UK immigration policy after leaving the EU: impacts on Scotland's economy, population and society - July 2020 update

An update to the February 2019 report by the independent Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population, considering the impact of the UK Government’s proposed immigration policy changes and how these may affect Scotland.

1. Background

UK Government White Paper, 2018

In February 2019 the Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population (EAG) produced a report (EAG 2019) analysing the impacts of the UK Government's proposed changes to the immigration system on Scotland's economy and society, set out in its White Paper (2018). In February 2020, the Home Office published a Policy Statement (2020) updating these proposals. This Annex to the 2019 EAG report considers how these recently advised changes to UK Government plans might affect Scotland, drawing on the analysis of the 2019 EAG paper.

Policy Statement, February 2020

The 2018 White Paper had proposed ending free movement for EEA nationals; expanding entry through Tier 2 (notably, through lowering the skills threshold from RQF6 to RQF3, removing the cap on number of people entering, and ending the resident labour market test); a sectoral programme for agriculture (beginning with a pilot scheme for 2,500 workers); and a transitional scheme for temporary workers (maximum of 12 months). The Policy Statement of February 2020 made several adjustments to these proposals.

Tier 2: The 2020 Policy Statement proposed retaining some of the changes to Tier 2, including the proposed lower skills threshold (RQF3), as well as the removal of the cap on numbers and resident labour market tests. It also proposed some additional changes:

  • Lowering of the salary threshold for Tier 2, from £30,000 to £25,600 (or the 'going rate' for a particular occupation, where that is higher)
  • Introducing a requirement of English language skills (to the 'required level')
  • Introducing exceptions to the £25,600 threshold, where an occupation is designated by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) as a shortage occupation
  • Allowing entrants with a PhD to take up employment at a lower salary rate (£23,040 for those with a PhD in a subject relevant to the job; £20,480 for those with a PhD in a STEM subject relevant to the job)

These criteria are captured in the table below.

Characteristics Tradable Points
Offer of job by approved sponsor No 20
Job at appropriate skill level No 20
Speaks English at required level No 10
Salary of £20,480 (minimum) – £23,039 Yes 0
Salary of £23,040 – £25,599 Yes 10
Salary of £25,600 or above Yes 20
Job in a shortage occupation (as designated by the MAC) Yes 20
Education qualification: PhD in subject relevant to the job Yes 10
Education qualification: PhD in STEM subject relevant to the job Yes 20

Tier 1: The Policy Statement announced a moderate expansion of highly skilled routes (the Global Talent route, as already announced), with potential further expansion to be announced.

Lower skills routes: The Policy Statement further announced that the transitional scheme for lower skilled workers set out in the white paper would not be taken forward; and that the pilot scheme for seasonal agricultural workers would be expanded from 2,500 to 10,000.

The Policy Statement rejected proposals for regional variation in the salary threshold, and did not clarify whether the Scotland regional shortage occupation list would be sustained. It did not bring forward the decision by the former Home Secretary of launching a pilot scheme for remote/rural areas in Scotland.

It is worth noting, however, that the proposed points-based system builds in some flexibility.

  • First, shortage occupations, which will be exempted from the salary threshold where relevant (but not the skills threshold), will be designated by the MAC.
  • Second, the Policy Statement signals there may be further adjustment to the points-based system. As the statement notes, 'This is just the first stage in our plans for a points-based system. The Home Office will continue to refine the system in the light of experience and will consider adding further flexibility into the system including additional attributes that can be 'traded' against a lower salary. For example, this might include a greater range of qualification levels or other factors such as age or experience studying in the UK. However, we need to guard against making the system too complex.'



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