The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has today called on the government to scrap the Tier 2 visa cap to make it easier for high-skilled workers to migrate to the UK post-Brexit.
The long-awaited EEA migration in the UK: Final report also included recommendations on future UK immigration systems after the end of the Brexit implementation period in 2020.
Professor Alan Manning, MAC chair, said these recommendations were “designed to benefit the resident UK population”.
“The MAC’s core recommendation is for the UK to be more open to skilled workers from around the world and to limit access to low-skilled workers,” Manning said.
He added that high-skilled workers brought “clear benefits to the UK economy and should be actively encouraged”.
Along with ending the Tier 2 (General) visa cap, the report also suggested extending Tier 2 eligibility to medium-skilled roles and abolishing the resident market test list but retaining the £30,000 salary threshold. It added the immigration skills charge should also cover EEA citizens.
The report noted these changes “would allow employers to hire migrants into medium-skill jobs but would also require employers to pay salaries that place greater upward pressure on earnings in the sectors”.
Tier 2 visas became a concern for employers earlier this year as restricted certificates of sponsorship – which must be obtained by UK employers hiring non-EEA staff – were continuously oversubscribed for in the first half of 2018. Pressure on the system only eased after the government removed NHS doctors and nurses from the cap.
Jackie Penlington, senior associate at Stevens & Bolton, said the MAC proposals could give “some solace for employers”.
“However, for employers who rely on lower-skilled workers, particularly in some sectors such as hospitality, construction and healthcare, today’s report will be extremely worrying,” Penlington said.
The MAC also recommended moving to a system “in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens” and warned this would likely only be possible if immigration policy was left out of any Brexit agreement with the EU.
The report stated no specific migration route for low-skilled workers was needed, with the exception of a Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme. The committee recommended that any low-skill route should be based on the existing youth mobility scheme rather than sector-based schemes.
Stephen Clarke, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said the MAC’s recommendations would “represent the biggest change to the UK labour market in a generation”.
“If enacted these proposals would effectively end low-skilled migration, while prioritising mid- and high-skill migration in areas where we have labour shortages,” Clarke said. “This would represent a huge shift for low-paying sectors like food manufacturing, hotels and domestic personnel, where over one in five workers are migrants.”
He recommended those sectors start to “prepare more proactively for change” by investing in technology and “recruiting from harder-to-reach parts of the existing UK population”.
Ben Willmott, head of public policy for the CIPD, added: “It’s very disappointing that the report has largely ignored the importance of a route that will enable employers to continue to access low-skilled workers from the EU. This will provide significant challenges for UK employers, particularly those in key sectors such as retail, hospitality and social care, which are already struggling to find the people and skills they need."
In July 2017, then-home secretary Amber Rudd commissioned the MAC to carry out a review into EEA migration in the UK and assess its impact on the labour market. It subsequently launched a consultation seeking feedback from employers and other interested parties.
In its consultation response, the CIPD highlighted that many organisations were concerned they would not be able to continue operating if there were a clampdown on EU immigration, particularly for low skilled work. “Many organisations say that employing EU nationals is essential as they cannot find local applicants to fill the role because of the unattractiveness of the role or the tightness of the labour market,” the submission read.
The MAC published an initial interim report in March 2018, which summarised the responses they received. The interim report also outlined reasons employers used for employing EEA migrants and what might happen if the government introduced a more restrictive migration policy.
However, employers argued that lower migration would very likely lead to lower growth in total employment.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We will carefully consider the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations before setting out further detail on the UK’s future immigration system.”