Immigration for a post-Brexit world: the Immigration White Paper


The Home Secretary Sajid Javid recently released his White Paper on the future immigration system of the UK (once it has left the EU).

One of the central themes of this policy is that leaving the EU will mean the end of free movement. This in turn has led certain sectors of the economy – namely, retail, hospitality, and health and social care – to raise concerns that there will not be sufficient labour available for them to operate effectively. Immigration lawyers have been waiting some time for this White Paper and now that it is here, what does it actually say?

The Government has accepted the vast majority of the recommendations from the various reports by the Migration Advisory Committee, which have been in the public domain for months.

The headlines from the White Paper are as follows:

  • Foreign individuals coming to the UK who do not need a visa will require an Electronic Travel Authorisation, which will allow for pre-travel checks to be undertaken and hopefully speed up entry for those authorised to come into the UK. This is similar to the ESTA to enter the United States of America;
  • Students will receive more time after their course to find skilled work in the UK (6 months for undergraduates from degree-awarding institutions and all Masters students, and a year for PhD students), and will be able to swap into the skilled worker category three months before the end of their course, and up to two years after their graduation once they have left the UK;
  • Skilled worker roles will now include RQF level 3 (A level), RQF level 4 and RQF level 5 rather than just RQF level 6 (postgraduate);
  • Sponsor employers will no longer be required to undertake the Resident Labour Market Test, as the Home Office agrees it is far from the best way to recruit individuals;
  • The sponsor licence system will be overhauled, using a risk-based approach and possibly resulting in tiers of sponsorship;
  • Lower-skilled workers will be able to work in the UK for a period of 12 months, with a cooling-off period of 12 months before they can reapply, and without the ability to settle, bring dependants, or switch into other categories; and
  • A pilot for seasonal workers for the agricultural sector will be tested in 2019.

The point that has led the headlines on the White Paper is the proposed minimum salary of £30,000 for skilled workers to come to the UK. As many jobs in the lower-skilled sectors are often filled by EU migrants, who do not require sponsorship currently, those sectors are concerned that the salary threshold will impact their ability to recruit, especially outside of London where salaries are lower. However, the salary minimum will be put out to consultation so we will need to see what the final decision will be.

Other points of note include a stress on the need for reciprocity with the EU; for example, the UK would like to extend the current Tier 5 Youth Mobility Scheme to the EU countries, which would further alleviate concerns over lower-skilled labour but this will require the EU countries to agree the same for our young people. It also appears that the Home Office is firmly of the opinion that there will be a Brexit deal, given the references to the Implementation Period.

In any event, for the first time since the Brexit referendum, immigration lawyers will be able to give some form of answer to their clients about what the post-Brexit immigration system will look like. Now we wait for the reforms to the Tier 1 category, to be announced in Spring 2019, and the detail for all the changes set out above.

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Home Secretary Sajid Javid said the new system would be based on UK needs rather than where migrants were from and show the UK "open for business". Unveiling what he said would be the biggest shake-up of immigration policy for 40 years, Mr Javid said that while there was no "specific target" for reducing numbers coming into the UK, net migration would come down to "sustainable levels".
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