By introducing a points-based system much like the one used in Australia and Canada, the U.K. hopes to attract more young, highly educated workers to its shores by lifting the cap on visas issued to “skilled” migrants. The move is part of a broad overhaul of immigration policy following Britain’s secession from the European Union on January 31, ending the free movement of migrants within the 27-member bloc.
The new restrictions include a salary threshold of $33,000 (£25,600), English fluency and a job offer. There is no cap on the number of skilled workers who can enter the U.K. The new rules appear to be slightly relaxed — under previous legislation, the minimum salary was $42,500 (£30,000) and applicants were required to have a university degree. However, workers who do not qualify under the new restrictions will not have any other recourse to obtain a work visa.
“We’re ending free movement, taking back control of our borders and delivering on the people’s priorities,” Home Secretary Priti Patel told the Wall Street Journal.
Britain is now challenged with controlling immigration while maintaining its service-heavy economy. The country is currently facing its lowest unemployment levels since 1974, owing largely to its reliance on cheap European labor.
“From now on, the employer won’t dictate who comes into the country, it will be the government,” said Punam Birly, head of employment and immigration at consulting firm KPMG.
The U.K. Home Office, a ministerial department of Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom, responsible for immigration, security and law and order, estimates that 70 percent of the existing EU workforce would not qualify as skilled labor under the new immigration framework.
British government officials have told U.K. businesses to focus on training their existing workforce and investing in new technologies to counteract the shortfall in low-skilled laborers from EU countries. Many seasonal farmworkers come from the EU.
Business associations have raised concerns that labor-intensive industries will be disproportionately hit, including hospitality, tourism, agriculture and construction. However, the restrictions will be relaxed in job categories for which there is a critical shortage, such as nursing. The Wall Street Journal report also mentions that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced plans to fast-track visas for top scientists and engineers.
It is unclear whether Britain’s new immigration policies will produce the desired effect, which would require reversing a trend that started after the 2016 Brexit referendum. Following the vote to pull Britain from the European Union, immigration from within continental Europe dropped, while the number of migrants coming to Britain from outside the EU increased, according to the New York Times.