Employers welcome call to lower post-Brexit visa salary threshold

But experts warn the changes will only provide ‘mild, temporary relief’ and some sectors will fare better than others under MAC’s recommendations

The UK should reduce the salary threshold for migrants looking to move to the UK after Brexit to £25,600, the government’s migration advisers have said.

In a report published yesterday (28 January), the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) recommended that the threshold be reduced from the current level of £30,000, which would make it easier for employers looking to bring in talent from outside the European Economic Area (EEA), but would still represent a major new barrier for those employing Europeans.

The MAC did not recommend implementing different sectoral or regional salary thresholds – an idea some suggested could be used to close the economic gap between the north and south by encouraging talent from abroad to move to regions outside of London and the south east.

The review also did not recommend lower thresholds for shortage occupations.

The MAC’s report was broadly welcomed by employer groups. Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market analyst at the CIPD, said the report would provide “mild, temporary relief for many employers concerned about the new immigration system”.

He added that many employers would be relieved to see the lower minimum salary threshold and a lack of regional variation, which would have “added complexity to a system many already feel daunted by”, but that public sector employers in particular, who lack the ability to raise wages in response to labour shortages, would be disappointed by the lack of support for lower thresholds for shortage occupations.

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“With this in mind, employers will be keen to see the temporary one-year visa extended to two years when the government makes its final policy announcement in spring,” said Davies. “In the meantime, the important thing for employers is to get up to speed with the new system fast.”

However, Chetal Patel, partner at Bates Wells, said it was “disappointing” the MAC did not recommend regional variations: “The harsh reality remains that some jobs in the north of England can’t attract the salary for the same job in London. That begs the question, how much difference will a reduction of £4,400 really make?”

At the request of the government, the MAC also made recommendations on how an Australian-style points-based immigration system might work in the UK – something Priti Patel, home secretary, has previously pledged to roll out after the UK leaves the EU.

It recommended that any points-based system be based on the current Tier 1 exceptional talent route, which already exists for migrants looking to move to the UK before securing a job. It said points should be awarded based on characteristics including qualifications, age and STEM or creative skills, with candidates who have expressed interest being drawn monthly from a pool and invited to apply.

The report said the current Tier 1 system set the bar too high and was too risk-averse, targeting only those at the very top of their field. The report noted that the number of applications for this visa fell consistently short of the cap – a criticism echoed by critics of the new global talent route for scientists and researchers announced by the Home Office earlier this week.

The MAC also said an employer-sponsored system like the Tier 2 visa should be kept alongside any points-based system.

Patel said it was no surprise that the MAC recommended modifying the Tier 1 visa route. “Having an expression of interest basis would see that only those individuals who were highly motivated to use this route would register their interest, which on the face of it seems like a good thing,” she said.

Jonathan Beech, managing director of Migrate UK, said some sectors would definitely fare better under the recommendations than others. The construction sector, he said, would benefit from a number of job roles – including carpenters, joiners and window fitters – being included in a proposal to lower the skill level necessary to apply for vacancies. Hospitality, on the other hand, would be unlikely to benefit, with the salary threshold of £25,600 still high for the sector.

Beech added: “It’s important to note that migrants still need to be offered at least the ‘going rate’ for the vacancy they’re taking and the figure should be the higher of these two parameters – either £25,600 or the going rate.”

However, Danny Mortimer, co-convenor of the Cavendish Coalition and chief executive of NHS Employers, warned that the proposals didn’t go far enough to address the workforce crisis in the social care sector: “If social care is unable to recruit from overseas, the sector will simply not be able to meet the growth in demand, leading to significant implications for the health and wealth of the nation.

“The focus on an Australian-style, points-based system offers scope to tackle workforce challenges, which could complement domestic supply efforts. We are confident that the NHS is firmly in the government’s considerations, but need an equal if not greater acknowledgement of the requirements for overseas colleagues to work in social care.”

The government is expected to publish another immigration white paper in March. “It’s important to remember that the MAC’s recommendations are just that – recommendations,” said Patel. “The government doesn’t need to take on board all of the recommendations and we know from the past that this does happen.”