That uncertainty has reduced following the publication of the Government's Immigration White Paper, which sets out the direction of immigration policy. Although headlines were dominated by the proposed minimum salary of £30,000 for EU migrants entering as skilled workers, the White Paper has some positive news for UK businesses. Some of the key changes are as follows:
Right to work checks
Businesses will not need to conduct retrospective right to work checks on EU staff employed prior to 29 March 2019 (if there is a no-deal Brexit) or 31 December 2020 (if the draft Withdrawal Agreement applies).
The Home Office has committed to making future right to work checks easier by investing in a digital system where employers can obtain written confirmation from the Home Office of an individual's right to work. This system would replace the document-based checks currently undertaken by HR/service providers. The Home Office pledge that the digital status checking service will provide swift responses and will be live from the end of this month.
EU migrants resident at 29 March 2019 (if there is a no-deal Brexit) or 31 December 2020 (if the draft Withdrawal Agreement applies) will be able to apply for settled status entitling them to remain in the UK. If they have not been in the UK for 5 years at that date, they will be able to obtain 'pre-settled status' to enable them to live here until they have accrued the 5 years' residence needed for settled status.
Rules for new EU migrants
- Generally EU migrants will be subject to the same rules as non-EU migrants, but with some additional routes set out below.
- The Youth Mobility Scheme (Tier 5) will be expanded to include EU Member States.
- Temporary Short-Term Work Permit: This is intended to reduce pressure on sectors heavily reliant on EU labour. Under this temporary visa category, employers will be able to bring short-term workers into the UK to work for a period of 12 months. Once this expires, the worker must leave the UK and cannot return to work in the UK until 12 months have expired. The cost of obtaining the visa will initially be low but will increase steeply, in order to wean businesses off low-skilled labour. The visa category will be reviewed no later than 2025.
- The Resident Labour Market Test for Tier 2 high-skilled workers will be removed. This reform will remove a layer of red tape for businesses and reflects the Government's recognition that this is often little more than a box-ticking exercise which has little impact on local unemployment.
- The Home Office will remove the annual cap on the number of Tier 2 high skilled worker visas. Currently the operation of the cap forced businesses to make repeat applications (causing significant extra costs and delays). Few businesses will mourn its demise.
- The Home Office will allow nationals of designated 'low risk' countries (likely to include the USA, Canada and Australia and, unless there is a no-deal Brexit, EU Member States) to apply to switch to a Tier 2 high skilled visa whilst in the UK, rather than being forced to leave and apply from outside the UK. Again, this will reduce administrative burdens and delays.
- The White Paper proposes to expand the skill bracket for Tier 2 to include RQF level 3 to 5. This will increase the potential hiring pool for employers.
The Home Office is consulting on these potential changes as well as the proposed £30,000 salary threshold. Howard Kennedy's Immigration team will be responding to the consultation: if you have any feedback on these proposals, please contact Antonia Torr to ensure that your views can be reflected in our response.