote to leave the EU was, amongst other things, a vote to take back control of our borders. That is why, with a functioning Conservative majority government, we will get Brexit done, end free movement and introduce a new Australian-style points-based immigration system.

This new system will give us control over who comes to this country on the basis of the skills they have to offer – not where they come from. Only by installing proper controls and ending the preferential treatment of EEA migrants will we be able to attract the brightest and the best from around the world to come here and contribute to our society and economy, while relying on far fewer low-skilled migrants and getting overall migration down.

Here we outline three key changes a majority Conservative government would make after Brexit:

1. A points-based system

    • Our single new system will allocate points on a range of criteria. It will, de facto, allocate people into three separate categories: 
      • ‘Exceptional talent / contribution’ – highly educated migrants who have received world-leading awards or otherwise demonstrated exceptional talent, sponsored entrepreneurs setting up a new business or investors. These will not require a job offer and will receive fast-track entry.
      • ‘Skilled workers’ – workers who meet the criteria of the points-based system and have a confirmed job offer. Special types – such as our NHS Visa – will also receive fast-track entry and reduced fees.
      • ‘Sector-specific rules-based’ – made up of specific temporary schemes such as for low-skilled labour, youth mobility or short term visits (e.g., touring). These will be revised on an ongoing basis based on expert advice from the MAC. These visas will be time-limited and will not provide a path to settlement.
    • The new system will give us control of migration, allow us to reduce total net migration, while meeting the needs of our economy and improving the UK’s productivity.
    • Once we have ended free movement and introduced electronic travel authorisation (ETAs), we will be able to screen all prospective migrants on the basis of previous criminality, and bar those with serious convictions from coming here.

2. A new role for the Migration Advisory Committee (‘the MAC’)

    • The MAC will be required to publish an annual report via a public letter to the Home Secretary, advising the Government on how to deliver on its objectives – i.e. to get net migration down while addressing emerging gaps in the labour market – including sector specific advice.
    • The role of the MAC will continue to be advisory and the Home Secretary will have full discretion over decisions related to the future immigration system.
    • The MAC will also be required to monitor the needs of the labour market on an ongoing basis to ensure that the Home Secretary has the information needed to make decisions rapidly.
    • Once the new digital immigration status is in place, this will enable the MAC to better understand the impact of immigration on specific communities. 
       

3. A digital immigration status to crack down on illegal overstaying beyond 2022

    • The fundamental principle of the new immigration system is that the government will be in control.
    • Beyond 2022, all migrants will have a full digital status, making it easier for legal migrants to prove their status, as well as allowing for improved enforcement.
    • All visas will be time-limited, with usual indefinite leave to remain rules applying for those who are identified as ‘exceptional’ or ‘high-skilled’. In-country switching between visas will be allowed, but overstaying a visa will count against an individual in their new application.
    • All migrants will pay the health surcharge for every year of their visa, unless and until they have gained settled status – usually not before they have been here for five years.
    • We will ensure equal treatment of EEA and non-EEA migrants’ regarding access to benefits, making sure people pay in before they can take out.  

In order to achieve this we will:

  • Immediately begin work to set up a formal exchange programme with the Australian and Canadian governments to allow experts to come to the UK and share best practice with officials during the development of the system.
  • Appoint an expert implementation group to ensure roll-out of the new immigration system from January 2021.

Commenting, Priti Patel, Home Secretary said: 

“The vote to leave the EU was a vote to take back control of our borders, and that is exactly what a Conservative majority government will do by getting Brexit done and ending freedom of movement.

“Immigration will finally be subject to democratic control. We will be able to create a fairer system, which will attract the brightest and the best from around the world to come here and contribute to our society and economy, while getting overall immigration down. 

“Corbyn’s Labour want uncontrolled and unlimited immigration, placing huge strain on public services like our NHS.”

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

A POINTS-BASED IMMIGRATION SYSTEM

Overview of the new system

  • Our single new system will allocate points on a range of criteria. It will, de facto, allocate people into three separate categories: 
    • ‘Exceptional talent / contribution’ – highly educated migrants who have received world-leading awards or otherwise demonstrated exceptional talent, sponsored entrepreneurs setting up a new business or investors. These will not require a job offer and will receive fast-track entry.
    • ‘Skilled workers’ – workers who meet the criteria of the points-based system and have a confirmed job offer. Special types – such as our NHS Visa – will also receive fast-track entry and reduced fees.
    • ‘Sector-specific rules-based’ – made up of specific temporary schemes such as for low-skilled labour, youth mobility or short term visits (e.g., touring). These will be revised on an ongoing basis based on expert advice from the MAC. These visas will be time-limited and will not provide a path to settlement.

 We will work with stakeholders and businesses as we develop the details of how the points framework will be set and updated. We have already commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to examine this model, and they are due to report in January 2020 (HM Government, 6 September 2019, link). We will follow these principles: 

  • The points system must be clear and easy for applicants and employers to understand;
  • The points system must be flexible so it can be adjusted according to changing economic or social circumstances;
  • The government will reassess the points system annually upon receiving the advice of the MAC;
  • Ultimate decision making powers for how the immigration rules will apply will continue to reside with the Home Secretary. 

Exceptional talent / contribution

Additional points will be awarded to those who have received awards in a qualifying field and have been endorsed as a recognised leader (exceptional talent) or an emerging leader (exceptional promise). This category will also include those who are bringing funds to set up businesses in the UK (entrepreneurs) and those who want to invest in the UK (investors).

This category will encompass the fast-track visa route for the brightest and best scientists that we have announced (HM Government, August 2019, link). In practice this will mean the following changes compared to the current system: 

  • There will be no cap on numbers for exceptional talent.
  • We will expand the pool of UK research institutes and universities able to endorse candidates.
  • We will define a set of criteria that confer automatic endorsement, subject to immigration checks (i.e., for criminal history and good character).
  • We will ensure that dependents of those who come in via this new route will have full access to the labour market.
  • We will remove the need for those who come in via this route to hold an offer of employment before arriving.
  • We will establish an accelerated path to settlement, allowing these visa-holders to apply for early settlement after three years rather than five.

Skilled workers

The new immigration system will enable skilled workers to come to the UK to help grow our economy and contribute to public services.  This will be a global system which prioritises those who can add the most to our economy and society, wherever they are from.

  • We will streamline and speed up the sponsorship process for skilled workers to significantly reduce the time it takes to bring in a migrant to meet labour market demands, reducing the burden on both individuals and businesses. Currently, the end-to-end process for a general work visa under Tier 2 can take 8-20 weeks.
  • Confirmed job offers will confer extra points and employer sponsorship will remain a key requirement for the vast majority of migrants as we believe that employers are best placed to determine which skills are required for their business, as well as to prevent abuse of our immigration system.
  • The MAC will advise annually on whether caps or incentives are required based on whether there are shortages or an excess of migration via this skilled worker category.

In our manifesto we committed that the new system will prioritise people who:

  • “Can prove their knowledge of the English language;
  • Are coming to do important work, including in priority industries;
  • Are setting up businesses that would employ and invest in British people and pay taxes in the UK;
  • Have been law abiding citizens in their own countries; and
  • Have the skills the country needs.”

(Conservative Party Manifesto 2019, link)

The NHS visa that has already been announced is an example of a route which would fall within the skilled worker category of the new points-based system.

  • For as long as there is a shortage of NHS workers, extra points will be awarded if an individual comes to the UK to work in the NHS (irrespective of what NHS body is the sponsoring employer).
  • The visa will be tied to NHS employment and geared around filling acute job shortages in the NHS.
  • Three main roles will be included: qualified doctors, nurses and Allied Health Professionals.
  • There will be no cap on the number of qualified applicants who can migrate to the UK with an NHS Visa.

Sector-specific rules-based schemes

  • The general principle will be that there will not be a general route for low or unskilled workers, unless there is a specific labour market shortage identified by the independent MAC in their annual forecast to the Home Secretary.
  • The Home Secretary will, on the advice of the MAC, have the ability to set up capped schemes to fill specific labour shortages, such as the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ scheme. We have already pledged to raise the cap for the next year of this pilot scheme from 2,500 to 10,000 places in 2020-21 (Telegraph, 9 Nov 2019, link).
  • There will also be a specific scheme for short term visits such as touring and work assignments.
  • The rules for each scheme are likely to vary but all visas will be time-limited and will typically not lead to settlement.

A NEW ROLE FOR THE MIGRATION ADVISORY COMMITTEE (‘THE MAC’)

Key points

  • The MAC will be required to publish an annual report via a public letter to the Home Secretary, advising the Government on how to get overall immigration down while meeting the needs of the UK economy and improving productivity – including sector specific advice. This will inform the Home Secretary’s decision-making on the points-based system and sector-specific schemes.
  • The MAC will be expanded and given extra resources as required to monitor the needs of the labour market on an ongoing basis to ensure that the Home Secretary has the information needed to make decisions rapidly.
  • From 2022, new digital immigration status will enable the MAC to better understand the impact of immigration on specific communities.

The governance of the MAC

  • The MAC will continue to provide expert independent advice to government on migration issues.
  • The Home Office will review the MAC’s framework document in conjunction with the MAC at the earliest possible opportunity.
  • In future, the MAC will be required to produce an annual public report via a public letter to the Home Secretary, advising on how to meet the following three objectives (this will include sector specific advice):

  1. Lowering overall immigration;
  2. Meeting the needs of the UK economy;
  3. Improving the UK’s productivity.

  • During the review of the MAC’s framework document, the Government will consider if the MAC needs increased resource to improve its analytical and reporting capability.
  • The Home Secretary will continue to appoint the committee, including the Chairman.
  • The role of the MAC will continue to be advisory and the Home Secretary will have full discretion over decisions related to the points system and the immigration rules.
  • As with the usual process, the MAC’s framework document will be reviewed and agreed every three years, or within two months of a new Chair appointment, a new senior sponsor being appointed, or significant changes in policy relating to the MAC’s business.
  • The MAC will also be expanded and given extra resources as required to monitor the needs of the labour market on an ongoing basis to ensure that the Home Secretary has the information needed to make decisions rapidly. 


A DIGITAL IMMIGRATION STATUS TO IMPROVE COMPLIANCE AND TACKLE ILLEGAL OVERSTAYING

Beyond 2022, we will begin to count people in and out by introducing world-leading border crossing arrangements to keep our country safe. The Conservative 2019 Manifesto pledges that ‘We will keep track of who is coming in and out of our country’ (Conservative Manifesto 2019, link). This is vital so that we are able to restrict illegal immigration, identify offenders who have breached the terms of their visa, and prevent another Windrush disaster. 

The end-to-end user journey will be friendly, digital by default and will provide individuals with a smooth journey into the UK. It will reduce the processing time for the majority of applicants and minimise the burden on individuals and businesses. Data protection will be of the utmost importance.

An illustrative end to end user journey of a skilled worker arriving here from 2022:

  1. Sponsor (employer) starts user-friendly registration process.
  2. Individual (migrant) applies for e-visa, citing their employer/sponsor.
  3. Criminality and eligibility checks take place.
  4. ID verification app to confirm passport and submit facial biometrics.
  5. Arrive at airport when immigration status granted, an automated check by the carrier shows you have Home Office authorisation to board the plane.
  6. Land in UK and use e-gates to cross UK border (digital “stamp in”).
  7. Individual has their digital immigration status easily accessible, supporting our existing measures to control access to benefits and allowing the individual to easily share proof of status with employers, NHS, landlords, banks etc.
  8. Regular data exchange between the Home Office and HMRC shows every individual migrant is employed and not working outside the conditions of their visa.
  9. Digital status “stamped out” during exit checks upon departure from the UK, whichever port they leave from. 

A core part of having control of our border is ensuring that people do not overstay their authorisation to reside in the UK, and that they do not unfairly gain access to our public services. This fully digital status will allow for improved enforcement of visa conditions.

  • All migrants will have a fully digital status, allowing for improved enforcement, and providing legal migrants with a simple way to prove their status in the UK;
  • All visas will be time-limited. In-country switching will be allowed, for example from study to skilled worker visa, but overstaying a visa would count against an individual in their new application.
  • All migrants will pay the health surcharge for every year of their visa unless and until they have gained settled status.
  • We will ensure equal treatment of EEA and non-EEA migrants’ regarding access to benefits. Our new immigration system will mean non-UK nationals will typically need to wait five years before being eligible to claim benefits (Conservatives.com, 17 November 2019, link).


LABOUR WOULD CONTINUE FREE MOVEMENT, WITH NO CONTROL OF OUR BORDER

  • Jeremy Corbyn has no plan for Brexit and will not even say if he thinks we should leave or remain. Rather, on the biggest issue he would face as Prime Minister, Corbyn has committed to staying neutral (Guardian, November 2019, link).
  • The only thing Corbyn is clear about in his Brexit plan, is that he would keep free movement, whether we leave or remain – he is an advocate of the UK being subject to uncontrolled and unlimited immigration, forever. The Labour manifesto states that ‘freedom of movement would continue’, either via continued EU membership or via a negotiation which ‘will seek to protect those [free movement] rights’ (Labour Manifesto 2019, link)
  • This departs from the earlier promises in the Labour Party’s 2017 Manifesto, that ‘Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union’ and that ‘Labour accepts the result of the referendum’ (Labour Party, Manifesto 2017, accessed 27 November 2019, link).
  • Leading members of the Shadow Cabinet have confirmed that their intention is to ‘extend’ free movement:
    • Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell confirmed ahead of the finalising and release of the party’s manifesto that Labour’s policy is to have ‘as much freedom of movement as possible’ (BBC Radio 4, The Today Programme, 30 October 2019, link).
    • Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott pledged on Twitter ahead of the Manifesto having been finalised that “The Labour Party is committed to maintaining & extending Freedom of Movement rights. Labour will scrap [the income requirement], and extend Freedom of Movement rights to all those legally entitled to be here” (Sun, 15 November 2019, link).
    • Corbyn himself said that there would be a ‘great deal of movement’ (BBC One,The Andrew Marr Show, 17 November 2019, link).
  • The Labour manifesto makes makes clear that Corbyn will ‘end the minimum income requirements’ on family reunion, opening the door to a vast increase in the number of dependents coming to the UK from around the world and putting huge pressure on our NHS and other vital public services (Labour Party, Manifesto 2019, 27 November 2019, link).
  • The Labour manifesto also commits to scrapping the Immigration Act 2014 which will severely undermine the UK’s ability to crack down on illegal immigration and investigate sham marriages (Labour Party Manifesto 2019, accessed 27 November 2019, link).


CONSERVATIVE RECORD ON MIGRATION

  • Protected the rights of EU citizens who have made the UK their home. We want EU citizens who came to live in the UK before Brexit to stay. That is why we have guaranteed their rights with the EU Settlement Scheme free of charge, which we will also put into law at the earliest opportunity. Over 1.9 million EEA/Swiss citizens have received settled or pre-settled status so far (Hansard, EU Settlement Scheme, Volume 667, 28 October 2019, link).
  • Allowing international students to stay in the UK for two years after graduating to enable them find a job. International students who have successfully completed a degree from a trusted UK university or higher education provider will be able to stay in the UK for two years to find work. This will attract more talented international students to the UK to allow them to gain valuable work experience as they go on to build successful careers (Prime Minister’s Office, News Story, 11 September 2019, link).
  • Removing doctors and nurses from the Tier 2 visa cap so the NHS can recruit more international staff to care for patients. As part of our long-term plan for the NHS, this means there is no restriction on the numbers of highly skilled doctors and nurses who can be employed through the Tier 2 visa route (UK Visas and Immigration, News Story, 15 June 2018, link).
  • Ensured that people are coming to the UK for the right reasons. We imposed tougher rules on universities and colleges who sponsor international students to study in the UK, limited access to benefits for migrants and stopped people sending benefits home. We also introduced measures to prevent illegal immigrants from accessing public services like our NHS, as well as housing, driving licences and bank accounts (Prime Minister’s Office, Press Release, 29 July 2014, link; HTM/DWP, News Story, 8 April 2014, link;Immigration Act 2014, accessed 23 September 2018, link).
  • Clamped down on illegal immigration and protecting migrants from abuse. We have introduced sanctions on illegal workers and rogue employers, who often take advantage of vulnerable migrants, and made it easier and quicker to remove people with no right to be here (Immigration Act 2016, accessed 23 September 2018, link).
CJ McKinney

CJ is Free Movement's deputy editor. He's here to make sure that the website is on top of everything that happens in the world of immigration law, whether by writing articles, commissioning them out or considering submissions. When not writing about immigration law, CJ covers wider legal affairs at the website Legal Cheek and on Twitter: follow him @mckinneytweets.

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