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20 Feb 2020

Policies

immigration

This ain’t free movement. The government’s policy document on immigration published yesterday is anything but. It is, allegedly, a points-based system (‘Australian’ because it sounds good, although the word is not used in the policy statement). And, of course, it is focused on those popular high-skilled groups which the UK is apparently keen to welcome.

There will be no preferential treatment for EU nationals; there will be a one-size-fits-all model. Under Priti Patel’s scheme, the skill levels have in fact gone down but nevertheless it can be sold as a way of reducing immigration.

Until the public need to go into a care home. Care homes will be badly affected. Pay in this sector is low: annual pay of the direct care workforce is £15,900 and is dominated by migrant workers, especially from Poland and Romania. The work can be physically and emotionally difficult.

The sector has difficulty in attracting British workers into it. Now might be the time to improve pay and conditions, but that will be reflected back in costs to stretched councils and to families who have to pay for the care.

And there is a question of time. The new system is due to come into force in January 2021. For a while the care sector will be able to rely on those EU nationals already working in the UK and having ‘settled status’. But what happens if and when they decide to leave?

What is missing from the Patel statement is the detail, especially over the costs of actually getting the visas. The UK is one of the most expensive places in the world to come to work. Take the case of a Tier 2 visa for those non-EU nationals currently offered a skilled job in the UK.

First, there’s the bureaucracy. The foreign worker needs to be employed by a ‘licensed sponsor’ to apply to live in the UK. The sponsor checks that the worker can do the job and if the job qualifies the worker for a visa. The sponsor will then assign the worker a certificate of sponsorship to prove this. This has all got to be done by hard-pressed HR departments, often with little or no experience of working with the Home Office.

Then there’s the cost. For a five year visa, it is £1220 for the worker and £1220 for each of their dependents. There’s also the health service surcharge (£400 per person per year) and there’s the skills surcharge (£5000 for medium or large sponsor). So an employer wanting to hire a skilled worker with a spouse and two kids, and who pays for all the visa costs, is looking at a bill of £17,880.

The policy paper indicates that a similar visa application process, plus costs, will be required.

And all of this presupposes that migrants want to come to the UK. Lots of countries are competing for high-skilled migrants and some roll out the welcome carpet more than others. As the Home Office paper says, the UK wants to reduce immigration.

And all of this depends on what comes out of the future UK-EU trade deal. At the moment, it looks likely to be pretty thin in respect of mobility issues. However, the Political Declaration says ‘the Parties agree to consider conditions for entry and stay for purposes such as research, study, training and youth exchanges.’

So what next? An Immigration Bill is on its way and there will be changes in the immigration rules. All of this needs to be in place by 1 Jan 2021. Employers, hang on to your hats.

By Professor Catherine Barnard, senior fellow at The UK in a Changing Europe. This piece was originally published by the Daily Telegraph

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