On 28 January 2020, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published its response to the Home Secretary’s two commissions into a points-based immigration system and salary thresholds for future migrants. TIGA has welcomed the MAC’s recommendations to retain and expand the Tier 2 (General) visas framework and to reduce to the salary threshold by around £4,400 to around £25,600, down from its current £30,000 figure.
The MAC made the following recommendations and comments on the options for a points-based immigration system:
- The MAC recommends retaining the existing framework for Tier 2 (General) visas and that it should remain as an employer-sponsored route with a salary threshold expanded to include medium and highly skilled workers.
- The MAC’s report recommends that the current route for skilled workers without a job offer (Tier 1 Exceptional Talent) does not work effectively. The skills bar for entry is currently set too high, meaning that numbers admitted into the UK fall far short of the cap. There is a visa cap of 2,000 visas on the Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) route, but only 600 main applicants were admitted in the last complete year.
- The Government should therefore consider modifying the current Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) to allow an expression of interest system. Migrants who score highly on a points system are pooled, from which there is a monthly draw, with a cap on the total number admitted each month.
- The selection could use a tradeable points system, and the Government may want to consider assigning points to characteristics such as age, qualifications, previous studies in the UK, and priority areas such as STEM and creative skills.
- There should be an immediate pause to the planned increases in the settlement income threshold and a review of the requirements for settlement. Occupations which have been on the Shortage Occupation List in the last 6 years should continue to be exempt from the general threshold for settlement until such a review has concluded.
The MAC made the following recommendations and observations concerning Salary Thresholds:
- The MAC sees an important role for salary thresholds, to ensure that there is no undercutting in the labour market, to help ensure that migrants are making a net positive contribution to the public finances, and to ensure that migration
- policy is supportive of the ambition to make the UK a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy.
- The MAC recommends the use of national pay scales as the relevant salary thresholders for 24 occupations, which covers most occupations eligible for the route into the NHS and schools, to ensure workers in these occupations can meet the salary threshold.
- The MAC do not recommend pro-rating salary thresholds for part-time work, but there should be more options for existing visa holders swapping to part-time working when they become parents.
- There should be regular publishing of visa statistics disaggregated by gender.
- The MAC do not recommend lower salary thresholds for occupations on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) for entry. A shortage is generally an indication that wages are below market-clearing levels, so allowing these jobs to pay lower salaries could have the effect of perpetuating shortage.
- The report also calls for a review of the shortage occupation list (SOL) once the new immigration system is in place.
- The MAC recommends retaining the current structure on salary thresholds where the relevant threshold is the higher of a general and an occupation specific salary threshold with the exception of some public sector occupations.
- The occupation specific threshold should be set at the 25th percentile of the full-time annual earnings distribution as now.
- The MAC recommends that the general threshold should be set at the 25th percentile of annual earnings for full-time eligible occupations (at RQF level 3 and above).
- This is similar to the principle currently used, but the expansion of the route to include medium-skilled jobs reduces the current general threshold by around £4,400, to around £25,600. Both the occupation specific and general threshold should be updated annually using data, rather than just a percentage increase on the previous year.
The estimated impacts of the Migration Advisory Committee’s findings are:
- Some of the largest impacts will be felt in sectors that primarily employ lower-skilled workers that would not be eligible under the proposed restriction to medium and higher-skilled workers in Tier 2 (General). These impacts could be addressed by the temporary worker route, or via sector-based schemes mentioned in the election campaign.
- The estimated impact of MAC’s recommendations varies across the regions and countries of the UK, with the largest predicted impacts in London (due to the greater share of migrants living there). However, salary thresholds should apply across the UK (rather than lowering them in some regions) and a separate visa should be introduced to help in regions of particular weakness.
The Home Office will now consider the report’s recommendations before setting out further details on the UK’s future immigration system.
Dr Richard Wilson OBE, CEO of TIGA commented:
“TIGA welcomes the attention given to sector-specific needs for the STEM and creative industries in the MAC’s report and the recommendation for sector-specific visas for these industries. The MAC’s proposal that the existing framework for Tier 2 (General) visas should remain as an employer-sponsored route and should be retained with a salary threshold expanded to include medium and highly skilled workers, could help to ensure that the video games industry can still access the highly skilled developers that it needs post-Brexit.
“However, if the UK Government does proceed to introduce a points based migration system, then the top three criteria should be ‘work experience’, ‘having a job offer’ and ‘language proficiency’.
“Many games businesses will also welcome the MAC’s recommendation lowering the salary threshold for migrants with a job offer to £25,600 from a suggested £30,000.
“The UK video games industry is a creative, high technology, high skills, export focused industry. It is essential that the sector can access the best global talent so that it can continue to contribute to the success of the UK economy.”