Time to prepare for the 2021 Immigration System

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It is anticipated 2020 will see huge changes to our immigration system causing potentially dramatic issues for employers and HR personnel, here we consider the key proposals

Australian style points-based system

Boris Johnson promised to deliver an Australian style points-based system (PBS) yet the Migration Advisory Commission has advised against an Australian PBS, indicating it would damage the UK economy. Instead they have recommended we adapt our current skilled worker scheme, making it fit for purpose in a post-Brexit Britain.

Sponsored skilled workers

We anticipate fundamental changes to our skilled worker scheme, the most significant being the inclusion of European nationals. For the first time, many businesses who have relied on a European workforce will need to understand the requirements of the Immigration Rules to recruit any overseas nationals, including Europeans.

The current system of sponsorship under Tier 2, requires satisfaction of a skills threshold and salary threshold. Under the new system, the skills threshold is likely to be reduced from graduate to A-level.

This will open up this route to many more professions. It has been proposed the salary threshold will be reduced from a baseline of £30,000 to £25,600, which has been welcomed by cross sector business groups. It is also anticipated the visa cap and requirement to look to the resident labour market before recruiting from overseas will be scrapped.

If the skilled sponsored worker route is adapted as proposed, this should make the 2021 immigration system more attractive for employers and will enable British businesses to recruit the right people into roles. Businesses will however need to get to grips with the new system and should be planning their recruitment strategy with the 2021 immigration system in mind.

Temporary work

One of the key concerns for businesses is how to maintain recruitment levels and retain a suitable workforce post-Brexit. It is anticipated certain sectors, including healthcare and agriculture, will be acutely affected.

Industry bodies also anticipate highly skilled sectors such as digitech, engineering, architecture and higher education will struggle, and sectors with a historic and current reliance on a European workforce, such as hospitality, manufacturing, construction and care will find it difficult to meet their workforce requirements.

Government has proposed an NHS fast track visa and is piloting a sector-based scheme for agriculture. It also proposes a temporary visa route, which would be granted as a 12 month visa followed by a 12 month cooling off period.

Many sectors are concerned the provisions will not be adequate to compensate for the loss of a readily available European workforce. In line with the agricultural sector scheme, the government will consider further sector-specific schemes and will likely look to the Migration Advisory Committee to make recommendations for these schemes, should they be considered necessary to meet labour market shortages.

Low skilled

There is very limited provision for low skilled workers in the proposals for the 2021 immigration system. This is justified on the basis that these roles will be filled by the resident workforce and limited immigration provision, such as an expansion of the youth mobility visa scheme and more generous leave entitlements for international graduates following the conclusion of their studies in the UK.

Industry bodies have raised concerns that even taken together, these schemes will not provide sufficient labour resource, nor will they enable resource to be focussed in the sectors and geographical regions with the most acute shortages.

Many businesses have been so focussed on the Brexit process they are yet to turn their attention to the new immigration system. With only 11 months to the introduction of the new system, it is imperative that businesses begin to focus on the implications.

If your business has recruited anyone from overseas, including EU nationals, and anticipates doing so again, the new immigration system will apply.

Emma Brooksbank is a partner at Freeths

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