Against the background of a deepening health and economic crisis, there was surprise and criticism as the Government pressed ahead with the second reading of the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill this week.
The Scottish immigration minister urged the Westminster Government to “pause and reflect”, and the media slammed a “sinister” bill that will “make people suffer”, showcasing migrant NHS workers who say there will be no place for them.
So what is the point of legislating on immigration now, and what will it mean for a business community already reeling under the shock of coronavirus?
Matthew Davies, Head of Business Immigration at Wright Hassall Solicitors, explains that all is not as it seems. As the Government balances its obligation to deliver on the Brexit promise to end free movement with guarantees for EEA migrants already here, it is actually preparing to liberalise and relax thresholds for new migrants from 2021. It will even scrap the resident labour market test just as skilled unemployment surges. Far from a bringing in a ‘new’ Australian style points-based system as the Government and media claim, the Bill overhauls the existing points-based system introduced by Labour in 2008-9, based on the recommendations of a Migration Advisory Committee report published before economists factored in the current pandemic. With further adjustments that will favour migrants in the critical care sectors, we will be left with a strikingly liberal immigration policy.
The main challenge for international businesses wanting to bring their skilled staff to the UK and to source migrant expertise will come not from the Immigration Bill, but from the social distancing measures that slow applications and restrict travel. The world will change and adapt to coronavirus, but mass economic migration is here to stay, and the UK Government has no plans to curb it.