UK immigration - One crisis after another

27 May 2020

In early April, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the Government decided to publish an introduction for employers to the points-based immigration system which it intends to bring in on 1 January 2021, the day after the Brexit transition period ends.

The timing couldn’t have been worse. Thousands of people were dying – and still are at the time of writing. Many more have had their hours cut, been furloughed or lost their jobs. People with visas and their employers have been trying to find out what this means for them. The Home Office is responding with piecemeal guidance which leaves many questions unanswered. 
Why would the Home Office trumpet the future immigration system at a time like this? Couldn’t it dedicate resources to sorting out its coronavirus immigration guidance instead? Probably not – publishing the document in April was insensitive but it was likely prepared weeks before so it might not have made a difference.
The bigger question is this: why is the Government determined not to extend the Brexit transition period? We already know that any form of Brexit is going to make the UK poorer for years to come – the Government’s own long-term economic analysis says so. This will come on top of a global recession – one which is bound to hit the UK especially hard given how badly the country has been affected by the pandemic. The only sensible approach is to agree with the EU to extend the transition period and focus every effort on trying to stop the UK economy being devastated. But the Government will not do this because the cabinet is made up of Brexiters who will not accept any delay, regardless of the consequences. 
When the pandemic is over there will be questions about how the Government handled the crisis, but at least it was a disaster which nobody wanted. The end of the transition period is different. The Government could extend it but won’t. They own this one. 
Employers have to assume that the Brexit transition period is going to end on 31 December 2020 and that the new immigration system will come in on 1 January 2021. What does this mean as far as UK immigration is concerned? 
First, from 1 January 2021 it will become much more expensive and complicated to recruit higher-skilled and medium-skilled workers from the EU. This is because EU citizens who are not already living in the UK will need sponsored work visas. A standard five-year Tier 2 visa already costs around £8,500 in government fees. The cost will increase to nearly £10,000 later this year when the Immigration Health Surcharge is increased. If your business will need to recruit EU citizens next year and you do not already have a sponsor licence you should apply for one now. 
Second, it will become much easier to recruit higher-skilled and medium-skilled workers from outside the EU. The skills threshold and salary threshold for a sponsored work visa will be lowered, the resident labour market test will be abolished and the annual cap on visas will be suspended. If you rely on workers from outside the EU this is good news. 
Finally, it will become much harder to recruit lower-skilled workers from anywhere in the world except the UK and Ireland. There will still be some people from other countries arriving on visas allowing them to do any kind of work – youth mobility visas for instance – but not in large numbers. Some employers will not survive this. If you have been relying on lower-skilled workers from the EU you need to rethink your business model now. 

This article was originally published in the International HR Adviser magazine newsletter in May 2020.

About the author

Kim Vowden is a senior associate in the immigration team. He covers all areas of business immigration. He has extensive experience of advising companies in the finance, media and technology sectors.  He has a particular interest in European free movement law and in the implications of Brexit for EU citizens living in the UK, and for their employers. 

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