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The UK Government has confirmed plans to introduce a Points Based Immigration system from 2021, as the country prepares for its formal withdrawl from the European Union on January 31, 2020. The proposed plan would replace a system which has, in recent years, seen a number of difficulties for Americans seeking permission to live and work/study in the UK.
For Americans who are in the UK on the basis of dual citizenship with an EU nation, things are unlikely to change in the short term. After January 31, the UK and EU will enter a transition (or implementation) period where free movement between the UK and EU nations will continue to apply until the end of 2020. The Government has also confirmed that "There will be no change to the rights and status of EU citizens currently living in the UK until June 30, 2021. EU citizens and their families can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK."
Although no details have been announced on the specifics of a Points Based system, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its report on a Points Based system, offering some insight into how the Government perceives the UK's immigration policy going forward.
During the past few years, we at The American have heard a number of stories relating to Americans who have been refused UK visas due to salary thresholds. One American living in the UK, Dr Elizabeth Ford, wrote a powerful Op-Ed in October 2019 on how the threshold affected her. As the MAC report notes, the general salary threshold for Tier 2 (General) route visas is currently £30,000 per annum - a salary threshold many Americans, particularly in jobs relating to the NHS, schools, art and culture and other specialist roles, rarely reach. Ahead of its report on a Points Based system, the MAC was asked to consider whether salary thresholds should be:
i. a single minimum salary threshold, potentially with some flexibilities to set a lower rate
ii. the current arrangement of a combination of a minimum salary threshold and a ‘going rate’
iii. an approach which focuses only on the ‘going rate’ for a particular role
In their report, the MAC looked at immigration data and spoke to stakeholders to understand how the thresholds in particular affect those seeking to remain living in / move to the UK. In their analysis, the MAC explains "We are concerned that the current level of the general settlement salary threshold is quite high and unrealistic for workers in a number of professions and for those who have entered under the much lower new entrant salary thresholds. The projected future increases seem to us to be very high", recommending that "There should be an immediate pause in the proposed increases to the settlement threshold."
In a 'Call for Evidence', the MAC found that "The £30,000 level was felt to be too high for certain sectors where respondents said employees were highly skilled but not highly paid (for example musicians, chefs), or where salaries as a whole were kept low (for example charities, heritage). Employers said that this meant they had difficulty in filling their vacancies, with a consequent effect on their ability to carry out their business."
In its recommendations, the MAC explain that "Our view is that both the general and the occupation specific thresholds should be set at the 25th percentile of the relevant full-time earnings distribution. The occupation specific threshold would be set as today but the general threshold would be lower reflecting the expansion to include medium-skill jobs: using 2019 figures the general threshold would be about £25,600. Our modelling suggests this strikes a reasonable balance between different outcomes though there are trade-offs and some may choose to put a different weight on different outcomes. For example, a government very concerned about the impact of the new immigration system on low-wage sectors might want to use a salary threshold lower than the general threshold."
Although the MAC also say that "We think salary thresholds are important to prevent undercutting in the resident labour market, to make it more likely that migrants contribute to the public finances and to support the ambition to make the UK a high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy" - the emphasis on the current threshold's effect on individuals seeking to move to the UK, including the many Americans we've heard from, is a welcome step forward.
With the US and UK set to discuss a Free Trade Agreement going forward, we hope that the implications of the proposed new system will take into account the many damaging and disproportionate stories that Americans have been experiencing in recent years due to previous Government's immigration policies.
The full MAC report can be read via https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/migration-advisory-committee-mac-report-points-based-system-and-salary-thresholds.