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Conservative majority means Brexit, a new “Australian-style points-based system”, and possibly a new government department for borders and immigration


Government promises the "fundamental principle of the new immigration system is that the government will be in control"

Date of Publication:
16 December 2019

Conservative majority means Brexit, a new "Australian-style points-based system", and possibly a new government department for borders and immigration

16 December 2019

The result of Thursday's election means large changes to immigration law can be expected over the coming months and years.

The UK will almost certainly officially Brexit at the end of next month, leading to a transition period that is scheduled to end on 31 December 2020, although this could be extended by mutual agreement between the EU and UK.

The Conservatives have been clear about their desire to introduce a new "Australian-style points-based system" once free movement ends.

As we reported earlier in the month, Boris Johnson gave a brief overview of the shape of the new system ahead of the election. The Free Movement website has obtained a full copy of the original Conservative press release circulated to selected journalists which provides further details.

The press release says an "expert implementation group" will be appointed to ensure the roll-out of the new immigration system from January 2021.

The "fundamental principle of the new immigration system is that the government will be in control."

On the categories of visas to be issued by the new system, the press release states:

"Our single new system will allocate points on a range of criteria. It will, de facto, allocate people into three separate categories:

"• 'Exceptional talent / contribution' – highly educated migrants who have received world-leading awards or otherwise demonstrated exceptional talent, sponsored entrepreneurs setting up a new business or investors. These will not require a job offer and will receive fast-track entry.

"• 'Skilled workers' – workers who meet the criteria of the points-based system and have a confirmed job offer. Special types – such as our NHS Visa – will also receive fast-track entry and reduced fees.

"• 'Sector-specific rules-based' – made up of specific temporary schemes such as for low-skilled labour, youth mobility or short term visits (e.g., touring). These will be revised on an ongoing basis based on expert advice from the MAC [Migration Advisory Committee]. These visas will be time-limited and will not provide a path to settlement."

The exceptional talent route will have no cap on numbers and will have an accelerated path to settlement (after three years rather than five).

The skilled workers category will prioritise "those who can add the most to our economy and society, wherever they are from."

The press release adds: "We will streamline and speed up the sponsorship process for skilled workers to significantly reduce the time it takes to bring in a migrant to meet labour market demands, reducing the burden on both individuals and businesses. Currently, the end-to-end process for a general work visa under Tier 2 can take 8-20 weeks.

"Confirmed job offers will confer extra points and employer sponsorship will remain a key requirement for the vast majority of migrants as we believe that employers are best placed to determine which skills are required for their business, as well as to prevent abuse of our immigration system.

"The MAC will advise annually on whether caps or incentives are required based on whether there are shortages or an excess of migration via this skilled worker category."

Last year's detailed white paper on the post-Brexit skills-based immigration system remains available to read here.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reported yesterday that Boris Johnson has drawn up plans for radical changes to a number of government departments, including setting up a new department for borders and immigration that will be separate from the Home Office. The move is intended to improve security and the operation of the visa system after Brexit.

The Independent today had some reaction on what this might mean.

Professor Tanja Bueltmann of Northumbria University told The Independent that the likely focus of the new department would be on limiting numbers and she fears this will mean an expansion of the structural reach of the 'hostile environment'.

"We have to wait and see, but if you look at the US for example, you've got the Department of Homeland Security and then the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). I'd be paying attention to whether this is going to turn into something like that," she said.

The director of the Runnymede Trust, Omar Khan, told The Independent that taking immigration responsibility out of the Home Office would in theory be a good thing, but warned: "The culture of a department is driven partly by its aims and objects, and driving numbers down is quite clearly going to be the focus of this immigration department. They're not going to be to look holistically and the human beings in front of them,"

Joe Owens of the Institute for Government told The Independent: "The best case scenario is this is a well-thought through, planned move which addresses some of the structural issues in the way the Home Office works at the moment. The worst case is that they drag and drop the exact same system and the same structures into a new department, and rather than fixing anything they just disrupt all of the work that's going on there."