In the wake of Brexit, from January 2021 onward, the UK immigration system will change to operate on a points system. This means that in order to live and work within the UK, individuals, whether EU-citizens or Non-EU citizens will have to fulfil a specific criteria to acquire a visa. This signals the end of free movement from the EU.
Home Secretary Priti Patel has claimed that the new measures will lead to the UK attracting the: “Best and the brightest from around the globe”. She also dubbed this new legislation a: “Historic moment for the whole country”.
However, economists and cultural commentators have said it is indeed historic, but for all the wrong reasons. Many subsequently fear both the economic and cultural consequences of the switch.
The new immigration legislation, which the government calls ‘firm and fair,’ closes the door to low-skilled workers, and requires immigrants to satisfy a plethora of requirements.
To acquire a visa, applicants must achieve 70 points to qualify. These points will be determined by whether or not they have received a job offer (20 points), as well as, how well they speak, write and understand English (10 points).
Additionally, the salary requirements for entry are £25,600 or above (20 points). However, if an applicant is offered less than this (a minimum of £20,480) they can apply if they have other characteristics that satisfy the requirements. For example, if an applicant has a PHD, or a job offer in a shortage occupation they could still be granted entry. The job offered to the applicant must also be at a skill level of RQF3 or higher (20 points) .
This means that an estimated 70% of EU workers currently in the UK would not make the cut. And, interestingly, under her new immigration laws, Minister Priti Patel’s own parents might not have been allowed entry into the UK either.
It is clear that the new legislation will affect sectors differently, with some benefiting from the changes, and others suffering from unfilled positions and a shortage of ‘low skilled’ workers.
The tech sector, which initially feared a post-Brexit ‘tech talent cliff edge,’ now hopes to see a surge of STEM workers from the EU and outside the EEA. Speaking about the new changes, trade body TechUK, said that it welcomed many elements of the policy paper, including: “Removing the arbitrary cap on talent and the decision to cease use of the Resident Labour Market Test, both of which will allow the sector to continue to thrive”.
The lowering of the salary limit and educational requirements for non-EEA workers has also been welcomed by those in the tech sector, who said this will potentially open up the talent pool for the UK labour market.
However, others within the tech sector say that the new legislation risks sending the wrong message to international tech talent. Discussing the impact of the new legislation, speaking to Computer Weekly, Russ Shaw, Founder and CEO of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates, suggested that further clarity was required to advise companies on how to adapt.
He outlined that since Brexit, there has been a significant drop in the number of Tier 2 Visa applications and said the new system ‘jeopardises’ the status of the UK as a ‘premier global tech hub’. He continued: “How are we ensuring that companies are fully equipped and supported to adapt to this new system? Where are the new, more affordable and revised routes for Tier 1 applicants and sponsors? What are we doing to retain international talent, particularly students who have come to the UK to study and want to transfer from Tier 4 student visas to Tier 2 visas?”
Considering that The Entrepreneurs Network’s 2019 report revealed that 49% of UK’s fastest growing startups were co-founded by immigrants, the concerns about international tech talent are more than valid.
Alongside this, according to trade body UKHospitality, a staggering 200,000 positions across the hospitality sector are at risk of being unfilled as a result of the policy. There are of course also concerns from SMEs about what the new labour landscape will look like, after all one in five SMEs in the UK employ at least one EU worker.
As a result, a more holistic hiring model will be required and an increase in the number of workplace schemes like apprenticeships. However, this doesn’t provide immediate relief or solutions to the issue.
According to the Office for National Statistics, EU immigration now rests at its lowest in six years. Many are specifically concerned about the shortage of drivers and pickers resulting from the new legislation. Drivers, for example, are classified as level 2 or ‘unskilled workers’, and 13% of HGV drivers are currently recruited from the EU. The FTA have said that currently a further 59,000 drivers are needed. On top of this, even without considering the impact of COVID-19, 70,000 seasonal workers are needed each year to pick fruit and vegetables. Under the new legislation, only 10,000 seasonal visas will be provided to those outside the UK.
Likewise, Nick Allen, Chief Executive of the British Meat Processors Association raised the issue that 60%-70% of workers in meat plants are non-UK labour. This is of course concerning considering that those within the industry say that these jobs are just no longer sought out by the UK’s labour force. Speaking to People Management, Chadi Moussa, an ex-HR Director in the food production industry said: “Data shows Britain’s labour force are just not attracted to roles that are filled by a migrant workforce”.
Meanwhile trade union Unison has said that the new legislation will be a: “Disaster for the healthcare sector”. According to Ben Gershlick, Senior Economist at think tank the Health Foundation, 17% of those working in adult social care are non-British nationals – this jumps to 40% in London. There are already around 122,000 vacancies in this sector.
It’s not just UK businesses that will face significant challenges. Many have also expressed fears that the new legislation will detrimentally impact the UK’s cultural life.
Speaking to Classic FM about the new legislation, English Composer Howard Goodall said: “Our cultural life will be diminished and our currently thriving music industry shackled by these counter-productive new immigration rules”. As a result of the restricted movement of artists, musicians and other performers from the EU, many are calling for The Musician’s Passport, to encourage continued travel to the UK.
Speaking about how the legislation will impact UK festivals, MP Deidre Brock said it will: “Frustrate the interaction between the festivals and their international performers rather than smoothing the process,” using Edinburgh Festival as an example of the importance of free movement.
On top of this, others have highlighted the derogatory and demeaning language used by the government to refer to hospitality work, construction and farming. The government has stated that the new immigration policy will: “End the reliance on cheap, low-skilled labour coming into the country”. Responding to this, Fred Sirieix Maître D’hôtel, speaking to BigHospitality said: “The hospitality industry is not appreciated or valued. How are we going to attract anyone to work? People will not want to be associated with an industry that is deemed for people that are stupid or cheap. [The government] is demonising the industry”.
If Coronavirus has taught the UK anything, it’s that the work deemed by many (including the Conservative government) as ‘low-skilled’ is in fact essential and hard work. The new immigration policy therefore undermines the great potential and value of these workers. And, in the shadow of a global pandemic, more than ever, these immigration laws appear both counter-intuitive and elitist.