27 February, 2020
In the changing landscape following the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, the Government this week announced a proposed shake up of the immigration system. The potential new rules are designed to urge employers away from relying on 'cheap labour' from Europe and invest in retaining staff and developing automation technology. Home Secretary Priti Patel expressed the need to encourage people with the right talent and reduce the level of low skilled workers coming to the UK. She also referred to the need to recruit from the pool of eight million individuals the government describe as 'economically inactive' potential workers. Employers would be expected to 'adapt and adjust' when the free movement of 'low-skilled' workers ends when free movement expires on 31 December 2020.
Under the current system, workers from the European Economic Area have an automatic right to live and work in the UK irrespective of their skill set or salary level. Whilst the automatic right to free movement will end on expiry, all EU and non-EU citizens will be treated equally under the proposed regime. A points-based system is proposed whereby overseas citizens would have to reach 70 points to be able to work in the UK. Points are accrued by meeting a number of requirements such as:
The changes would mean that there would not be an overall cap on the number of skilled workers coming into the UK. The definition of skilled workers would be expanded beyond the current definition to include those educated to A-Level/Scottish Highers level or equivalent as opposed to the current requirement of graduate level education. New additions to the current skilled category would be made, including carpentry, plastering and childminding. Some types of farm work and waiting tables would be removed. All migrants would only be permitted to access income related benefits once indefinite leave to remain had been granted, usually after 5 years. Under the current scheme, migrants from the EU can access benefits if they are 'economically active', and non-EU migrants can access benefits once they are granted permanent residence, which is usually after 5 years of legally living in the UK.
The proposals have not escaped criticism, both from political opponents, and by industries particularly affected by the changes. The SNP challenged the belief that those described as 'economically inactive' were potential workers as many were suffering ill health or injury, were careers for family members or were in fact retired. And Labour styled the rules as creating a 'hostile environment' which would counterintuitively make it harder to attract workers to the UK. The plan has also received criticism for failing to acknowledge that individuals' skills and salaries increase over time as their careers develop, leading to higher tax contributions. Additionally, it has been criticised for failing to recognise the essential role so called 'lower-skill-roles' play in the economy. Workers at all levels are needed. There is a high degree of concern that the current shortage of workers in the adult social care sector will be exacerbated, further reducing the number of low-paid carers who provide day-to-day assistance and care to older and disabled adults. The farming, catering and wider nursing professions have also expressed concern over the potential impact on their ability to recruit a sufficient number of staff, with the Royal College of Nursing stating that the proposed changes would "not meet the health and care needs of the population".
If the changes are implemented, employers particularly affected by the new regime may need to consider changes to the way they recruit new staff. Amy Stokes, Associate Solicitor in the Employment and HR Team at Forbes suggests that "Those potentially affected by shortages may need to look at salary levels, and how they attract employees to their organisation, whether that be by way of employee benefits, enhancements, or staff satisfaction in order to become a preferred destination employer. Staff retention is another area that employers can consider to try to minimise staff turnover and enhance engagement and staff satisfaction to reduce the need to recruit. It could also be an opportunity to review operations and rationalise any areas where the need for staff members can be reduced."
For more information contact Amy Stokes in our Employment & HR department via email or phone on 0333 207 1157. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.