The UK Government published its long-awaited immigration White Paper titled –UK’s Future skill based Immigration system on the 19 December 2018. This paper sets out proposals for a post-Brexit immigration system that will apply to the European Union (EU) nationals and non-EU nationals alike. The proposals are mainly recommendations of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on EU migration.
The key message highlighted in the White paper is that as the UK exits the EU and freedom of movement to the UK comes to an end, the UK Immigration rules will start to apply to migrants from the EU. The white paper proposes to introduce a single skills based system for workers that will apply to all nationalities alike.

The new system is intended to start from the end of the Implementation Period. The UK will exit the EU on 29 March 2019. The Implementation Period is scheduled to run until 31 December 2020, during which current EU free movement rules will continue to apply under the EU Settlement scheme. Thereafter, EU citizens and their family members will have until June 2021 to secure their status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

The White Paper indicates the UK Government’s aim to bring the migration of EU nationals under the current Tier 2 skilled worker route of the Points Based System with some modifications.

What is proposed is:

  • Migrants of nationalities from across the globe will be required to obtain permission to come to the UK to work or study,
  • An annual cap of 20,700 applications would be removed,
  • Resident labour market test will be abolished,
  • Lowering the skills threshold from National Qualification Framework level 6 to level 3 (A-level or equivalent),
  • Make in country employer switches easy, and
  • Minimum salary of £30,000, irrespective of the skill level,(A level or post-graduate job), The government would engage with businesses and employers before accepting MAC’s recommendation on salary threshold.

Those coming to the UK under this route will need an employer to sponsor them. They will be allowed to bring dependants, extend their stay, switch to other routes, and, settle permanently.

In its recognition of significant skills gap in the UK in some sectors such as construction and social care, and to assist UK businesses to adjust to the change, the Government has proposed to introduce in parallel a transitional and interim measure of short-term workers route. This route will allow low skilled workers to come to the UK for a maximum of 12 months and contains a 12-month cooling off period to prevent further applications from migrants to return to the UK for similar work. This route does not require a sponsor and will enable workers to move between employers.

This route will be open to nationals of low-risk countries (likely to include EU countries) and will be highly restrictive. It will not allow bringing dependants, or rights to extend stay while in the UK or switch to other routes. This route is anticipated to run until 2025.

While the proposals in the White Paper are encouraging, the substance of it remains awaited as the Government embarks on a year-long journey of extensive engagement with stakeholders in the UK. Also, what remains to be seen is how the government that remains committed to reducing net migration to sustainable levels will achieve its target by scrapping annual caps.