CHAPTER 3 – GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE REPORTS OF THE MIGRATION ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON EU MIGRATION AND INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
Leaving the EU will allow us to cement our position as a leader on the global stage and provides an opportunity to design a world-class border and immigration system. The future system will apply to EU citizens, and the associated implications for non-EU citizens represent a very significant change. It will affect millions of people and the effects will be felt for years. It is very important that decisions are taken on robust evidence.
It was for this reason that in July 2017 the Government commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to undertake a study on the current patterns of EEA migration into the UK and to assess the impact of EEA migrants on the economy and society of the UK, as well as how the immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy. In August 2017, the Government also commissioned the MAC to report on the impact of internationalstudents in the UK.
The MAC’s recommendations have been crucial in the design of the future border and immigration system, and the Government has accepted, in full or in part, all the recommendations made by the MAC. Full details of the MAC’s findings and recommendations are contained at Annex A.
The Migration Advisory Committee
The MAC is an independent non-departmental public body established in 2007 that advises the Government on migration issues. The MAC is made up of a Chair, Professor Alan Manning, and other migration experts and independent economists, who have been appointed under rules relating to public appointments laid down by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments and who are leading experts in their field.
The MAC is responsible for providing transparent, independent and evidence-based advice. Previous MAC reports have looked at issues such as the impacts of immigration, the limits on immigration under the points-based system and skills shortages within occupations. The Government has previously commissioned independent evidence from the MAC on the non-EU immigration system. This is the first time they have considered EEA migration and international students specifically.
EEA Migration in the UK report – published 18 September 2018
3.1 The Government accepts the MAC’s analysis and will seek to give effect to it in the design of the future immigration system. The MAC notes that a “shift from quantity to quality in migration aligns with the Government’s industrial strategy published last year”
3.2 Since 2010, the Government’s non-EU economic migration policy has been an increasingly selective one, ensuring that migrants who come here are sought by employers or colleges, and that they will take responsibility for the migrants they sponsor. This policy has stabilised numbers, reduced immigration abuse and raised the quality of migrants. Our non-economic migration policy, for example for those coming to join family, has ensured that those coming are able to support themselves financially and to integrate, e.g. they must be able to speak basic English. We propose to apply a similarly selective policy to EU migrants, driving up skills and controlling numbers.
3.3 In line with this, the Government proposes to move to a single, skills-based immigration system, which for economic migration prioritises higher skilled workers. That is not to say that every citizen of every country will be treated identically. Within our existing non-EU immigration system, we already operate a differentiated approach, based on risk, and we will look to expand and enhance that approach.
3.4 However, the core basis of the system will be the same for all non-British citizens seeking to come to the UK
3.5 The MAC has recommended some specific changes to migration policy to liberalise and streamline the system. For highly skilled migrants, this includes removing the cap on numbers in the existing Tier 2 route; abolishing the resident labour market test; making the sponsorship system less bureaucratic for employers; and lowering the skills threshold in Tier 2 to include occupations at the intermediate skills levels (NQF 3-5). The Government intends to accept these recommendations.
3.6 For intermediate skills, the MAC recommends keeping the current minimum salary threshold of £30,000. The Government believes that in some circumstances – for example where skills are in shortage – there should be some flexibility to allow migration at lower salary levels.
3.7 The MAC also recommended there should be no dedicated migration route for skills below the NQF3 level (low skilled and unskilled), other than through the Youth Mobility scheme and possibly through a seasonal agricultural workers scheme. The Government accepts the thrust of the MACs analysis and recommendations, though there will, on a transitional basis, be a short-term workers route. This is
explored in more detail in Chapter 6.
This does not apply to citizens of the Republic of Ireland, who will be covered by arrangements made before the UK entered the EU
Summary of MAC recommendations for work migration post-EU Exit and the Government’s response
1. General principle behind migration policy changes should be to make it easier for higher skilled workers to migrate to the UK than lower skilled workers. Accepted.
2. No preference for EU citizens, on the assumption that UK immigration policy is not included in an agreement with the EU. Accepted.
3. Abolish the cap on the number of migrants under Tier 2 (General). Accepted.
4. Tier 2 (General) to be open to all jobs at RQF3 and above. Shortage Occupation List will be fully reviewed in the next MAC report. Accepted.
5. Maintain existing salary thresholds for all migrants in Tier 2. Partially Accepted.
6. Retain, but review the Immigration Skills Charge. Accepted.
7. Consider abolition of the resident labour market test. If not abolished, extend the numbers of migrants who are exempt through lowering the salary required for exemption. Accepted.
8. Review how the current sponsor licensing system works for small and medium-sized businesses. Accepted.
9. Consult more systematically with users of the visa system to ensure it works as smoothly as possible. Accepted.
10. For lower skilled workers avoid Sectoral-Based Schemes (with the potential exception of a Seasonal Agricultural Workers (SAWs) scheme). Accepted.
11. If a SAW scheme is reintroduced, ensure upward pressure on wages via an agricultural minimum wage to encourage increase in productivity. Accepted.
12. If a ‘backstop’ is considered necessary to fill low skilled roles, extend the Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme. Accepted.
13. Monitor and evaluate the impact of migration policies. Accepted.
14. Pay more attention to managing the consequences of migration at a local level. Accepted.
3.8 The MAC set out the benefits, both economic and cultural, that international students bring to the UK. The Government wants the education sector to thrive and has reaffirmed that there will continue to be no limit on the number of international students who can study in the UK.
The MAC also made a number of recommendations relating to the rules that apply to international students, particularly in respect of how long they can remain in the UK after completing their studies. The Government has accepted these recommendations. The Government will also go further to ensure that all students who have completed an undergraduate degree at an institution with degree awarding powers will be able to stay in the UK for six months after completing their studies.
Summary of MAC recommendations on the impact of international students in the UK:
1. To retain no cap on the numbers of international students. Accepted.
2. Government and the sector should continue to work together to grow the number of international students. Accepted.
3. International students should not be removed from the net migration statistics. Accepted.
4. Rules of work while studying and dependent rights should remain unchanged. Accepted.
5. Widening of the window in which applications for switches from Tier 4 to Tier 2 can be made. Accepted.
6. Post-study leave period extended to six months for Master’s students, though with a more thorough review of whether this is appropriate. Accepted.
7. The 12 months leave to remain after PhD completion to be incorporated into the original visa duration, subject to meeting progress requirements and course completion, for eligibility to remain in the UK after course end date. This would replace the existing Doctoral Extension scheme that allows the same rights, but has to be applied for with associated visa costs. Accepted.
8. Previous Tier 4 students, who passed their Level 6 (or above) qualification in the UK, should be entitled to a two-year period during which they can apply out-of-country for a Tier 2 visa, under the same rules as current in country Tier 4 to Tier 2 switches.Accepted.
An enhanced role for the Migration Advisory Committee
3.9 One of the things noted by the MAC is that it is important that the consequences of migration policy are properly monitored, both nationally and at a local level.
3.10 As well as commissioning the MAC for further specific advice in respect of the future system, we will commission the MAC to provide an annual report on key aspects of the UK’s immigration system, including to advise on whether detailed arrangements such as the levels of salary thresholds, and the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) need to be revised in light of economic and social circumstances, and any emerging or longer-term trends that may impact the labour market. We will want to ensure that the SOL is kept under regular review so that it reflects the latest position in the UK labour market, takes a forward-looking approach where possible and ensures that the immigration system supports the Government’s industrial strategy.
3.11 The precise form and content of such a report will need to be agreed with the MAC, but we envisage that it would enable the MAC to comment on the effect of current immigration policies, including their impact on the UK economy and the resident population and whether they were achieving the goals set for them. This would cover local and regional impacts, as well as the national impact, in line with the MAC’s final recommendation in its latest report.
3.12 The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) has called for a greater consensus in immigration policy . The Government believes that an authoritative statement from an independent source, providing both a clear factual statement as to the extent of different sorts of migration to the UK and the impact that the migrants are having, including in respect of integration, would help to achieve this.
3.13 Any enhanced role for the MAC could also include a change in its composition, status and remit. The Government will consider options, to ensure we can respond to the economy’s needs, while noting the extremely valuable contribution made by the MAC in its current role since its inception in 2007. We will consider additional resourcing for the MAC, including the possibility of expanding the Chair post. We want the MAC to be able to make proactive recommendations to government if a change could ensure that the immigration system operates more effectively.
3.14 We will also consider how best to facilitate the sharing of relevant data held by the Government on the operation of immigration policies and wider economic data,which will help to inform the MAC’s deliberations.