New migration system ‘could favour those choosing to work outside London’

Government announces legislation paving way for Australian-style rules – but businesses warned anxiety lies ahead

Migrants looking to work in the UK could be given preferential treatment if they take a job outside London or the south-east, it has been reported, following the formal unveiling of an immigration bill to end freedom of movement

In the Queen’s speech at today’s state opening of parliament, the government said it would bring forward a bill that would end free movement for European citizens and “lay the foundation for a fair, modern and global immigration system” expected to comprise a points-based regime modelled on the one deployed by Australia.

In the statement, the government added that it remained committed to ensuring EU citizens currently working and living in the UK had the right to remain.

The government has previously promised to end freedom of movement, and the announcement of today’s immigration bill is the first legislative step in making that happen, as well as setting out the conditions that will affect businesses looking to employ individuals from outside the UK in the future.

However, as the government lacks a parliamentary majority, it is unclear if any of the bills announced in today’s speech will become law.

Yuichi Sekine, head of business immigration at law firm Bird & Bird, said the introduction of the immigration bill – which outlines the UK’s long-term policy towards both EU and non-EU migrants after Brexit is enacted – would lead to greater uncertainty. “Without a deal in sight, the passage of the immigration bill will certainly create more anxiety for employers as they will need to ramp up their preparation for a no-deal Brexit, he said.

"This will be a litmus test for Mr Johnson’s government to win the majority backing of MPs to end freedom of movement.” 

Today’s speech failed to add any further detail as to what the new points-based immigration system would look like. But it has been reported that Priti Patel, home secretary, is considering introducing rules that would favour skilled migrants choosing to take up work in less affluent areas of the UK including parts of the north of England or certain coastal areas.

Patel confirmed last week that the government planned to introduce a system where visas would be allocated based on an applicant’s qualifications and professional expertise.

Since then, The Times has quoted Whitehall sources saying that awarding extra points to migrants moving to the north was “something we are thinking about”. This would be aimed at ensuring that deprived regions of the UK – many of which are facing a shortage of teachers and doctors, for example – receive their fair share of skilled workers.

Karendeep Kaur, senior immigration consultant at Migrate UK, raised concerns that any Australian-style system threatened to “sideline lower-skilled migrants”, but added: “For EU citizens, the decision of a deal or no-deal Brexit is still at the forefront of their status, prior to any implementation of an Australian points-based system.

“Until we have clarification of the deal or no deal on 31 October 2019, EU nationals must assume a worst-case scenario and protect themselves.”