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Boris on immigration – what does it mean for Wales?

July 25th 2019

Claire Thomas, Policy & Research officer at the Bevan Foundation, asks what Boris Johnson’s first statement as Prime Minister might mean for migration and migrants in Wales.

In his first statement as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that he will ask the Migration and Advisory Committee (MAC) to conduct a review into an ‘Australian-style’ points system, and says he wants to continue to attract the brightest talents to the UK. The UK currently operates something similar to the points system for non-EU nationals, and the proposals included in the Immigration White Paper aims to extend this to EU nationals. Despite the similarities there are some differences, one of those being that potential migrants are not required to have a job offer in Australia but can qualify on the basis of specific skills and educational qualifications, as well as other factors such as age.

So, where does this review leave the UK’s Future Skills-based Immigration System White Paper?

Will there be much change to the what has already been proposed? It is unclear which elements of the Australian system the new Prime Minister wants to adopt but we urge the MAC to consider Wales’ position when it carries out this new review. We have continued to express our concerns regarding the proposed minimum £30,000 salary threshold which we believe would damage the Welsh Economy and we would like some reassurances that this is still under review.

Although the debate around the ‘Australian-style’ system typically focuses on the points system, it also involves devolving some decision-making powers so different states may try and attract particular skills. Given our calls to have more regional variations in the UK system, we urge the MAC to take this opportunity to revisit this issue during their forthcoming review, and to take account of the fact that Wales is not just a region; but has a devolved government that is responsible for economic development, skills, health and education.

We believe the National Assembly of Wales should determine who has the right to work and study in Wales.

In this new review we would like the MAC to bear in mind that although EU migration is low in Wales in comparison to other areas of the UK – it is vital. Wales’ population is ageing and shrinking, and so in-migration is essential for our population to be maintained and grow.  Wales also needs EU workers to do essential work in our hospitals, food factories and delivery services. In-migration and diverse populations are also strongly associated with innovation and prosperity.

The issues facing Wales are very different to the rest of the UK, and we recommend that, going forward, the MAC includes an expert who understands the Welsh context.

Despite concerns, we welcome Johnson’s promise to give EU citizens in the UK “absolute certainty of the right to live and remain” after Brexit.  These rights must be upheld, and those who are already living here should feel secure about their future and most of all feel welcomed.

Claire Thomas is Policy & Research officer at the Bevan Foundation and leads its work on migration and integration. 

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