Government proposals would almost certainly fail to ensure any kind of significant reduction in immigration from the figures witnessed before the Covid-19 crisis struck, and may well drive a large increase in non-EU numbers.
That’s the upshot of estimates contained in a new Home Office Impact Assessment.
Such an outcome would be anathema to 30 million people who wish to see immigration reduced (see our paper on public opinion and immigration).
The government still say that their aim is to get overall numbers down.
However, a range of new avenues will be opened, including:
- An expanded route for workers from all over the world to move into medium-skilled roles (they can only go into highly-skilled jobs right now), at a lower salary, with no cap and no resident labour market test.
- A new graduate route for students to stay on and work for two years rather than the current four months.
- Possible expansion of the youth mobility scheme to those from the EU (dependent on negotiations). See Telegraph.
It is now also clear that the Covid-19 crisis will lead to a very high level of unemployment, yet the proposals pose a serious risk to the prospects of British jobseekers and workers in the current climate. The number of Britons claiming unemployment benefits soared to the highest level since 1996 in April in a matter of weeks.
Ministers and MPs must remember that, following the 2008 financial crisis, it took six years for the number of UK-born workers to regain its pre-crash level, while the number of workers born abroad increased by more than a million as employers sought out cheaper labour.
As the Immigration Bill receives its second reading in the House of Commons, the government would be wise to amend their immigration plan in order to:
(a) have in readiness powers to impose a cap on work permits. This must be capable of being done at very short notice as the courts would rule that all applications in the pipeline should be decided under the previous rules.
(b) postpone indefinitely the “new entrant” route that gives employers the simplest work-around to avoid meeting headline salary thresholds.
(c) retain the long-standing requirement that jobs first be advertised in the UK. This is a vital safeguard for jobseekers that will be especially important during a period of high unemployment. Employers must do all they can to take on workers already in the UK.
d) Maintain the general salary threshold for high-skill workers at the level of £30,000 and the qualification criterion at the present degree level.
The government seem to be sticking to immigration proposals that were always risky but have now, in any case, been completely overtaken by the Covid-19 crisis.
This is absolutely not the time to be opening six million jobs to new or increased international competition. And it is simply wrong that jobs should no longer have to be advertised in the UK before being opened up to recruits around the globe.
The government states in their impact analysis that: ‘The policy may… offer greater opportunities to employers looking to source skilled labour from outside the UK and EEA.‘
This is backed up by an estimate that the policy could lead to non-EU worker numbers (along with their dependants) going up by between 25,000-50,000 per year.
They also envisage that student numbers might go up (net) by 20,000-25,000 per year.
Of course this may be offset by their estimate that net EU work migration would fall by 50,000 to 100,000 per year over the first four years before gradually stabilising upwards.
What is clear is that certain types of immigration (e.g. non-EU students and workers) could well rise – something that the government have not previously acknowledged.
Whether it would be completely or partially offset by a fall in EU workers is another question and will depend on a range of variables, including how the Covid-19 crisis plays out not just in the UK but also in the EU.
However, the greater incentive for millions in much poorer and much larger countries such as Pakistan, the Philippines and Nigeria to come here and fill medium and even lower-skilled jobs such as child minder, teaching assistant and senior care worker, including at barely above the minimum wage, in an uncapped work permit system (and the much wider gaps in relative incomes and living standards) may mean that non-EU numbers rise further and faster than the government anticipates and more than enough to outpace any fall in EU numbers.
The government have said they will abolish the Resident Labour Market Test (see both p.55 of the Impact Assessment and in the government’s February 2020 policy statement). This rule has been in place for decades and requires employers to advertise jobs here in the UK prior to attempting to fill the vacancy from overseas.
The rule requires employers to prove that no settled worker could fill the vacancy, meaning that they have advertised the roles in the UK for four weeks. Many countries have a similar provision, designed to protect the interests of local jobseekers.
NB See press coverage of Migration Watch UK:
The Sun: ‘MPs overwhelmingly back Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit points-based immigration system’
Mail Online: ‘New immigration system will see 50,000 extra non-EU workers and families let into the UK each year’