New immigration policy will present both new opportunities and challenges

By Gerwyn Davies, Senior Labour Market Adviser

Amid the political uncertainty surrounding the Brexit process, it remains extremely likely that the government will push ahead with its plans for a new settlement scheme for EU citizens, as well as a new immigration policy. In light of these approaching changes, the HR profession faces two key challenges in the coming years. Firstly, people professionals need to reassure and help EU citizens within their organisations apply for the obligatory settled status or pre-settled status documents, which it should be remembered will give them the same rights they currently enjoy under free movement.

However, the more pressing task for employers will be to prepare for the fundamental changes that are due to be made to the entire immigration system due to come into force in 2021. These changes include extending the current points-based system for non-EU citizens to cover EEA (European Economic Area) citizens. The recent Immigration White Paper provided a clear blueprint of where immigration policy will likely be by the end of next year, notably revealing the introduction of a new minimum skill and salary threshold. The CIPD is currently gathering evidence to assess the potential impact this will have on employers.

Against the backdrop of the restrictions the government promised immediately after the referendum, the CIPD is pleased to see the majority of its policy recommendations reflected in the White Paper. This should offer employers some relief.  In terms of the arrangements for EU citizens, the ideas proposed by CIPD and NIESR[1] included the suggestion of umbrella sponsors to help employers that have no experience of sponsorship licences. 

We were also pleased to see our call for a Youth Mobility Scheme suggested. This would allow all EU citizens aged 18-30, regardless of whether they hold a job offer, to come to the UK to live and work for up to 2 years. Many employers are yet to recognise the opportunity this gives them to circumvent the minimum salary threshold of £30,000[2], as well as the skill requirement of A-level standard (RQF Level 3) or above. It can also act as a safety valve for employers that want to recruit skilled EU citizens for up to 2 years, but don’t want to go down the sponsorship licence route, which would be particularly daunting for those who have no experience of the immigration system. So free movement of labour for unskilled and skilled work will continue, albeit in limited form. 

This scheme will be complemented by a proposed one-year visa for all age groups that also won’t require a job offer.[3] The CIPD will be pushing to extend this to beyond a year during the current 12-month consultation period.

At the same time, it’s possible that some employers may emerge as relative winners from the proposed relaxation of non-EU immigration rules. The CIPD can claim some credit for this.  Key among the ideas we suggested was to lower the skills threshold to include occupations at the intermediate skill levels from graduate occupations, therefore allowing employers to recruit non-EU citizens for a broader range of roles. Others included removing the Resident Labour Market Test, which requires employers to advertise roles for 28 days before recruiting from overseas, as well as giving international graduates 6 months to find permanent, skilled employment. Current requirements mean that they need a job offer before graduation and to meet minimum salary requirements.

Perhaps the most popular idea was to remove the migration cap on the number of non-UK citizens that can enter the UK. This eliminates the risk of being rejected due to over-subscription, which has prevented some employers from applying in the past. NHS employers can testify to the potential value of this policy shift after taking advantage of the recent decision to exempt doctors and nurses from the cap.

Therefore, the new immigration arrangements may not be a zero-sum game. While there will be losers, particularly in sectors such as hospitality and social care, some winners may also emerge - especially if the government deliver on their commitment to make the sponsorship system less bureaucratic for employers. 

The CIPD has therefore had a demonstrable influence on the migration policy agenda. We were the most quoted organisation out of the more than 450 that submitted evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), whose recommendations the government largely adopted in its White Paper. The CIPD’s influence is also seen through our membership of the government’s main employers advisory group, which is currently dominated by discussion about the White Paper. As always, to help inform our response to government, we are very keen to hear your thoughts on this. To get in touch, contact Gerwyn Davies:

[1] Facing the Future: tackling post-Brexit skills shortages. (2017).  CIPD and NIESR.

[2] Exemptions to this rule include shortage occupations, entry-level roles and some public service occupations such as nurses where the salary requirement is lower

[3] This would be followed by a cooling off period of a further twelve months to prevent long-term working

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