The Conservative government has indicated that they intend to change the immigration system in the UK from January 2021. This is said to mean a number of new visa routes being announced, the end to free movements and an “Australian style” points-based system for immigration.
‘New’ Points Based System
Given that we already have a points-based system here in the UK, how does the Australian style points-based system differ to what we already have? Perhaps the biggest change is that the Conservatives under their new immigration system will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally.
The Australian style points-based system allows applicants to score points in a number of areas in order to acquire enough points to be granted a visa. Therefore, where one person lacks points on the skills category (for example), they may be able to gain the required points in the English language category. This differs from the UK points-based system, in that the UK points-based system requires you to meet all the criteria for a visa. In reality, the UK points-based system is points based in name only.
Oddly enough the Australian points-based system is used to encourage immigration by allowing applicants to meet the requirement in a variety of ways. This is contrary to the position of the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who has been quoted recently saying that the Conservative party intend “to get overall numbers down”.
The Migration Advisory Committee has been asked to provide a report on how such a point’s based system could be implemented in the UK and this report is due in January 2020. Perhaps then we will have a clearer idea on what the UK’s version of an Australian points-based system may look like.
In September the government announced a new graduate visa which appears similar to the previous post-study work visa. Subject to the Conservative Party winning the general election, the new graduate route will launch for the 2020/2021 intake of students to university. It will be open to all international students who have valid immigration status as a student and have successfully completed a course of study in any subject at undergraduate level or above. The visa will allow eligible students to work, or look for work, in any career or position of their choice, for two years after completing their studies.
Under this route, after the two-year visa, applicants will be able to switch onto a skilled work visa if they find a job which meets the skills and salary requirement of the route, albeit full details of the new immigration system are yet to be announced.
The Conservatives are planning to introduce an “NHS visa” as part of their proposals for an Australian style points-based immigration system. The visa is designed to make sure that the NHS can recruit overseas more easily once we leave the European Union. The fees for this visa will only be £464 (which is around half of the normal fee for a work visa) and will be fast-tracked, with applicants receiving decisions in around two weeks. However, it is not clear whether there will be an additional fee for this fast-tracked service. Whilst NHS staff will still be required to pay the full NHS surcharge of £400 per year of their visa, they will be able to spread the cost of the NHS surcharge by sacrificing a proportion of their salary each month rather than having to pay the entire cost upfront.
In August this year, the Prime Minister announced plans to scrap the cap on the number of Highly Skilled Migrant visas that can be issued each year. The current cap is 2,000 per year.
Scientific researchers of EU nationality make up half of the UK scientific workforce. EU researchers do not currently need a visa. However, for those applying from outside the EU, the process can be lengthy and costly. After Brexit, EU nationals will be subject to the same process as non-EU applicants. This has caused the scientific community to raise concerns about maintaining close working ties with researchers in Europe post-Brexit.
The new plans seek to remove the cap on the number of visas issued under the Highly Skilled Migrant visa route and remove the need to hold an offer of employment before arriving in the UK. The Prime Minister wants the Home Office to come up with criteria which allows automatic endorsement and plans to extend the number of institutions who would be able to endorse applicants.
Consideration should be given to the fact that these proposals seem to lack detail at present and all of the above-proposed changes will only be realised if the Conservatives win the general election. So what are the other parties proposing in respect of immigration?
Labour Party Manifesto
The Labour Party Manifesto proposes to scrap the 2014 Immigration Act altogether and depart from the Conservatives ‘Hostel Environment Policy’. Their system will be built on human rights and will be aimed at meeting the skills and labour shortages.
They propose to end to minimum income requirements for British Citizens wishing to bring their family members to the UK and to restore the overseas domestic workers’ visa. The dropping of the minimum income requirements will have huge implications for many families who have been separated due to the fact that they are unable to meet the minimum income requirements.
Furthermore, Labour intends to end indefinite detention and review the alternatives to detention centres. The Labour manifesto is vague on free movement from the EU post-Brexit, stating that free movement will continue if we remain in the UK but will be subject to negotiations should the UK leave the European Union.
Liberal Democrats Manifesto
The Liberal Democrats plan to stop Brexit and remain in the European Union by revoking Article 50. This will, in turn, mean that free movement from the EU will continue.
They wish to replace the Tier 2 Work visas with a more flexible merit-based system, which sounds like points-based system, however, no further details of how this would work have been provided. In similar fashion to the Conservative Party, the Liberal Democrats also propose the creation of a new two-year visa for international students to work after graduation.
In a move away from the Conservatives ‘Hostel Environment Policy’ the Liberal Democrats plan to establish a firewall to prevent public agencies from sharing personal information with the Home Office for the purposes of immigration enforcement and repeal the immigration exemption in the Data Protection legislation. Further, the Liberal Democrats intend to move policy making on work permits and student visas out of the Home Office and into the Departments for Business and Education and establish a new arms-length, non-political agency to take over processing applications.
As with the Labour manifesto, the Liberal Democrats also plan to abolish the minimum income requirements for family members. Further, the Liberal Democrats intend to enable people who came here as children to apply for resident status and to reduce the fee for registering a child as a British Citizens from £1,012 to the cost of administration.