Home Secretary asks the MAC to think again on post-Brexit salary thresholds

28 June 2019

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is the independent body tasked with advising the government on UK immigration policy.  In September 2018, the MAC produced its 140 page report with recommendations for the future post-Brexit immigration system.  

The MAC’s key proposals for the new system from January 2021 included applying the same rules to EEA and non-EEA nationals, inclusion of ‘medium skilled’ roles, plus scrapping the Resident Labour Market Test and the monthly quota whilst using the current Tier 2 category for non-EEA nationals as a template. 

Despite suggesting inclusion of ‘medium skilled’ roles, the MAC also advised the Tier 2 (General) category minimum £30,000 salary threshold for experienced workers should be retained.  In fact, it is not the first time the MAC has looked at the £30,000 salary threshold having advised on it before in its July 2015 report on Tier 2 salary thresholds.  The MAC’s September 2018 report also specifically rejected any regional variation of the salary threshold across the UK.

Having digested the MAC’s report, in December 2018 the government released its White Paper on the UK’s future skills-based immigration system.  The White Paper accepted the vast majority of the MAC’s proposals, but stopped short of accepting the recommendation for the retention of the £30,000 minimum salary threshold.  On the £30,000 threshold, the White Paper stated “we will engage businesses and employers as to what salary threshold should be set” and “we will ask the MAC to keep this under review, given that we would expect the threshold to change over time in response to economic conditions.”

True to its word, the government has this week commissioned the MAC to consider (or more accurately, reconsider) the salary threshold.  The government has asked for consideration as to whether there should be a single salary threshold, a salary threshold in combination with a ‘going rate’ (as is currently the case with Tier 2) or only a ‘going rate.’  The MAC is also asked to review the need for regional variation in salary levels and whether there should be any exemptions such as for those filling a shortage occupation or working in high value public service.

Whilst the MAC may already be ‘copy and pasting’ from its previous reports, employers will welcome the flexibility a lower salary threshold would provide for the post-Brexit immigration system.  The UK’s Points Based System has long relied on the idea that higher salaries can be equated to higher skill levels, leading to an unfair system and a failure to recognise the importance of those in so-called ‘lower skilled’ roles. 

The government’s commission is likely driven by fears of a post-Brexit skills shortage if a lower salary threshold for EEA and non-EEA recruits is not incorporated and employers will be interested to see how the MAC responds in what could be seen as a stern test of its independence. 

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