Yesterday the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) published their much-anticipated report into A points-based system and salary thresholds for immigration. The report covers two separate but related commissions; the possible role of a points-based system for immigration, a term which was used with aplomb during the election campaign by Conservative candidates; and the appropriate level of the salary thresholds for prospective migrants.
It will not be news to many that the commission by the Home Secretary was brought on by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, which will no longer mean there is free movement with EU member states (strictly speaking, there are conditions which EEA citizens have to satisfy to enter the UK). This gives the UK the ability to create a new skills-based work migration system. There are many areas of interest in the nearly 300-page report which has been produced but I will summarise a few of the headline recommendations that will be of most interest.
Rather than create an entirely new system ex nihilo, the MAC recommends amending the current skilled worker route for entry with a job offer for non-EEA citizens (the Tier 2 General) to apply for both EEA and non-EEA citizens.
In a slightly surprising move, the report makes clear that the MAC dismisses introducing a pure points-based system (PBS) for the UK. Stating that our current system for non-EEA workers “is currently a PBS in name only” and that they “do not recommend changes to this framework.” They even go so far as to say “The current packaging as a PBS is, forgive the pun, pointless and could be eliminated.” This is as close to a diss as reports of this kind get.
Under the current system, the salary threshold for workers under the Tier 2 route is £30,000, but the MAC suggest lowering this to £25,600 (the 25th percentile of full-time earnings distribution). This is good news for our sector, as research that CFG commissioned with IPPR has demonstrated that although the charity sector, on the whole, is less dependent on migrant workers than, certain sectors, most notably Social Care, migrant workers still make up a sizeable part of the workforce. In addition, our report found that while migrant workers in the charity sector are more highly educated than their private sector counterparts, they are paid less. The proposed reduction in salary threshold would mean charities would be more capable of hiring via the Tier 2 route. This is too high for charities in social care and other sectors which have historically paid lower wages, but it certainly is an improvement on the current £30,000 threshold.
Another point of interest is that the MAC does not recommend regional variation between salary thresholds. Based on feedback from our membership, CFG has argued for such a variation to take account of lower wages in the different regions in the UK and allow skilled workers from outside the UK to work in these regions.
It is heartening that the MAC quotes evidence submitted by CFG to the consultation; charities in regions of the UK which have lower wages (the north-east and south-west) have found the current system prohibitive as in many instances funders and grant-making organisations (including local authorities) are less willing to provide sufficient amounts of money to cover wages. This is part of a broader discussion about funders and grantmakers being willing to fund core costs, which CFG will be working on throughout 2020/21. But ultimately the MAC argues against such an approach. This is another area where they have positioned themselves against the government’s position, that there should be a regional variation to help the so-called ‘left behind’ regions of the UK.
It is important to remember that the government is not obliged to take on board the recommendations by the MAC, but historically they have been inclined to. However, in this instance, I find it hard to see how the government can deliver on its promise for an Australian-style points-based system and take all of their recommendations on board. We will have to wait to see how the government respond to their recommendations. CFG will continue to make the case that our new immigration system needs to work for charities throughout the UK.
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