If the government were to scrap the cap and pay threshold for work visas, the numbers could further spin very rapidly out of control, as under New Labour

January 27, 2020

The Conservative Government has committed itself to delivering the ‘people’s priorities’ – one of which they recognise as a reduction in the overall level of immigration.

Yet, without waiting for the report due next week from their Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), they are already briefing the press that their version of an 'Australian-style' Points Based System (PBS) will not include the £30,000 salary threshold.

Nor, apparently, will there be a cap on work permit numbers (as exists currently in both the UK and Australia).

1 January 2021 will be a hugely important moment when pretty much the whole world will be able to apply to come and work in the UK. It is vital, therefore that it be approached with due caution.

Failure to implement two crucial measures carry the very serious risk of a sharp spike in immigration – as we saw during the worst days of Tony Blair. In fact the touted changes appear set to throw the door open to the globe even wider. To guard against that, the future system should include:

a) An Australian-style cap on numbers - to provide an overall limit on work permits in the face of potentially massive demand from UK employers and workers in much poorer, and much larger, countries who will be attracted by relatively higher salaries and a work permit that will also be a route to permanent settlement. Some will also be encouraged by relatives already here.

b) A salary threshold for skilled work permits, retained at £30,000in order to reduce the risk of downward pressure on wages and of immigration being a cost to public finances.

A cap on work permits will be essential to guard against serious flaws emerging in the points-based route – all the more so if there is to be no pay threshold. This is probably why more than 70% of the public support the idea of a cap (according to a Deltapoll survey conducted in November 2019).

However, keeping a pay threshold in place (as in Australia) is also crucial because, as the MAC has itself pointed out in the past, such thresholds act to:

  • Curb the overall fiscal cost of immigration (which the body of research shows to have been considerable and persistent)
  • Deter employers from turning to the 'get out of jail free' card of cheaper labour from abroad rather than raising wages and improving terms and conditions for UK workers

Furthermore, Migration Watch research has shown that lowering the current £30,000 salary threshold to £21,000, as some business groups have advocated (alongside a touted dilution in the skills requirement), risks opening up nine million full-time jobs in the UK to new or increased global competition. It would, also, of course, seriously reduce the incentive for British employers to train UK workers.

Commenting, Dr Ben Greening, Executive Director of Migration Watch UK, said:

A post-Brexit immigration system with no cap on overall work permit numbers and no pay threshold means no control at all. It would be harking back to the worst days of New Labour but throwing the doors open to the globe even wider. That is not what voters in the ‘red wall’ constituencies want or expect. The government risks causing very serious disillusionment amongst those who supported them at the recent General Election.

Note to Editors

  • The report by the Migration Advisory Committee on the future immigration system is due out before the end of the month. Read our new report (which formed the basis for our evidence to the committee, submitted in November 2019).
  • Paragraphs 34-37 of the report deal with the requirements for nurses.
  • Paragraph 73 of the report deals with regional arrangements.
  • The summary and Annex B of the report summarise the case for retaining the £30,000 salary threshold, as does this short blog.

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