Government moves with 'unnecessary haste' to rework Tiers 1 and 2 of the Points Based System
Photo: Brian K
Claims by government to be taking an evidence-based and consultative approach to economic migration policy have been undermined this week. Official plans for the development of the controversial cap, affecting economic migrants under the Points Based System (PBS), are intended for release towards the end of this year, in order to allow the government to gather information and research from a wide range of expert and public sources.
This process is still very much underway, with the reports on the Migration Advisory Committee and UKBA public consultations on the cap not yet released and relevant publications from the Home Affairs Select Committee and COMPAS only just launched this week.
But the government appears to be keen to jump the gun. Statements from senior officials this week indicate that big decisions have already been made behind closed doors about the fate of the PBS, apparently without waiting for the evidence to back them up. The message seems to be that, as part of an overall clamp-down on economic immigration, the Tier 1 route will be rewritten. Tier 2 migrants, bar those privileged through specific government deals and exemptions, will face a likely increase in restrictions. We have not yet been offered the research to support these changes – and in fact the available evidence indicates that hasty policy decisions risk getting it wrong.
So what has been announced this week? Concern about the fate of Tier 1 for highly skilled migrants, investors and entrepreneurs – particularly since the release of a worryingly short home office assessment report this week into the outcome of Tier 1 migrant employment – appears to have been justified. Prime minister David Cameron announced at a meeting in East London yesterday that Tier 1 is a “complete failure” and will be reformed. A new ‘entrepreneur visa’ will be introduced, for those with business ideas and confirmed investment. It is not yet clear how closely this will mirror the Tier 1 Entrepreneur route (under which just 139 people came to the UK last year). More pressingly, what will happen to the Tier 1 General and Post Study routes? The independent Migration Advisory Committee made the economic case for retaining these routes last year, but it seems that political will is moving in a different direction.
Further statements this week indicate government plans in relation to Tier 2 – for skilled migrants with a job offer – of the PBS. In her first full speech on immigration today, home secretary Theresa May stated that the government will be looking at tightening up Tier 2 requirements in coming months, in addition to the introduction of the annual limit on skilled migrants. May gave the dubious assurance that economic migration can be reduced without damaging the economy – defending David Cameron’s announcement this week that intra-company transfers will be excluded from the cap, in an effort to reassure the business community. An EU-level trade deal with India will further support skilled Indians in coming to the UK for work – a move viewed by the anti-immigration lobby as a sneaky dilution of the Conservatives’ tough talk on economic immigration.
Whilst government has been dropping heavy hints about the changes to the PBS which lie ahead, two new significant contributions to this debate were launched this week which policy makers might do well to consider. The Home Affairs Select Committee report into the immigration cap and a new book ‘Who needs Migrant Workers?’ edited by key researchers at Oxford University’s Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) were both released this week These publications add to a growing body of compelling and independent evidence indicating that the government should avoid leaping to clamp down on economic immigration to the UK.
The release of the Home Affairs Select Committee report into the immigration cap is a useful assessment of the issues associated with this policy measure – primarily highlighting the concerns of employers, including those who have now experienced the interim immigration cap. As such the report largely focuses on the potential impact of the immigration cap on businesses and public service providers. The report makes clear the limited potential of the cap to bring down overall immigration figures to meet ambitious government targets, acknowledging that restrictions may need to be made elsewhere in the immigration system to do so. Critically, the HAC report urges the government to avoid “unnecessary haste” in introducing a permanent cap, reminding policy-makers that this “leads to poor decision-making”, which is more likely to then be challenged in the courts. Read a summary of key points from that report here.
A wider perspective on the immigration cap within the context of the UK’s economic dependency on migrant workers was also provided this week. The official launch of ‘Who needs migrant workers?’, the new book edited by COMPAS researchers Bridget Anderson and Martin Ruhs, was an opportunity to explore independent research with a bearing on current policy dilemmas. The book, reviewed by Don in a previous blog, explores the UK’s reliance on migrant labour across various sectors of the economy including health and care work, construction, food production, hospitality, and financial services. At the launch the COMPAS team argued that the contribution of economic migrants is embedded in the workings of our economy – to address this we need to tackle a range of wider issues such as training and education of Brits, enforcement of working standards and wage levels. The message from this meeting was that government cannot wish away our reliance on migrant workers by simply tightening up immigration controls or introducing a cap on economic migration. There is no ‘quick fix’ for this one.
As the evidence base mounts against the imminent restrictions outlined by the government, there are a couple of crucial pieces of the jigsaw still missing. The UKBA response to its consultation on the operation of an immigration cap is expected in the coming month, as is the assessment of the Migration Advisory Committee on the level of the first annual cap. The question, however, is: going by the current pace of change, how much difference will further evidence really make to the final policy decisions?