Scrap the migrant cap and the
Resident Labour Market Test,
report recommends

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC)’s long-awaited report on the effect of European migration to the UK has been published. While there is still time for any Brexit negotiators to include its recommendations in the last-ditch talks in Brussels in November, the MAC makes it clear that it does ‘not express a view on whether immigration should be part of the EU negotiations.’ Instead, these proposals focus on changes to migration policy that would be of the most benefit to the country and reduce costs.

The MAC notes that the fall in the value of the pound after the 2016 referendum raised prices by 1.7 per cent. This, it says, had a bigger impact on wages and opportunities than migrant workers in the UK. It confirms that high-skilled migrant workers in general have a positive impact, contributing £2,300 more to the Exchequer each year than the average adult.

After Brexit, the MAC advocates that the UK adopts a style of migration similar to that which already exists in Canada. They do not have free movement agreements with any other countries but the Canadians have a relatively open policy. The MAC does not see ‘compelling reasons’ to give EU citizens any preferential treatment over non-EU citizens.

High-skilled workers
They suggest that the Tier 2 visa route, in which employers sponsor mainly graduate migrants from outside the EU, is maintained, but with several important changes:

  •  Tier 2 extended to cover EU citizens
    Currently they are exempt from the points-based system as they maintain free movement rights under EU law.
  •  Abolition of the Tier 2 (General) cap
    The number of visas available through the Tier 2 scheme is currently ‘capped’ at 20,700 per year.
  •  Tier 2 extended to include medium-skilled jobs
    At the moment, highly-skilled jobs are those at RQF/NQF level 6. These include vacancies in  IT, accountancy, teaching, or healthcare. The MAC propose to bring in those at RQF/NQF level 3, introducing 140 more occupations to the list.
  • The minimum salary threshold at £30,000 should be retained
    Employers must demonstrate that they are not undercutting the industry standard. In addition, the higher the salary, the more points the job is awarded under the Tier 2 scheme.
  • The list of eligible occupations should be increased
    Gaps in the job market could be identified (as they have been in the past for NHS posts) and appropriate steps taken to include these on the list.
  • The Immigration Skills Charge should also cover EU citizens
    At the moment, employers must pay a minimum of £364 when they issue a new certificate of sponsorship to a migrant worker who comes from outside the EU.
  • The Resident Labour Market Test (RLMT) should be abolished
    Before an organisation employs a migrant worker, it must advertise its vacant position on certain prescribed recruitment websites, to give any UK-born resident the best chance of applying first
  •  In-country ability to change employers should be made easier for Tier 2 migrants
    At the moment, if a Tier 2 migrant wants to change jobs, their new employer will need to get a new Certificate of Sponsorship for them.

The MAC believes the amendments above would ensure that UK businesses would still be able to access an international pool of talent, and it hopes to prevent unscrupulous employers from using migrant workers to undercut the wages of UK-born employees.

Low-skilled workers
The MAC acknowledges that migration is not always as positive a benefit to low-skilled residents as it is for the highly skilled. It also notes that migration may contribute to a rise in house prices in areas where house-building has been previously restricted.

While it encourages youth mobility and a separate scheme for seasonal farm workers, the MAC does not approve of an employer-led visa route for all low-skilled work. Instead, it believes ‘it is important to encourage sectors and employers to compete on wages and work conditions to make their sector more attractive’. This would be especially beneficial in Northern Ireland, where many in the agri-food sector are on low wages.

The public sector
There was an outcry earlier in the year when it was revealed that qualified doctors were being turned away from essential jobs because they could not be awarded a visa. In addition, nearly 24,000 mental health professionals left the NHS last year. The MAC does not believe that the public sector should be treated differently from the private sector: it argues that it would be better to pay public sector workers salaries that reflect the value of the work.

The impact of migration
The MAC’s most ironic claim is that the government, whose manifesto pledges for many years have been to reduce immigration into the ‘tens of thousands’ does not in fact pay enough attention to its migration policies and to the effect they have.

It argues that the government would achieving its intended economic goals by taking a much more systematic approach to information and better data collection.

A Home Office spokesperson said in response to the 140-page document:

‘After we leave the EU, we will take back control of our borders and put in place an immigration system that works in the interests of the whole of the UK.

‘We commissioned this report in addition to our engagement with business to better understand the impact of EU citizens on the UK labour market. The government is clear that EU citizens play an important and positive role in our economy and society and we want that to continue after we leave.

‘We will carefully consider the MAC’s recommendations before setting out further detail on the UK’s future immigration system.’

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