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Immigration White Paper: what we want from it

December 18th 2018

Today is International Migrants Day, and with the immigration White Paper due to be published this week, Lucy Stone outlines what we want to see in it.

We all know that migration is a controversial topic and one of main factors in the UK and Wales voting to leave the EU. What we do not know however, is what the UK’s immigration system will look like after Brexit. Rumour has it that the long-awaited immigration White Paper is due to be published this week. In light of this, we wanted to set out what we want and don’t want to see in it.

What are we expecting?

We are expecting to see quite a few of the recommendations made by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) back in September, especially the focus on adding EU migrants into Tier 2 in the current points-based system. We are also expecting the UK Government to remove the cap on Tier 2 visas and maybe to add medium skilled jobs into Tier 2. What we can be certain of is a rejection of any preferential scheme for EU citizens.

Migration as a political tool

What we don’t want to see is the UK Government using migration as a way to ‘win’ over pro Brexit supporters. It is already rumoured that the Prime Minister wants to frame the White Paper as a ‘crack down’ on EU migration, whereas the Home Office apparently want to focus on skills rather than numbers, with reports today of the immigration target being cut out of the White Paper. We want to see an immigration White Paper that recognises the benefits of migration and does not use migration as a tool to gain support from Brexiteers.

£30,000 earning threshold

Delays in the White Paper being published are apparently linked with tensions within the UK Government over maintaining the £30,000 earnings threshold for Tier 2 visas. This is something that we definitely don’t want to see in the White Paper. Maintaining the £30,000 earning threshold does not just reduce lower-skilled migration, it could also reduce the number of high and medium skilled workers coming into Wales, especially if medium-skilled jobs are added to Tier 2.

The average annual salary in Wales in 2017 was £26,327 and salaries for some high and medium skilled jobs are lower than the £30,000 threshold, including jobs in universities and in the NHS. Although, the MAC is opposed to the idea, we want to see an earning threshold that reflects the average earnings in Wales and does not stop high and medium skilled workers coming into the country because they simply do not earn enough to meet the criteria.

Lower-skilled migration

The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has already alluded to cutting lower-skilled migration with some estimating that this could cut EU migration down by three quarters. What we don’t want to see are proposals to cut lower-skilled migration down just to make up the numbers. Some sectors in the UK and Wales rely on lower-skilled workers from the EU, especially hospitality, social care and meat packing industries.

However, we also do not want to see temporary worker schemes for lower-skilled workers. Temporary worker schemes increase the flow of people within communities and can have huge implications for integration and community cohesion. Furthermore, temporary worker schemes that keep workers with one employer can also increase labour exploitation among migrant workers.

What we want to see is some flexibility to allow lower-skilled workers to come into the UK to work in those sectors that need them, but not on a temporary basis. We also want the new immigration system to encourage integration, not discourage it.

International students

The MAC recommended that there be no cap on the number of international students coming into the UK, and efforts should be made to increase the number of international students, which we agree with and want to see in the White Paper. We also want to see more flexibility for international students to look for and apply for jobs in the UK after they have completed their course.

Regional variations

The MAC have explicitly rejected any new regional variations within the future immigration system, which we can assume the White Paper will adopt. Unlike the MAC recommendations, we want to see is a White paper that respects the economic and demographic differences seen all over the UK, including Wales. We want to see a new immigration system that is open to some regions variations, especially if the migration needs of those regions are greater than the UK as a whole.

For example, Wales needs migration, from both within and outside the UK, to maintain and grow its population, and to sustain its future working age population. Additionally, Wales does not have a Tier 2 Shortage Occupation List separate from the UK’s, so any particular skills shortages seen in Wales that are not on this list are not considered.

We will be publishing a paper in the New Year that discusses whether Wales should have more regional variations within the UK’s future immigration system. For more information contact us.

Lucy Stone is Policy and Research Officer at the Bevan Foundation.

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