Afraid Of Public Scrutiny, Government Scraps Vital Immigration Control Via Backdoor


Current Affairs, Economics, Employment, Migration Advisory Committee, Migration Trends, Policy, Visas/Work Permits

Proposed new immigration rules contain devil in the detail – namely a very large reduction in the salary that skilled workers will need to earn in order to settle here (from just under £36,000 now to as low as £20,500).

Astoundingly, details of this have been hidden from the public and press – the change was not laid out in the government’s summary of the Points-Based System (February 2020), in its impact assessment of the Immigration Bill (April 2020), nor in the detailed guidance about its new scheme (August 2020). 

Why has this been sprung on the public, a move that would bypass the detailed legislative scrutiny that has accompanied the Immigration Bill, and just weeks before the new system comes online?

Because the government know that 30 million people favour tighter immigration control rather than the abolition of controls which they are now pursuing.

Despite what the public think, the special threshold for settlement will be removed and the relevant control going forward will be the initial entry criteria for salaries; this jettisons the previous policy which required pay progression in order to ensure that only the best and brightest were selected to stay permanently.

Indeed, back in 2016 the government defended this control (which has been in place since 2012), noting: ‘We do not believe there should be an automatic link between coming to work in the UK temporarily and staying permanently... Uncontrolled, mass immigration makes it difficult to maintain social cohesion, puts pressure on public services and can drive down wages for people on low incomes. In the past it has been too easy for employers to bring in workers from overseas, rather than to take the long-term decision to train our workforce here at home.

What would be the impact?

In a 22 October document, the government claims: “We expect any impact on settlement volumes to be small”. This is unlikely. Indeed, severely weakening these rules, as is proposed, will likely contribute to a significant rise in settlement – perhaps helping push grants up to the record high of over 240,000 a decade ago (it stands at 90,000 now).

The loosening that is now proposed would lower the salary threshold for settlement, in some cases, to not much more than the UK living wage.

Additionally, the effect for employers is that they will no longer need to train British workers as replacements as their new migrant staff will find it very easy to settle. 

The overall immigration plan is set to throw the doors open to workers from all over the world – severely weakening skills and salary thresholds and removing the current annual limit – just as unemployment in Britain threatens to rise very sharply indeed.

This will displace UK workers during an economic crisis.

The planned weakening of the settlement threshold adds insult to injury. It would enable a huge change to be pushed through with limited democratic scrutiny and without proper consultation. 

The main concern is the reduction – by a third – of the salary threshold from just under £36,000 to a general level of £25,600. In fact a previous government had planned increasing rather than reducing the threshold – from nearly £36,000 now to £40,000 by 2024.

It is also troublesome that the impacts of this change will not show up in the headline net migration figures but in the less prominent settlement statistics, and will have a lag time because it only applies to migrants five years after they arrive. This will make it harder for the government to be held to account for the results.

Those who are new entrants would not be able to settle while earning less than £25,600 because they would only be considered as such for four years, and in order to settle in the UK someone must have been here for five years (see SW 12.3 on p.227 of this link).

In early 2020, the official expert Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) held back from making a firm recommendation on changing salary thresholds for settlement because, in their words (see p. 75-76 of link) ‘we have virtually no information on how the current settlement process works’.

They added: “It is very difficult to assess the impact of the settlement system (including the income threshold) because very little data is available’. They did suggest freezing the rise in the settlement threshold (which the government enacted with alacrity in March 2020).

However, the MAC crucially added that ‘this recommendation should not be taken to mean that we think the settlement threshold should not be above the entry threshold. An argument for it to be higher is to ensure that those remaining in the UK permanently are more likely to have a positive economic and fiscal impact, particularly when they become eligible for public funds It may also encourage pay progression which could be important when a migrant is tied to an employer sponsor.”

This policy change has been put forward in the absence of proper analysis or research; indeed it goes against MAC advice. It also appears to have been done at the last minute in a bid in to avoid detailed democratic or media scrutiny. This is a shameful way to make public policy which will affect this country and future generations for decades to come.

The government was elected in 2019 in part on a promise to restore immigration control yet is now jettisoning the real controls that exist with utter recklessness, at the drop of a hat and without proper supporting analysis.

This is opportunistic and cynical. It betrays their own promises and those of Conservative governments which have been elected on the back of such promises since 2010.

Without information on what might occur as a result (a point that the MAC has emphasised), it is irresponsible to make this change – particularly in the absence of the crucial precaution of an annual cap.

Back when the government ostensibly believed in immigration control, they defended the settlement threshold. Yet the Conservative Party appears to have engaged in a complete U-turn (at the behest of their corporate donors), as well as any realistic claim to be standing up for the 30 million people (a clear majority of the country) who favour tighter (rather than looser) immigration control.

Commenting on the change, Alp Mehmet, Chairman of Migration Watch UK said:  

“This is quite outrageous. It will weaken immigration control further and risks helping drive settlement beyond even the record highs of a decade ago. It will also reduce the incentive for employers to train British workers.  

“To make matters worse these major changes are being sneaked in through the backdoor with scant detail and a lack of advance warning. So much for listening to the public or taking back control.”

Note to Editors:

  • The salary threshold for settlement has been set at £35,800 since 2019. A previous government even planned that this threshold should rise each year until reaching £40,100 in April 2024.
  •  The threshold was first recommended by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) in 2011 when they said that that an earnings threshold would be an appropriate way to limit settlement.  Whilst the MAC did not recommend a specific figure, they said “there is no single right way of setting the minimum pay threshold, but a level of between £31,000 and £49,000, up-rated over time to account for price or pay inflation according to a pre-determined formula, would be economically defensible”. 
  • The government announced a pay threshold of £35,000 in 2012 (applying to those applying for settlement after April 2016) to make immigration more selective and to ensure those settling here were limited to the ‘best and brightest’.  
  • The £35,000 figure reflected the median pay of UK workers in Tier 2 level jobs. Those sponsored to do shortage occupation roles were exempted.  
  • In March 2020, the government introduced a change to the immigration rules which implemented a freeze on salary thresholds for settlement.
  • Total settlement grants averaged 168,800 in the last five years of Labour (2006-2010), but only averaged 82,400 in the past five years for which figures are available, 2014-18 (Home Office figures). 

23rd October 2020

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