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The New Year immigration landscape

The general election is over, the Conservatives won, Christmas has come and gone and Brexit is going to happen. So where does that leave us as far as immigration is concerned?
First of all, nothing changes immediately: however, the large Conservative majority in the House of Commons does means the government will have no problem doing what it wants. And it wants to reduce immigration, albeit by an unspecified amount.

How will it do that?

The biggest change will be to end free movement of people to and from countries belonging to the European Economic Area (all of the European Union members and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) plus Switzerland. This is almost certain to happen at the end of this year, on 31 December 2020. Until then people from all of those countries can continue to come to the UK and live, study or work visas free. If they want to remain living here, they will have to apply under the EU settlement scheme and have until 30 June 2021 to do that.
Once free movement is ended it looks like people from EEA countries will be treated in the same way as people from the rest of the world. This seems to us, the principle vehicle for bringing immigration down and pleasing Conservative voters.
At the same time that free movement ends on 31 December 2020, the government will introduce its new immigration regime. The full details of this have yet to be announced.

Evolution of the points-based system

During the election most of the debate was around work visas and the introduction of an Australian-type points-based immigration system. This rather ignored the fact that we already have a points-based system. This compromises Tier 1 (high-value migrants), Tier 2 (high-skilled workers), Tier 4 (students), and Tier 5 (temporary workers). It’s seems likely, then, that any new points-based system will be an evolution (of the current system) rather than revolution. The Migration Advisory Committee in the House of Commons is currently looking at this and we await their proposals.
There have already been some announced changes to the current system, such as allowing international students to remain for two years after the completion of their studies. The other mooted changes around the points-based system are these:
  • Exceptional talent visas. These will be for highly educated migrants with ‘world-leading’ awards or who have demonstrated exceptional talent in other ways. The other route under this category is for people setting up a new business or for investors. Visa applicants will not require a job offer and they will receive fast-track entry. This is similar to the existing Tier 1 visa.
  • Skilled worker visas. These will be for workers who have a job offer and meet the criteria of the points-based system. This similar to the existing Tier 2 system, Workers who meet the criteria of the points-based system and have a confirmed job offer.” This sounds like the existing Tier 2 system, but the government has promised to make it easier and quicker and introduce sub-categories of visa, such as for jobs in the NHS.
  • Sector-specific rules-based visas. These will comprise a number of specific temporary schemes, including low-skilled labour, youth mobility and short term visits. Such visas will have a specific end date and will not provide a path to permanent settlement in the UK. It looks like there will be no general visa for low-skilled or unskilled workers but, the Home Office can set up capped schemes to fill specific labour shortages, such as seasonal agricultural workers.

So does all of this make it harder or easier to get a visa in the UK?

We haven’t heard much talk about changing the rules around family visas; so bringing a spouse, fiancé, parent, or child to the live in the UK seems likely to remain more or the less the same. The big change here is that the rules will be applied to people from EU countries from 1 January 2021. So, if you’re en EEA national and you want to bring a relation over, then best do it now.
With regards to points-based visas, there do seem to be some genuine opportunities here for people wishing to start a business. The changes to the student visas to allow them to stay and work are also welcome. The biggest area of concern will be around the control of low-skilled labour and whether the capped scheme run by the Home Office will be sufficiently attuned to the workforce needs of farmers and other industries that use seasonal migrant labour.