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When tough talk becomes reality: the UK’s new immigration policy

After much apparent internal division within Cabinet, the Government today released its White Paper on the UK’s new immigration policy. The headline features, which may alarm businesses, are that there will be no preferential treatment for EU nationals and that there will be an as- yet- undetermined minimum income threshold, potentially at £30,000, which would restrict migration to higher earners.

Brexit and EU citizens’ rights

EU nationals can, for the time being at least, come to the UK under free movement provisions and take employment of any kind, thereby providing a fluid labour market for UK businesses, responsive to the needs of the economy.

Following Brexit, however, all EU nationals will be subject to the new EU Settlement Scheme, the mandatory system of registration for all EU nationals. If there is a deal then free movement will be preserved for EU nationals arriving up until 31 December 2020. If there is no-deal, however, then free movement will end on 29 March 2019 and only EU nationals resident in the UK by that date will be eligible for the Scheme.

The White Paper

Currently non-EU nationals looking to work in the UK must be sponsored under Tier 2 of the points-based system. Tier 2 is reviled by business leaders for being highly bureaucratic, costly and restrictive in terms of who can be brought over. Yet alarmingly, the government proposes to extend the sponsorship system to EU nationals.

Granted, there are some limited liberalising measures: out goes the monthly allocation limit and the requirement to fulfil a ‘resident labour market test’, a means to demonstrate a position cannot be filled by a settled worker.

The general minimum skill level is also lowered from RQF level 6 to 3, allowing for lower skilled workers, in theory, to qualify for the Scheme.

This skills reduction is potentially illusory, however, given the move to have a consultation on the minimum income threshold, which the Prime Minister favours to be a whopping £30,000. Such a measure would restrict available positions to EU nationals to higher paid jobs in the 25th percentile of earnings.  Moreover, employers will have to bear high costs to employ EU migrants. This includes the Immigration Skills Charge, at £1,000 per year per migrant. To top it off, the sponsoring employer must have water-tight HR systems in place or risk their licence being potentially revoked following an unannounced visit – a measure which would immediately terminate the employment of all sponsored employees.


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Louis MacWilliam

Associate and Head of Immigration
Business Immigration
0113 322 2842
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Louis MacWilliam Blacks Solicitors LLP