Government moves with 'unnecessary haste' to rework Tiers 1 and 2 of the Points Based System

Which comes first, government plans to restrict economic immigration, or the evidence to back these changes up? Government announcements on the fate of Tiers 1 and 2 of the PBS this week indicate that policy-makers may have forgotten to wait for the background research before making big decisions.

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?

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Very solid analysis

Ruth even more scary news has emerged from a speech from Theresa may yesterday on 5 November as announced at the birder agency website. She has made breaking the link between temporary work and indefinite leave to remain a priority. This is very worrying indeed particularly for those of us very close to qualifying (me in 11 months). What will happen to people who have made this country their home?

Yes, second Anonymous. 

I thought Damian Green signalled the coalition government's intention to close down the channels between temporary migration and settlement when he made his first speech as immgration minister. - see my news blog discussing this in relation to the student route to eventual settlement.
What is Labour going to do about it though? No doubt he has other things on his mind at the moment, but the party's hapless immigration spokesperson Phil Woolas rambled in the direction of ending the status of 'indefinite leave to remain' when he spoke at LP conference fringe meetings back in the autumn - see the news blog if you need to be reminded of this.
In my view it is critical that we start briefing MPs of all parties on the essential rationality of immigration routes that lead from initial periods of temporary stay to long term settlement.  To countenance an immigration controls that order people back home after periods of residence of several years would be to add to the already huge injustices that the system is responsible for. 

Don I hope that people such as yourselves will be able to stick up for the rights of people who have made this their home. How is it that after so many years here (9) I may have to consider alternatives (including returning home) because the government has intentions to end indefinite leave to remain ? In recent times there was talk about probationary citizenship and having to earn your citizenship. In some ways I think some of us were ready to live up to those challenges and get on with things. However, now there is even more uncertainty. Will the coalition government lift the rug from underneath us and make a universal policy of ending ILR in the very near future? It certainly seems possible and I think that this has made me loose faith that Britain is fair or just. To come here with one set of rules which you follow to obtain a goal only to be told at the very end that there is no more goal. I am a registered nurse in the NHS and was previously a student and am very close to being eligible for settlement. I, like so many foreign workers, only want to be able to call this place home in the legal sense. I have been financially independent and have never had 'recourse to the so called public funds'. Who knows what the next hurdle will be.

Don, this is absolutely shocking. I mean, can this really apply retroactively? Like the comment before me, if I was told something at the beginning of the process, surely they can't just turn around and change the rules AGAIN before I settle here.
The only thing the government listens to these days is the economic argument made by the business. I sincerely hope that someone will explain to them that people don't want to come to work in a country, only to have a packed suit case ready in case the country changes its mind and decides to kick them out at will.

I have been reading with interest the coalition government's unnecessary haste in changing the present rules and regulations pertaining to Tier 1 & Tier 2 visas. Frankly, I must state quite clearly that the Liberal Democrats Party should bury its head in shame for being complicit in the the government's determined intention of the erosion of civil liberties of so many immigrants in this country. It is a well predicated principle of English law that you do not introduce laws retrospectively to rules and circumstances that may well affect thousands of people. This is not done in any civilized democratic society worth its onions.

More importantly, if the Coalition government should abolish the rules that allow immigrants' to apply for indefinite leave to remain after a long residence period of 10 0r 14 years, I can assure the government that there will be a plethora of human rights claims and challenges under the Human Right Act both in Britain and the European Courts. It seems that the Coalition government is not thinking things through thoroughly on most of the changes it is introducing, and most of the pronouncements it making. My advice to the government is that it should apply reason and common-sense into it decision making process and stop being overwhelmingly dogmatic too much in a hurry.

I totally agree with Prince Dayo Fadina.

Fiat justitia, ruat caelum. - "May justice be done though the heavens fall."

I wonder, can it affect 10 years legal stay leading to ILR. I think they can't just cancel it because it is part of EU law which UK signed on human rights. When Labour planned to introduce Path to Citizenship, it confirmed that they will not touch 10 years legal stay.

Regarding breaking the link between temporary stay and residence, well, where is link at the moment? All who come here are not easily eligible for ILR except spouses. Only about 1% of immigrants use 10 years legal or 14 years illegal stay, so trying to do something with it will make much more damage for the current government than the benefit of 1% reduction, at best. Unless UK goes out of EU. This is EU wide law that after 10 years any country must give permanent residence status.

I think the only realistic way to reduce number of students is to close shot-term courses for international students. But Labour already closed a lot of them. 7 years ago the cost of English language course could be as little as 400 pounds for 6 months. Now it's about 3000 pounds minimum. The easiest way to reduce number of students is to increase tuition fees and increase maintenance funds requirements. Then there will be less people coming but, if design it carefully, the income of universities may remain the same because they will pay more.

Theresa May's speech raised much more questions than answers. I only wish one thing - that when they implement new rules, they will take into account rights of those who already in UK and planned to live by previous rules. And give those already in UK plenty of time in advance to be able to make decision about their status before new rules are implemented. Give notice of new changes well in advance. Otherwise it will be extremely unfair and will significantly increase social tensions.

Thanks for these comments - the way the government is going ahead with these changes is certainly concerning on a number of different levels. For more indications that the changes to the PBS have been all mapped out by behind closed doors, check out this article in the Financial Times. (you'll have to register but it's free).

This article argues that the content of May's immigration speech last week was rewritten at the last minute - because the original speech would have given too much away about policy plans. According to this article, May intended to announce openly that Tier 1 General and Post Study Work visas will be shut down, but had to take that passage out at the last minute...

According to the Herald Scotland "[t]he Scottish Government last night launched a fresh attack on plans for tighter UK immigration controls, claiming they will damage the economy and the ability of universities to attract overseas students."

@ Alex
An illegal immigrant can apply for ILR after 14 years???? Where is the sense in that? How is it possible that the UK government can say "do not come here illegally...but if you do and you stay long enough - we'll give you a passport"??? I never knew

The latest immigration upheavals and changes have really made me so sad :( I'm a 25 year old mixed-race South African female and a qualified social worker. In 2007/2008 I came to the UK on a working-holiday visa and I LOVED everything about London and the British. I fell in love with everything about the country and its culture. I worked as a social worker and was part of a profession that desperately needs more qualified workers. Social work is a shortage occupation in the UK and locum social workers are needed because the gaps in child protection and the provision of services to the elderly and vulnerable is a necessary service. I worked hard and enjoyed my job, I contributed ALOT of tax, without accessing NHS or any other public services. I was (and still am) single and thus had no family members in tow. I am currently a top-student at the University of Cape Town - doing my Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work. Attaining my Masters and coming back to London on a Tier 1 visa, with my new skills and experience was always my ambition. I don't know that I would want to settle down in London forever but when I left in 2008, I knew I was nowhere near done with this beautiful city and country. I have so much more to give and having been in the country for only a year because I did not wish to overstay my visa - I am very very sad that I now may not be able to make it back. I have been working towards my Masters for the purpose of meeting the necessary criteria...and I still cannot believe that just like that, the Tier 1 option is gone. I think the government could have implemented stricter controls on this visa in so many different ways - capping it to 1000 and making it ONLY for "exceptional talent" aka scientists and musicians...will be such a waste of opportunity for the real legitimate individuals who want to contribute to the UK and miss the experience of being able to be there.

If there are concerns that 1/3 of Tier 1 visa holders end up in Tescos or restaurants then restrict the field on their visa to their field of specialty! For me that would be social work. If I come to the UK on the basis that I am highly skilled in social work then what on earth would I be applying to Tescos for and why would Tescos be hiring me? This is one way the government could curb this kind of fraud and abuse of the system. Stipulate employment limitations on the visas...employers could then be fined for hiring employees on Tier 1 visas if the employment is outside of the "highly skilled" field for which the visa was applied. They do this for the Tier 2 visas - why not start with the Tier 1 visas as opposed to scrapping the whole Tier? Tier 1 visas are sought after because they allow more movement. Indeed for me, I am attracted to the fact that I won't need to seek sponsor after sponsor if I wanted to change jobs within my field. The Tier 2 system is going to be burdened following the scrapping of the Tier 1 General Migrant visa.

Another option is to once again make the Masters degree the minimum education requirement. Those who genuinely want to come to the UK for legitimate work and contributory purposes will WORK towards attaining this educational goal. I certainly am. Although now it won't mean anything in terms of the new UK immigration laws. There are other ways...I just feel so sad that alot of people like myself will be completely side-lined from our dreams and goals of coming to or coming back to the UK on legitimate grounds and that the contributions we could make will no longer be made...all because of individuals who abuse the system and give the rest of us non - EU's a bad name :(

The account you give of your experiences Tam are much appreciated and I do hope that you find away around the maze and get back to do the things.  But I do think you are wrong to conclude that the miserable laws promoted by successive governments arise from 'individuals who abuse the system.' That just lets government off the hook of its responsibilities for introducing badly designed policies which have promoted the falacy that immigration can be ratonally managed to deliver a constant supply of workers to fill gaps existing in the domestic labour market.

The sole criteria for assessing the need for migrants has been the interests of private companies and state-run services.  The notion that migrants have their own interests in ensuring that they get a fair return for the cost of their labour has not been on the agenda for the people who designed immigration policy over this period.  I think the account you ahve given of your work experiences shows that as well as anything.

Some migrants have kicked back against this system of bureaucratic management, pushing back against the rules and seeking to expand the social and economic space where they can improve the value of the return they get for their investment in migration.  These are the people the authorities describe as abusers of the system.  In reality I think we should see their resistance to a callous and exploitative system of immigration management as a key element in all,our our efforts to change the system for the better.

Rather than see them as your rivals in the battle to get a better deal out of migration we ought to see them as the element which constantly challenges the system and holds out our best hope for large scale reform.

But none of this is intended to discourage you in your efforts to fulfil your ambitions and get back to the London where you are, from the standpoint of most of its denizens, a re very wlecome and deserve to be.  I'm sure the readers of MRN blogs would be interested to read more about your personal struggles with the system - if it is any encouragement to you, please do keep writing for these blogs and filling us all in on your thoughts and experiences!


Thank you for the encouragement Don and for the insights you offered - I really appreciate it :)

The only area I think maybe I should clarify is where you mentioned that "you are wrong to conclude that the miserable laws promoted by successive governments arise from 'individuals who abuse the system.'" Don't get me wrong, I in no way feel that the previous government's immigration laws are responsibility free, nor that the miserable laws arose from individuals who abuse the system. Infact it's more the other way around. Those who are abusing the system were provided the opportunity to do so BY flimsy immigration laws. When I refer to the system abusers I am referring to those individuals who come to the UK under one pretext, but with intentions of an entirely different manner. A Tier 1 visa is (was) a golden ticket to opportunity for individuals like myself, who genuinely want to come to the UK for the working experience, for the love of the culture and travelling and with a genuine passion for the profession and the skills we hope to contribute. My decision to come to the UK never had any concern paid to the NHS, benefits, housing, bringing my family over, etc. But those for whom these factors were their motivation - are those who have directly affected the outcomes of thousands of legitimate migrants who could and genuinely want to contribute value to the UK, whilst taking back only what they earn through their employment in addition to the experience and fulfilment of being in the UK.

I can understand where you are coming from with this Tam, but it's easy to slip into talk about 'good' migrants and 'bad' migrants, givivng the impression that all that needs to be done with immigration policy is find a way to sort out the one from the other.  This is the sort of thing the UK government thinks it is doing with its points based system, managing only to upset just about everyone who comes into contact with it all.

My view is that human behaviour is inevitably complex, and very few people fit into totally 'good' or 'bad' categories.  If they find themselves confronting bureaucratic systems which require them to tick particular boxes before they can get on with their lives then they will bend the facts to bring them in line with what they want to achieve.

A system aimed at working with the grain of human nature on this point would be less concerned with trying to second guess what people say and more with setting the conditions in which migration would optimise the benefits to be got from the circulation of people from the perspectives of sending and receiving countries, and the migrants themselves.  If we start from this point I think the rules and procedures we'd ending up putting together would be very different from the way the system operates at present.

Apologies if this is a bit preachy - these comment boxes aren't the best place to expound new theories on how the world should be run - but I think this is how I'd sum up the direction we need to move this discussion in.