The Home Office’s independent advisers have urged the government to change its plans to introduce a points-based immigration post-Brexit and drop salary thresholds for would-be immigrants.
The Migration Advisory Committee this week urged the government to abandon plans for an “Australian-style” points-based immigration system – a key plank of the Conservatives’ election manifesto – and to improve access to data to ensure policies are based on sound evidence.
MAC chair Alan Manning dismissed the idea as a “soundbite” – an election pledge that was backed by little policy substance. The committee instead called for a system that would combine a points-based approach – using points only for skilled workers without a job offer – with the existing approach based on salary thresholds and job offers for prospective migrants.
The committee said its examination of points-based immigration systems in multiple countries had shown “a PBS is always just one part of a wider immigration system and typically also represents just part of the work migration system”.
The committee also urged the government to drop the salary threshold for skilled migrant workers coming to the UK from £30,000 to £25,600, and to £17,920 for the under-26s. An expansion of “medium-skill” jobs means the threshold should be lowered to be in line with current pay, the committee said.
“No perfect system exists and there are unavoidable, difficult trade-offs. The largest impacts will be in low-wage sectors and the government needs to be clear about its plans for lower-skilled work migration," Manning said.
"Our recommendations are likely to reduce future growth of the UK population and economy compared to freedom of movement, by using skill and salary thresholds. “We estimate very small increases in GDP per capita and productivity, slightly improved public finances, slightly reduced pressures on the NHS, schools and on social housing, through slightly increased pressure on social care
“The government should ensure that the mistakes of previous UK points-based systems are not repeated.”
Manning said that if enacted, the MAC’s recommendations would reduce both immigration and the size of the UK population, as well as GDP per head – despite slightly increasing overall GDP.
“We expect the changes to very slightly increase GDP per capita, productivity and improve public finances, though these estimates are more uncertain,” the report said. It also predicted that the recommendations would reduce pressure on the NHS, schools and on social housing, but would increase pressure on social care.
Data a 'perennial problem'
The report also called for the new system to include “more active monitoring and evaluation than now of how it is working as there is inevitably uncertainty about impacts”.
“The paucity of data and difficulty of access makes assessing how well migration policies are working problematic and this risks sub-optimal decisions being made,” it said.
Access to data has also been a "perennial problem" for the MAC, Manning said.
In a letter to home secretary Priti Patel accompanying the report, Manning added: “In our past three reports, including the one published today, we have emphasised the ongoing challenges we have faced accessing data and the significant untapped potential offered by linking datasets held across government to enable improved analysis on migration."
He added: “We would appreciate the support of the Home Office and other government departments in assisting us to access the data we need to make recommendations based on the best available evidence, and to enable us to robustly evaluate how policy is working.”
Manning also said the committee would aim to fill gaps in data that the Home Office has, including a project to look at the progression of migrants in the labour market and employers of migrants.
“Our report concludes that we know very little about how the system for settlement works and this project will contribute to our understanding of that,” he said.
Responding to the report, a No.10 spokesperson said: "We're grateful to the MAC for its report. The government will introduce a firmer and fairer points-based immigration system from 2021 which welcomes talent from around the world while reducing low-skilled migrants and bringing overall numbers down.
"We will carefully consider the report before setting out further details on the new system."
The report was published shortly after the Home Office opened recruitment for the next chair of the MAC, who will replace Alan Manning in the £40,000-a-year role. Manning had been due to step down last year at the end of his term but agreed to stay on until the end of February while the committee finished its work on the report.