The future of Immigration in the UK

On 23 June 2016 the shock result of the EU referendum was revealed, and it was confirmed that the UK would be leaving the EU. Since this decision Brexit has dominated the news, and for many businesses, EU nationals residing in the UK, and hopeful immigrants, there is considerable worry for the future.

But is it all doom and gloom? David Davis gave a speech on 14 November 2017 that highlighted why the UK, and in particular London, is such a hub for attracting talent from all over the world. He then went on to point out that our exit from the EU gives the UK a chance to design our own immigration system that suits us.

Within this speech, Mr Davis also discussed the Government announcement that an immigration bill will be introduced in 2018, addressing how we are going to deal with immigration once the EU regulations no longer apply. This is essential to avoid a ‘cliff-edge’ scenario when the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, and to provide clarity for businesses who employ EU nationals.

So what will be contained in the bill?  

Attracting Talent

Already, the Government have shown a keenness to attract talent into the UK by doubling the amount of places available for Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) visa applicants. The number has been raised from 1,000 to 2,000 a year and will ensure more highly skilled workers who can enhance the UK economy can come and work in this country.

In light of the above, it is therefore likely that the bill will provide further encouragement to talented individuals in the EU, and all over the globe, to come to the UK. Could this take the form of making visas for investors and entrepreneurs easier to access?

Low-skilled workers

EU nationals represent 7% of the UK’s total labour force, and our reliance is higher in particular sectors such as retail and hospitality. The UK has seen an increase in the number of restaurants in destination towns such as York, Harrogate and London and, as consumer demand does not seem to be slowing, it is essential that the industry can recruit workers easily.

It is unclear as to what method the Government will use to retain these type of workers. However, broadly there are three options they could adopt:

  1. Extending the current Tier 2 (shortage occupation) list.
  2. Resurrecting the Tier 3 (unskilled migrants) category.
  3. Create an entirely new system.

Option 1 means the Government would have to decide what to add on the list, how to define the roles and where to draw the line in regards to certain jobs. In addition, it could add a huge administrative burden to employers and prospective employees. Option 2 is untested and, as with option 1, is likely to be disproportionately burdensome to employers. So it seems that option 3 is the most likely outcome, as it will allow the UK to create a bespoke policy which will reflect a coherent view of what immigration is desirable.

A new immigration system?

In response to concerns that the Government would be basing any immigration policy on anecdotes rather than evidence, the Migration Advisory Committee was commissioned to issue a report. They have been asked to look into:

  1. Which sectors are most reliant on EU labour. As discussed in this blog already, this is likely to include areas such as the hospitality sector.
  2. The ways businesses and the Government can adapt to change after the reduction of EU migration.
  3. Whether certain sectors have seen a reduction in investment due to the lack of unskilled labour available.
  4. Whether focusing on migrant labour for high-skilled jobs will be advantageous for the UK.

This report will be published in September 2018. Until we know the contents of this report, it is hard to estimate with any certainty how the Government will approach the future of immigration in the UK. With only 6 months to prepare for our official exit from the EU after its publication, it will be interesting to see how quickly and effectively the Government reacts to its recommendations and findings.

The Government has faced strong criticism for not commissioning the report sooner after the referendum, and if they are unsuccessful in processing the results of this report in time for our exit, we will have to continue to use our current system which poses a string of serious risks as it may not be fit for its purpose and will inevitably lead to further criticism.

In the meantime, the current climate of uncertainty continues for both employers and employees.

If you have any questions about the contents of this blog, or would like to speak to our Immigration specialist Charlotte Ashton, please get in touch by emailing employment@mlplaw.co.uk. Alternatively, please call 0161 926 1592.

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