The government’s new immigration bill was voted through the House of Commons on 18 May and will now come under further scrutiny by MPs. If it reaches royal assent it will mean that the new UK points-based immigration system will launch, putting an end to the EU’s regulations on freedom of movement.
Home Secretary, Priti Patel commented: ‘Our new points-based system is firmer, fairer, and simpler. It will attract the people we need to drive our economy forward and lay the foundation for a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy.’
Coming into force on 1 January 2021, the new points-based system will apply to the recruitment of EU and non-EU citizens and is intended to deliver a skills-led system, encouraging people to work in the UK based on the skills they have and not where they come from.
The government has also responded to concerns about the new system alienating key workers who have played an important part in the COVID-19 pandemic by announcing a new fast track NHS visa, intended to make it easier for medical professionals to work in the UK. But what will the new UK points-based immigration system mean for your business?
How is the UK immigration system changing?
On the 19 February 2020 the government published its vision for the new UK immigration rules in a policy document entitled the ‘The UK's points-based immigration system: policy statement’.
The new UK points-based immigration system will affect anyone coming to the UK to work. As free movement for EU citizens will end on 31 December 2020, any national of an EEA country (or non-EU citizen) who wants to work in the UK after the 1st January 2021 must meet the relevant number of points under the new points based immigration system.
Rashid Uzzaman, business immigration solicitor at Harper James, says:
‘The new UK points based immigration system is coming into force on the 1 January 2021, in just seven months’ time, whether your business is ready or not. Business owners need to be prepared for the end of free movement.'
'Even if your business isn’t reliant on EU workers, the impact of the new points based immigration system on the UK economy as a whole, the changes to the definition and scope of skilled workers and the absence of a lower-skilled work visas, will mean that every business in the UK, large or small, start-up or multi-national enterprise, needs to get on board with the new points based immigration system and prepare for change.’
The changes outlined in the government policy document apply to economic and work immigration only. However, later, the government plans to make changes to family and dependant visas.
What does the new points-based immigration system mean for business?
Simon Gilmour, employment law partner at Harper James commented:
'The new points based immigration system means a mix of good news and bad news for employers and businesses, depending on the nature of your industry and the skill level of your workforce.
'If historically your business has relied on highly skilled workers from non-EEA countries the suspension of the work visa cap and abolition of the Resident Labour Market Test is good news.'
However, you may find that your suppliers increase their prices because of their increased recruitment costs if they are currently reliant on EU workers or low skilled workers. Those employers hardest hit by the new UK points based immigration system are likely to be industries that have traditionally employed EU workers or low skilled workers as they, if they haven’t already got one, will need to apply for a sponsor licence and will see a rise in their recruitment costs.’
This is backed up by statistics. The government estimates that only 70% of the existing EU nationals employed in the UK would meet the eligibility criteria for a work visa under the planned new UK points based immigration system. That is okay for those employers who can retain their existing EU staff who have pre-settled status or settled status but what about those employers that cannot do so or want to expand and recruit in a UK economy with low unemployment figures and a skills gap?
What should you be doing to prepare for the change?
According to business immigration solicitor, Rashid Uzzaman, the one thing that employers mustn’t do is ignore the government policy document. It is understandable that most employers are currently distracted by the impact of the spread of the coronavirus on their workforce or the supply of materials from overseas but the new UK points based immigration system will come into force on the 1 January 2021, with a phased introduction commencing in Autumn 2020. That is only a few short months away. So, it’s important to start taking steps to prepare as soon as you can so that your business is in the best position possible to progress, whatever changes come into play.