In the run-up to the general election, Sophie Barrett-Brown and Miglena Ilieva discuss Conservative immigration promises with the latest EU migration statistics
With just two weeks to go before the General Election (the outcome of which will determine the direction of future UK immigration policy), the latest ONS EU migration statistics show yet another drop in overall EU migration to 48,000 – down from 200,000 at its peak in 2015, paint a troubling picture for employers who have been increasingly struggling to recruit talent since the referendum.
The skills shortages facing businesses in many sectors, including social care, construction, hospitality and manufacturing since the referendum are well-documented, while EU citizens have been voting with their feet and leaving the UK for destinations offering greater opportunities/prospects or preferring to stay in their member states here economies have been improving while the pound has been losing value.
Political indecision and the uncertainty of Brexit carry wider costs – with delayed projects, missed business opportunities and many businesses abandoning Britain to relocate all or part of their operations to other EU countries from where they can continue with frictionless trade. As the General Election looms, the much-needed clarity businesses need remains somewhat elusive.
Despite the publication of the long-awaited Conservative Party manifesto on Sunday and the much-trailed references to the introduction of a new ‘Australian-style points-based system’, there remains scant detail of the proposed future immigration system that will apply to EU and non-EU nationals alike from 2021. The manifesto’s slogans of prioritising people who ‘have a good grasp of English’, are ‘law-abiding citizens’ and ‘have a good education and qualifications’ really offer nothing new – these are all long-established features of the existing UK system.
It is regrettable that the toxic and arbitrary language of numbers is returning to the campaign: notwithstanding abandoning the ill-fated (and ill-considered) net migration target of predecessor Conservative administrations since 2010, the manifesto pledges that “overall numbers will come down”, absent of any apparent rationale or assessment of the future needs of the UK economy – or indeed any explanation of how this reduction will be delivered.
Recent years have witnessed a dramatic increase in Home Office filing fees and related charges, meaning only those able to afford the substantial fees are able to come to the UK.
Indeed, the Prime Minister announced last week that the immigration health surcharge, which until a year ago was £200 per migrant per year of residence in the UK, will increase to £625 per year per migrant according to EU migration statistics.
This means for example, that an employer of a skilled worker in a family of four would be required to pay up-front government charges of over £22,500 for a standard five-year sponsorship – indeed these costs are only likely to be significantly increased in future. This impacts for business will be all the greater given that EU migrants who are currently able to come and take jobs without the need for sponsorship from an employer, would be subject to the same high fees once free movement comes to an end.
Remarkably, the spouse of a British citizen with two non-British children would be required to pay a minimum of £24,000 over a five-year period to settlement in government fees. This is a staggering figure, meaning that families would have to save almost £5,000 per year just to pay the Government fees – no easy task considering that a quarter of British families hold an average of £100 in savings.
All of this comes against a backdrop of an actual Government cost of decision-making of just £155 per application as well as an erosion of appeal rights and of legal aid which has meant families are trying to navigate the highly-complex immigration system themselves while putting their savings on the line.
Costs appear to be increasingly used to deterrent effect and as a mechanism to limit numbers, prejudicially affecting certain groups – a far cry from the ‘more fair and compassionate system’ lauded in the manifesto.
Innovator and Start-up routes
The hasty closure of the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) and Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) routes earlier this year, replaced by the new Innovator and Start-up categories – which may be seen as poor substitutes, not least due to the lack of transparency and accessibility of participating endorsing bodies’ schemes – have led to a dramatic reduction in the number of entrepreneurs coming to/remaining in the UK.
An analysis of the figures shows just 10 Innovator entry clearance applications in the last quarter (14 in total for the past six months), compared to approximately 2,500 Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) applications for the year prior to the route’s closure – which under the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) criteria would have required the creation of at least 5,000 new jobs for settled workers – further compounding concerns that the UK is not as open for business as the Government suggests.
By Sophie Barrett-Brown, Senior Partner and Head of UK Practice and Miglena Ilieva, Senior Solicitor and PSL Team Manager at Laura Devine Immigration