What will the UK’s immigration system look like after leaving the EU? During the general election campaign, Boris Johnson committed to an Australian-style points based system. He also committed to bringing immigration levels down. But besides these two points, little is currently known about the specifics of how the new system will operate when it comes into effect next January after the transition period ends.
Today, the Migration Advisory Committee – which provides the government with recommendations – has published a report intended to help the government add flesh to the bones of their plans. However, it raises potential issues over the current strategy being pursued by Johnson. The committee praises the idea of a points-based system for high skilled Labour but does not recommend a full shift to an Australian points-based system for all. Instead, they suggest the best way forward consists of a mixed system that would rely on a points-based system for those coming to Britain without a job and a minimum salary threshold for those who have job offers.
When it comes to the salary threshold, the committee advises that the government should drop the salary threshold for immigrants by more than £4,000 from £30,000 to £25,600. This would, in theory, help with a drive to recruit NHS staff and teachers. While Johnson and his ministers have been privately keen to axe that cap for some time, there had been a sense that it ought to be replaced with a skills focus rather than another salary threshold.
When it comes to the effect on the economy of moving from freedom of movement to a new system, the report suggests that introducing a points-based immigration system will reduce economic growth and lead to ‘very small’ increases in living standards. On the report’s publication, business groups have been quick to re-iterate their desire for a flexible approach to immigration that means they won’t be left with skill shortages. However, one fight the government is very happy to have is on the supply of labour. The view in No. 10 is that business has grown too reliant on unlimited cheap labour from the EU and must prioritise training up the existing workforce in the UK – key to Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. That means warnings over the impact on business growth are unlikely to hold much sway.