Business groups call for Government to rethink introduction of new system as world tackles coronavirus pandemic
Concern as Home Office publishes promotional material to help employers prepare for the new points-based immigration system
14 April 2020
Ahead of the Easter weekend, the Home Office last week released new information for employers on the upcoming points-based immigration system.
The promotional material, which aims to help employers prepare for the new system, can be accessed from here. According to the material, the new immigration system remains on track for introduction on 1 January 2021.
The release of the material during the global coronavirus pandemic was met with surprise and concern from some immigration and business professionals.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Carter Thomas Solicitors said:
"Carter Thomas Solicitors has always worked with the government to assist with the design of UK immigration policy. We are deeply concerned that the government has chosen now, when by its own calculations COVID-19 deaths are yet to peak, to release information on the future Points Based System which highlights that roles such as hospital porters, refuse workers, postal workers, farm workers and numerous other key worker roles are classed as 'low skilled'. We were asked yesterday by the Home Office to help to make the information released today available to businesses. We decline. Now is not the time. We call on the government to halt all work on the future immigration system until the pandemic is over and focus on ensuring that foreign key workers in the UK have no need to worry about their immigration status."
Carter Thomas added that while it will continue to work with the government on the design of the new points-based system, it must be delayed and revised and essential roles must be recognised as such.
The Financial Times reported on Friday that business groups complained that the coronavirus crisis has made the incoming immigration system irrelevant.
Gerwyn Davies, a policy adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, told the Financial Times:
"New immigration rules are simply being ignored by the vast majority of employers, and will continue to be … While employers are dealing with urgent priorities, including dealing with plummeting demand and furloughing workers, they simply don't have the capacity to deal with planning for a new immigration system."
Sophia Wolpers of the business campaign group London First told the Financial Times that the immigration guidelines had been "published based on what is rapidly becoming old thinking".
Wolpers added: "The current crisis has shown just how vitally important workers previously deemed lower skilled are to the UK economy as a whole. The government should revisit its proposals in the days and weeks ahead."
Tom Hadley, director of policy and campaigns at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said in a statement:
"Now is not the right time to plough on with immigration reforms. The national effort needs to be focused on eliminating coronavirus, protecting jobs and getting the economy back on track. The country will recover from this pandemic – and ensuring businesses have the skills they need in future will be essential to the recovery. From carers and cleaners to retail workers and drivers, the current crisis is showing us how much we depend on people at all skill levels. We need a temporary immigration route meet the needs businesses in every sector of the economy. Post-Brexit and post-virus, this will help businesses succeed and support job and growth here in the UK."
The Daily Mirror quoted a spokesperson for the Government as saying:
"Now that we have left the EU, free movement is coming to an end and we will be introducing a new points-based immigration system from January 2021. We want to give employers as much time as possible to prepare for the new system that will bring in the best and brightest to the UK, which is why we have published this guidance today. The Government is committed to helping businesses through this difficult time. We have announced unprecedented support for businesses including £330 billion in business loans and guarantees, cash grants for small businesses, paying 80% of furloughed workers' wages, business rates holidays and tax deferrals."
The Home Office also last week updated its guidance on the New immigration system: what you need to know.
The section that has been previously entitled 'Low-skilled workers' was updated "for clarity" and renamed 'Lower-skilled workers'.
The paragraph stating "There will not be an immigration route specifically for low-skilled workers" was changed to read: "There will not be an immigration route specifically for those who do not meet the skills or salary threshold for the skilled worker route."
The second paragraph was unchanged, however, and keeps the reference to 'low-skilled'. It reads, as before: "The seasonal agricultural visa pilot scheme will be expanded - recognising the significant reliance this sector has on low-skilled temporary workers."
The change was taken by some as a deliberate snub of the 'low-skilled' at a time when many have been performing key roles to keep vital services running as the UK combats the spread of Covid-19.
In a post widely shared on social media, immigration solicitor Chris Desira said on Free Movement:
"Basically, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the Home Office felt it necessary to state that care workers, nurses, hospital porters, cleaners, logistics personnel, postal workers etc will not be able to apply for a UK work visa from January. The only 'low-skilled' workers that the government envisages letting in are agricultural labourers."
In a piece in the Guardian, the writer, academic and media commentator Maya Goodfellow said:
"If the government forges ahead with its plans, recognising them as key workers will be just a momentary suspension of the norm. Many of them were dismissed as low skilled before the crisis, and it seems they will be once again when it's over."