Tag: Political Comment

UK immigration – All possible changes to Tier 2 visa

The Immigration Bill 2015/16 is currently making its way through parliament and is likely to be in force very soon.The Home Office wants to make it harder for an illegal worker to live and work in the UK. The vast majority of employers will have to be even more vigilant in establishing procedures that prevent employment of illegal workers, particularly in those sectors with a high employee turnover such as retail and hospitality.

In addition to the current £20,000 per illegal worker civil penalty, it will be a criminal offence to hire someone who an employer knows or has reasonable cause to believe is an illegal worker, with an increase in the maximum custodial sentence on indictment from two to five years for the employer.

We have had a relatively stable couple of years in terms of Tier 2 and given the ongoing focus on migration, not least the Brexit debate, it was perhaps inevitable that we would see the MAC recommend some deep cutting changes.  For employers in the IT sector new route will require a full review of resourcing and cost modelling.  For all employers the impact on the cost of Tier 2 will require a close look at necessity the cost benefit analysis – this is exactly the Government’s objective of course. UK employers who are sponsors under Tier 2 will be giving careful thought at the moment to their request for the new year’s (April 2016 – March 2017) allocation of certificates of sponsorship and looking at next year’s budgets.  When assessing this need sponsors should consider:-

  • are there any sponsored workers who will need to extend their leave in the UK under Tier 2 in this period?
  •  what international assignments to the UK are under consideration?
  • where are the current recruitment hot spots and do they bring any challenges in relation to availability of skilled candidates?
  • in light of this need what costs are associated with Tier 2 support for the next financial year?

 In the Summer of 2015 the Government requested that the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) advise on a number of potential changes to Tier 2 of the points based system to address concerns about the rising number of migrants in that route and reliance on them to fill shortages. The MAC consulted in the Autumn and have recommended a wide range of changes including:

  • a new charge on employers who recruit from outside the EEA, likely to be at least £1000 per year for each non-EEA worker employed;
  • an increase in the minimum amount that a non-EEA worker must be paid in order to qualify as a skilled worker under the immigration rules to at least £30,000 in most cases;
  • tighter control on the ability of multi-national companies to transfer non-EEA personnel to the UK.

The recommendations are with the Government and although nothing is certain we expect many, if not all to be implemented, probably in April and October of 2016.

New Immigration Skills Charge and extension of International Health Surcharge

The MAC has endorsed the Government’s proposal that businesses recruiting from outside the EEA should pay an ‘Immigration Skills Charge’ to discourage reliance on migrant workers and encourage investment in training and up-skilling for UK workers. Only Tier 2 Graduate Trainee and Skills Transfer would be exempt from this charge. The amount of the charge will be for the Government to decide upon. The MAC suggests an appropriate amount would be £1,000 per year of the visa applied for. So the charge due on a 3-year visa would be £3,000 and on a 5-year visa £5,000.

New legislation will be needed to bring the charge into effect. The first step in that direction has already been taken, with the Immigration Bill being currently going through the Parliamentary process. It will be some time before that process is complete, meaning the skills charge is unlikely to take effect before October 2017. In addition there is the recommendation that the current exemption of intra-company transfer from the International Health Surcharge should cease.  If this recommendation is adopted it will not matter that the employer meets health charges through private provision. These changes will not limit or prevent the use of Tier 2 directly of course but will most certainly have an impact on the bottom line.  Taking into account annual visa fees increases the direct cost of a 3 year Tier 2 (General) hire with three dependants will increase from £5,023 to £8,023;   under Tier 2 ICT, the current cost would be only £2,623  but would also rise to the same amount.  .

Higher salary thresholds

Under the current rules, all Tier 2 (General) employees must be employed in a job with an annual salary of at least £20,800. In addition there are minimum salary requirements for specific occupations: where an occupation-specific threshold is higher than £20,800, the migrant must have a job at that higher rate (either new starter or experienced rates as applicable) to qualify for a visa.

The MAC has recommended that the overall threshold be raised to better reflect the higher qualifications that migrants now need in order to apply under this route. It recommends that it should be set at £30,000, with a lower threshold of £23,000 applying to those classed as ‘new entrants’. The MAC’s view is that there should, however, be no change to the basis on which occupation-specific thresholds are set rejecting the idea of a region assessment. The MAC recommends that the £30,000 threshold should also apply in the Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) route to short-term staff and skills transfers, where the lower threshold currently stands at £24,800. For graduate trainees in the Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) route, the MAC recommends aligning the salary threshold with that applicable to new entrants in the Tier 2 (General) route. If the rates recommended by the MAC are adopted by the Government that would mean a reduction in the salary threshold from £24,800 to £23,000.

Further controls on intra-company transfers

The MAC has recommended a number of other steps to ensure the Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) route is being used for its intended purpose. These include:

  • Extending the qualifying period with the company overseas for intra-company transfers from 12 months to 2 years for both short-term and long-term transferees (with no change to the existing requirement of 6 months for the graduate trainee route).
  • Requiring employers to set out why they need to bring the individual into the UK and what exactly they will be doing in the UK.
  • Creating a separate route, with a salary threshold of £41,500, for transferees used to carry out work for a third-party organisation. This change will primarily affect IT services companies who send  skilled employees to the UK to deliver contract to customers.

Immigration Act commencement and statement of changes in Immigration Rules

The reforms to the immigration appeals system in the Immigration Act 2014 are being phased in from 20 October. These provisions contain important measures to make it easier to deport foreign criminals and build upon the significant reforms we have already made.

In July we introduced new powers to stop criminals using family life arguments to delay their deportation. This has been successful, enabling the Home Office to deport over 100 criminals since July pending any appeal.

From Monday criminals will also no longer be able to appeal against a decision that their deportation is conducive to the public good. This is the most significant change to deportation appeals since 1971. Criminals will be deported and will not be able to appeal beforehand unless they face a real risk of serious irreversible harm. For those that do have an appeal right, they will only be able to appeal once.

From Monday the new Act will also reform the appeals system for students. For those with meritorious appeals the old system was a costly and time-consuming way to correct simple case work errors which could be resolved by a request to the Home Office to review the decision. New immigration rules provide a system of administrative review through which case work errors will be corrected within 28 days rather than 12 weeks, supporting our policy of attracting immigrants who benefit the United Kingdom’s businesses and universities. For non-compliant students the new appeals reforms, combined with the new single power of removal, will make removal quicker and more legally straightforward.

On 3 September I announced that the West Midlands would be the location for the first phase of the implementation of new restrictions on illegal immigrants accessing rented housing. I have now made the order to bring into force the necessary powers in the Immigration Act to allow the scheme to start from 1 December. This will allow further secondary legislation to be laid before Parliament shortly.

Further measures in the new Act are also being brought into force to limit the ability of immigration detainees to make repeat bail applications and to extend the powers of the Immigration Services Commissioner to combat rogue immigration advisers. Finally, powers are being brought into force to enable us in due course to lay before Parliament the secondary legislation needed to implement the NHS health surcharge and to implement the changes to the process for giving notice of marriage or civil partnership to combat sham marriages and civil partnerships.

Reforms are also being made to strengthen the regime and further enhance security. Technical changes are being implemented across the Immigration Rules to tackle abuse while enhancing the United Kingdom’s status as an excellent place to do business. In particular, the Tier 1 (Investor) route is being reformed following recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee. The minimum investment threshold will be raised from £1m to £2m. The government will also consult further on what sort of investment the route should encourage in order to deliver real economic benefits, and other improvements to the route. A consultation document will be published in due course.

Leaving the EU wouldn’t solve our immigration problem

How do you define a great country? Tony Blair once offered a decent test: ask if people are trying to get into it, or leave it. On this basis, David Cameron’s government has been a roaring success – people have been settling in Britain at the rate of 1,200 a day since he took office. For the first time in years, there are problems in Calais because people who have crossed half the globe don’t want to stop at France. And while this can be a nuisance, it’s hard to fault their logic: if you’ve come so far, why compromise?

The Prime Minister could visit Calais and point out there is no greater compliment. Here are people who have come from places as far away as Eritrea and Sudan, willing to take incredible risks to start at the bottom in Britain rather than France. It makes sense, given that more jobs are created each day in Britain than the rest of the continent put together. And that’s just the legal jobs: our thriving black market is the greater draw for those migrants who know they’d never qualify for welfare. For those who do make the crossing to Britain, there is little realistic chance of deportation.

And this is where it all starts to unravel. If Britain was appealing for immigrants, as China does, then Cameron could take a bow. But in a moment of madness, he pledged to reduce net migration from almost a quarter of a million each year to “tens of thousands.” It was a foolish pledge, which has ended in complete failure.

It could have been a complete success. On her appointment as Home Secretary, Theresa May took advice from Sir Andrew Green, the founder of MigrationWatch, and soon tightened things up.

Those applying for visas from countries like India and Pakistan were far more likely to be called to interview in Delhi or Lahore, which made it harder to play the system. The rules for student visas were tightened. Just two years into Mrs May’s tenure, migration had been reduced from 255,000 a year to 154,000 – and suddenly, the “tens of thousands” target didn’t look so daft after all.

At the Tory party conference last year, “immigration down” was listed as one of the Government’s main achievements. But when the jobs recovery started, the Italians, Portuguese and Spanish came in their thousands, and progress was wiped out. Realistically, there was nothing Mrs May could do if the unemployed of Milan knew that a well-paying job was just a £35 easyJet ticket away. So one government success crushed the other: Iain Duncan Smith’s jobs miracle has, in effect, eaten Mrs May’s immigration miracle.

At last month’s Tory conference, the Home Secretary’s boast had been changed: “immigration down (since its peak under Labour)”. It was a less embarrassing way of admitting: “immigration up”. But the part she actually controls – that from outside the EU – has fallen to lows not seen for 15 years, which is an extraordinary achievement. And it would have been recognised as such, had the Prime Minister restricted himself to promises he was actually able to keep. His “tens of thousands” pledge was a sign of how little thought had gone into the politics of immigration – from all the main parties.

Ipsos Mori this week released its annual “Index of Ignorance,” a rather snotty exercise that seeks to show how stupid people are by asking them to guess percentages for social metrics. The answers are usually wrong, because normal people don’t think in statistics. Brits guessed that 24 per cent of the population are foreign-born; the correct answer is 13 per cent.

But the ignorance that we should be worried about is among politicians, who are paid to know the answers. When John Hutton was Labour’s business secretary, he once insisted to me that just 2.5 per cent of British employees were immigrants. The real figure was 12 per cent, yet this otherwise intelligent Cabinet minister had no idea. Now and again, conspiracy theorists suggest that Labour plotted to fill Britain with immigrants. The truth is far less edifying: they genuinely didn’t know what was going on.

The same, alas, was true for the opposition. During the televised leadership debates in the 2010 election campaign, Nick Clegg challenged David Cameron to say whether he was “right or wrong that 80 per cent of people who come here come from the European Union”. The Lib Dem leader was wrong, laughably so: the real figure was 35 per cent (as anyone who had vaguely studied the subject would know). But worse, neither Cameron nor Gordon Brown were able to correct him. This short exchange summed up the situation perfectly: Britain’s immigration policy was set by a party that knew little, fighting rivals who knew less.

You can blame Enoch Powell. Since his “Rivers of Blood” speech 46 years ago, it has become almost impossible to debate immigration sensibly in Britain. Even now, the debate is polarised – those in favour of it will not accept that there are any drawbacks, and those against will not admit to any advantages. So voters actually living in a neighbourhood transformed by immigration struggle to find any politician with whom to have a sensible conversation – which creates space for parties like Ukip. And if the Tories respond by visible signs of panic, Ukip support grows stronger still (as the coming Rochester and Strood by-election is likely to demonstrate).

The Prime Minister’s response to Ukip seems to alternate between ignoring them and aping them. It’s seldom edifying, and never successful. He reaches for sticking plasters, which always fall off at the wrong moments. The “tens of thousands” pledge got him through the last election, but stands to embarrass him in the next one. His latest panicked idea, a pledge to announce a way of controlling EU migration by Christmas, will get him past the Rochester and Strood by-election. But he’ll look daft, again, when he falls short of this unachievable promise.

Instead of being pulled on to Ukip’s territory, he should fight on his own. The complex truth is that the mass movement of workers affects every nation, which is why even non-EU countries like Switzerland and Norway have greater immigration levels than Britain. The United States controls its own borders (in theory) yet illegal workers remain a huge political issue. Immigration will always be a problem for any rich country – the more important question is how you handle it. And here, the Conservatives have a strong story to tell.

Remarkably, Britain does have enough jobs to go around. Cameron has so far overseen more job creation than any prime minister in postwar history, sending unemployment plunging. Earlier this week, it emerged that fewer children now live in workless households than any point in the Labour boom years: another extraordinary achievement. Part of the reason that Cameron’s net migration target won’t be met is that Brits aren’t emigrating as rapidly as they did under Labour. The Prime Minister can be very much blamed for making this country more attractive, to natives and foreigners alike.

If there were people lined up at Dover, desperate to get to Calais, it would be time to panic – our problems are, in no small part, the problems of success. Leaving the EU will not make these problems go away. And if Cameron wants to start beating Ukip, he should be brave enough to say so.

Labour must have courage on immigration – Byrne

The former Home Office minister said Labour must not be “afraid” of the argument and had a moral responsibility to talk about immigration reform.

He also said UKIP voters were “darkly pessimistic” about their lives, whereas progressive politics was optimistic.

David Cameron and Ed Miliband clashed on the issue this week – with both attacking the other party’s record.

Official figures published in August showed UK net migration – the difference between those entering and leaving – increased by more than 38% to 243,000 in 2013-14. EU citizens accounted for two-thirds of the growth.

The Labour leader has promised to bring in an immigration bill creating “clear, credible and concrete changes” within months, if Labour wins next year’s general election.

‘Be honest’

Mr Byrne – Labour’s universities spokesman who was immigration minister in the last Labour government – told Total Politics magazinethe party “can win an argument on this, but we have got to have the courage to put it at the top of our list of things we talk about”.

“And we have got be honest about the realities,” he said.

“Start Quote

Perhaps there are some colleagues who feel nervous talking about immigration. I certainly don’t”

Mary CreaghShadow transport secretary

And he cautioned politicians against ignoring voters’ concerns: “If people then sense that politicians are trying to duck the issue or avoid it or not confront it they are just not prepared to have that – and frankly, why should they?”

He expressed confidence that voters backed his proposal to exempt students from migration targets: “People know that students are good for Britain, not bad for Britain, they know that they are critical for our future influence in the world.”

The Birmingham Hodge Hill MP said Mr Miliband had to offer a positive vision to voters who had been attracted to the UK Independence Party: “The curious thing about UKIP voters is that they have one big thing in common: they are darkly pessimistic about themselves and their lives and if you want people to vote for progressive politics, you need people that are optimistic.”

Meanwhile his colleague, shadow transport Sscretary Mary Creagh told The House magazine Labour “needs to acknowledge the strain on schools, public services and the fact that people want to feel that people have put into a society before they start taking something out”.

“We are the Labour Party, we do like talking about the NHS and we are right to talk about the NHS. But perhaps there are some colleagues who feel nervous talking about immigration. I certainly don’t.”

Mr Cameron’s Conservative Party is facing a difficult by-election in Rochester and Strood, Kent, called after one of its MPs, Mark Reckless, defected to UKIP, which campaigns for the UK’s exit from the European Union.

The prime minister has said action is needed to curb EU immigration and has pledged to have “one last go” at negotiating a better deal for the UK in Europe.

There have been reports that the coalition could seek an “emergency brake” to stop EU migration after it reached a certain level or to limit the number of National Insurance numbers issued to new arrivals from the EU.

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel has appeared to rule this out, saying there could not be “tampering” with the EU principle of free movement of people.