The shift to post-Brexit immigration rules will “require effort from employers in this country and users of European immigration to adjust to the new realities”, according to Glyn Williams, director general for policy and strategy in the Border, Immigration and Citizenship system in the Home Office.
Williams, who is the person leading the design of the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system, was speaking at The Financial and Professional Services Post-BREXIT Immigration Briefing. He said that post-Brexit immigration “is going to be a two-way street”.
The UK has had free movement since 1973, he explained, so there needs to be a “transitional route into the future system” and the Home Office sees the provision of a temporary work route “as a way of smoothing that path”.
“[We’re] proposing this would apply to certain nationalities – lower-risk nationalities – and people can come for up to 12 months at any skill level so it wouldn’t be applying skills or qualification levels,” said Williams. “For people coming to the UK to work or study we want to keep it as straightforward as possible.”
The government published its whitepaper in December setting out proposals for a new single skills-based immigration system once the UK leaves the EU and free movement comes to an end. “The basis of the proposals are that free movement will end and we’ll need to replace that legal architecture with British legal architecture that won’t have free movement in it,” Williams said.
While admitting he'd anticipated the UK would have left the EU by now when agreeing to speak at the event, Williams added that this was an opportunity “to press the reset button on immigration going forward”.
Pointing to the EU settled status scheme, he said more than 675,000 people have applied since it was launched in August, showing “people are voting with their feet to get settled status”.
“The scheme is gathering momentum and it’s quite a breakthrough for the Home Office in that we’re trying to keep the rules simple by our standards,” he said. This includes a drive to simplify immigration rules, streamline sponsorship of employees and digitalise the system to improve accessibility, make it more user-friendly and have more “control over who comes to the UK and on what terms”.
Also speaking at the event, the CBI’s chief UK policy director Matthew Fell said employers are largely engaged with the government’s proposed immigration system. “Engagement is good,” he said. “From the outside world you’d think the government and employers were at loggerheads as that’s the flashpoints that get picked up… if you start with the high-level goals and principles there’s some common agreement.”
For organisations, Fell said the removal of the resident labour market test and the scrapping of the cap on Tier 2 visas were “big ticks for business”. But he called the £30,000 salary threshold “most totemic”, adding that “this would cause quite a headache”.
“In a range of businesses around the country, such as in the construction sector, a third of workers would fall below this level,” he warned.