By Ruth Grove- White (MRN)
Yesterday’s papers brought the news, based on a Sunday Times interview by immigration minister Damian Green, that this week we can finally expect the government’s policy announcement on reforms to the rules affecting skilled workers and family members coming to the UK. This is likely to be a double-whammy – with the outcomes of two major government consultations combined into one major policy announcement.
This means an end to the wait for the decision on the fate of the migrant domestic worker visa, rules on settlement for Tier 2 migrant workers, and entry requirements on migrant family members coming to the UK. But it looks like we should prepare ourselves for bad news. The minister declared that ‘Getting the number down is the absolute key but what I am aiming at is fewer and better’, with the aim being to attract ‘particularly exceptional’ people only to enter and stay here.
By now we all know what that means. The ‘best migrants’ are judged by this government to be an elite few – those who are extremely rich, or who provide immediate and substantial economic value within the UK’s high-income sectors, or are part of an small number who can demonstrate scientific or artistic skills. All this is somewhat disingenuous – the government knows that we will continue to need teachers, doctors and nurses, engineers, carers and many others from overseas with vital and needed skills, and these people will no doubt continue to come here. The likely change is that rights to settlement and family reunificiation will be restricted to an increasingly small number.
So what can we expect to hear this week? The changes are likely to prevent most skilled migrants from ever being able to apply for settlement in the UK. According to Green, Tier 2 will be completely rebranded, as a ‘temporary migration route’. It seems likely that settlement for a lucky few Tier 2 workers will be potentially based on an income threshold which, if the Migration Advisory Committee’s last recommendations are followed, could be as high as £35,000 p.a. As for migrant domestic workers, there is unfortunately little indication that the current overseas domestic worker visa will be kept in its current form, despite lobbying by domestic workers and others to keep it.
It looks like family migration to the UK will also be included in this announcement and again will raise the bar for bringing people here. The government’s key proposal was to introduce a new income threshold for migrants wanting to sponsor family members to bring them here. Again, if the government follows the MAC recommendations, this could be as high as £25,700 p.a – excluding around 50% of the British population in full-time work from bringing in family members. There may also be a new definition of a ‘genuine and continuing relationship’ for the purposes of marrying a foreign national.
We can expect a raft of debate about the impact of changes in the coming days when the final announcement is made, along with some real questionning of government motivations in taking this approach. As analysed in more detail by ippr last year, restricting settlement and family reunion are unlikely to have an immediate impact on slashing numbers coming to the UK, but they will make life more difficult for many in the short term. Civil servants have indicated that the new rules will come into effect as quickly as possible – the government is keen to be seen acting quickly and decisively. It’s not clear whether they will attempt to retroactively apply the new rules to those already in the country – although judicial reviews would surely be hot on their heels if so.
As well as the immediate damage for migrants themselves, of real concern in this debate should also be the long-term impacts of these changes – this looks increasingly like a government shooting itself in the foot in an attempt to regain short-term public confidence. However much Damian Green claims, as he did yesterday, that government wants to encourage a ‘new generation’ of young, skilled migrants to the UK from across the world, this pessimistic approach looks set to have the opposite effect.