Gerwyn Davies, Senior Labour Market Analyst
It is refreshing to see a measure clarity and cause for optimism for employers and EU citizens from the latest Home Office policy announcements — particularly after the tragic Windrush debacle over the preceding months.
Since taking office, new Home Secretary Sajid Javid MP has announced two significant changes that have gone largely in employers’ favour.
‘Settled’ status for EU citizens
The latest relates to the settlement of EU citizens in the UK, detailed in a fairly concise 57-page document. Employers may be especially pleased to hear first of all, that free movement will effectively continue until the end of 2020, or the end of the agreed transitional a.k.a. ‘implementation’ period.
This is because EU citizens who arrive during that period (29 March 2019 - 31 December 2020) would still be able to apply for the obligatory ‘settled’ status document if they have lived here continuously for five years. From a labour market standpoint, this may give employers confidence to look to the EU to address their rising recruitment pressures.
The EU Settlement Scheme, due for launch this autumn, could also encourage more EU citizens to stay in the UK now that we have confirmation of how the process works. As previewed earlier, EU citizens can apply for ‘settled’ status via a digital process that should take no more than 15 minutes at a cost of only £65 for adults and £32 for children. Irish citizens will not be required to apply for status at all under the scheme.
The process overrides any need for EU citizens to obtain permanent residence separately; not least because settled status offers the same rights as residency, but also because EU citizens who have permanent residence would be required to apply for settled status in any event.
The document also inspires hope that the government has learnt lessons from administering the points-based system for non-EU citizens. Alongside a more streamlined, digital application process, arrangements for EU dependants are also relatively generous. EU citizens arriving in the UK up until 31 December 2020 will be able to bring over close family members, including grandparents. Additionally, the family members may join those EU citizens in the UK after 2020, provided their relationship existed at 31 December 2020.
The Home Office has declared it would ‘work with applicants to help them avoid any errors or omissions that may impact on the application decision’. This has not always been the case with non-EU applicants in recent years so the statement makes for some positive reassurance.
Non-EU doctors and nurses
The other major policy announcement from the Home Secretary is that doctors and nurses would be exempt from the Tier 2 visa limit for non-EU workers. The change should also help reduce the high salary threshold for recruiting non-EU workers into other roles, which is running at an eye-watering £60,000, well above the £30,000 minimum.
This was due to the cap on the number of these visas being reached, meaning they were limited and had to be prioritised, largely on the basis of proposed salary.
Further potential for progress
There would be further relief for employers if the Migration Advisory Committee agrees that the skills threshold for recruiting non-EU workers (effectively graduate-level NQF Level 6) could also be relaxed. If this happens when the MAC announces its decision in the autumn, these interventions together would make a real difference to employers battling tight labour market conditions and falling net EU migration. As a member of the Home Office employers’ forum and having contributed substantially to the work of the MAC, the CIPD is pleased to see this constructive change of tone.
However, a flag for concern is that employers who recruit non-EU workers still face a substantial cost burden that is significantly higher than in other countries — driven amongst other things by the health surcharge and skills levy. The government could therefore go further by halving the sponsorship licence fee, perhaps starting with public sector employers. We would also like to see the same flexibility and ease EU applicants will now enjoy extended to non-EU applicants, especially with the system under so much pressure.
Overall, the policies do appear to be shifting to support employers and indicating a softer Brexit. Let’s hope this will culminate in a formal agreement between the UK and the EU by the end of this year to remove all uncertainty for employers.
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