Following its interim report in March 2018, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has now published its final report.
The MAC is an independent non-departmental public body that advises the Government on migration issues. In July 2017, the Home Secretary commissioned the MAC to report on the current and likely future patterns of EEA migration and the impact of that migration on the UK's economy and society. The committee has therefore put together a final report which focuses on assessing the impact of EEA migration and makes recommendations for a new migration system in the UK.
We have set out below a summary of the final report and the key recommendations which have been put forward by the committee.
- There should be no preferential access to the UK for EU citizens and there are no compelling reasons to offer a different set of rules to EEA and non-EEA immigrants
- There should be a less restrictive regime for higher-skilled labour as those types of workers add greater benefit to the UK labour market, productivity and innovation
- There is no requirement for a work-related scheme for low-skilled workers (with the exception of a possible seasonal agriculture worker scheme) and there should be no explicit migration route for those types of workers. The report makes it clear, unequivocally, that access to enter the UK for lower-skilled workers should be restricted
- Whilst some sectors will heavily object to this, particularly those who are heavily reliant on low-skilled EU workers, the report suggests that the supply of low-skilled migrant workers will come from the continued flow of family migration and/or a possible extension to the Youth Mobility Scheme
- There should be a focus on extending the current Tier 2 (General) scheme to cover both EEA and non-EEA nationals. The committee have suggested that the existing Tier 2 (General) scheme could be used as a template and they have suggested a few changes to reduce the administrative burden and bureaucracy associated with the scheme.
- Abolition of the Tier 2 (General) cap on visas – currently 20,700 per year.
- Extend the scheme to allow for medium-skilled jobs as well as highly-skilled jobs.
- Abolition of the resident labour market test and the requirement to "prefer" a suitable settled worker.
- Make it easier for Tier 2 migrants to change employers within the UK.
- Keep the existing salary threshold (currently £30,000) as well as the Immigration Skills Charge (currently up to £1,000 per year).
- There are no recommendations to treat the public sector any differently and there was very little mentioned about self-employed individuals.
The report also suggests that, overall, EEA migrants make a positive net contribution to UK public finances by paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Also that migrants have no or little impact on the overall employment and unemployment outcomes of the UK-born workforce.
In summary, the report makes it clear that the focus should be on higher-skilled migration and restricting access for lower-skilled workers. The committee suggest that a shift in immigration in favour of highly-skilled labour will boost productivity, increase wages and bolster the UK public finances.
Understandably, this will not been seen as good news for many sectors, particularly those that rely on low-skilled EU workers such as social care, retail, hospitality and construction. Those sectors are already reporting skills and labour shortages, as a result of EU net migration into the UK being at its lowest since December 2012, and this report is unlikely to help with that.
Even with a focus on highly-skilled workers, applying a Tier 2 (General) type system will still come with its own difficulties as the current Tier 2 process is complex, time consuming and expensive. This is likely to increase costs and administration time for many businesses and might discourage EU nationals from coming to the UK.
Whilst the final report provides an insight into what the future migration system might look like, it must be remembered that these are only recommendations and much will depend on the outcome of Brexit negotiations. We will also get a better understanding of how the Government intends to deal with this issue once it publishes its Immigration White Paper later this year.