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Bevan Foundation’s reaction to the Immigration White Paper

December 19th 2018

Today, the immigration White Paper was finally published, but was it worth the wait?

The White Paper represents the biggest change in the UK’s immigration policy for decades. Building on the recommendations of the UK Government’s Migration Advisory Committee, the White Paper restricts migration for lower-skilled EU workers but could potentially increase migration of higher-skilled workers from outside the EU.

After the Brexit transition period, EU citizens will no longer have the right of free movement. They will instead be subject to the new immigration system, the same as non-EU workers. So, as expected, the biggest changes will be the ending of differentiation between EU and non-EU citizens, and the introduction of an immigration system based on skills rather than country of origin.

In a nutshell, the UK Government wants to lift the cap on Tier 2 visas, so increasing the number of higher-skilled workers able to move to the UK. The UK Government also wants to include medium-skilled workers in Tier 2, so those with qualifications at between level 3 and 5 on the Regulated Qualifications Framework (A-levels and equivalent) will be eligible for Tier 2 visas. However, this provision only applies if the occupation meets the minimum qualification of level 3 or the current earnings threshold of £30,000.  If an occupation does not meet these requirements, adding it to Tier 2 and the withdrawal of the cap on Tier 2 migration will make no difference.

The good news is that there will be a consultation on the £30,000 minimum earnings threshold.  Welsh businesses and employers will really need to get engaged in this consultation to ensure that Wales’ interests are represented.

As anticipated, there will be no specific route for low-skilled workers. However the White Paper proposes a transitional measure, which would allow lower-skilled workers to work in the UK for 12 months, with a further 12 month cooling-off period. Again, the UK Government wants to engage with business and stakeholders on this, with Welsh employers needing to be actively engaged in discussions.

We welcome the UK Government’s acknowledgement that Wales might have Shortage Occupation List needs that differ from the rest of the UK.  The differences should be picked up in the MAC review of the Shortage Occupation List, including for occupations at levels 3-5.  Welsh organisations will need to supply sufficient evidence to ensure that the shortage occupation needs of Wales are considered.

This White Paper largely repeats the proposals of the MAC that were published in September. However, it does offer some scope for organisations in Wales to influence certain proposals, including the minimum earnings threshold, the lower-skilled migration transitional measure and the Shortage Occupation List.

Now is the time for the Welsh Government to ensure that Wales is represented in the new immigration system to guarantee that the needs of Wales are met.

A further analysis of the White Paper will be published shortly.

Lucy Stone is Policy and Research Officer at the Bevan Foundation and is leading our work on immigration policy and integration. 

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