MAC immigration report ‘offers little practical measures’, Scottish Government says
The Scottish Government has labelled today’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report “extremely disappointing”, after the committee recommended a slightly-lower salary threshold and found full transition to a points-based system “could be eliminated”.
MAC’s report, A Points-Based System and Salary Thresholds for Immigration, recommended the salary threshold – the minimum earnings for a migrant to qualify for a work visa – should drop from £30,000 to £25,6000.
The committee, which comprises of six independent migration and labour market experts who advise the UK Government on policy, recommended against a full transition to an Australian-style points-based system as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been calling for, and suggested the list of eligible jobs be expanded.
MAC arejected arguments for regional salary thresholds, finding: “outside of London, differences in earnings across regions are not large enough to justice the extra complication.”
“Earnings differences within regions and devolved administrations are larger than those between them. Institutionalising some parts of the UK as ‘lower wage’ also does not seem to be the right way to reduce regional inequalities,” the report said.
In Scotland, MAC found earnings were “close to the UK-wide average”, despite the Scottish Government telling the committee the median salary in Scotland was £23,833 and the country will struggle to attract and hold onto foreign workers if they must meet the higher threshold.
Migration Minister Ben Macpherson said the report “offers little in the way of practical measures” to help Scotland address depopulation and skills gap issues post-Brexit.
"It is extremely disappointing that the MAC report fails to respond to the serious concerns of respondents from across all sectors of the Scottish economy,” he said.
“The committee recommendations offer little in the way of practical measures to help Scotland address acute issues of depopulation and skills gaps. Worryingly, it accepts the proposed changes will cut immigration, reducing the size of the UK population and total GDP.”
Macpherson said the proposed salary reduction “does not go far enough given that around half of Scottish employees earn less than the proposed threshold”.
“That rises to almost 90 per cent in the vital care sector,” Macpherson said.
“The MAC report recognises the current immigration system is not meeting the needs of rural communities and we welcome its recommendation for rural pilots. However, there is a clear need for a fundamentally different approach to migration policy to reflect Scotland’s distinct demographic and geographical needs.”
The Scottish Government announced its proposal for a “Scottish Visa” on Monday, and Macpherson said devolving powers by introducing this type of visa would allow Scotland to “attract and retain people with the skills and attributes we need for our communities and economy to flourish”.
However, the proposals were rejected by the Home Office only hours after being announced.
“We urge the UK Government to engage seriously with our proposals, which have widespread support,” Macpherson said.
In his forward, MAC chair Alan Manning said “the current packaging as a PBS [points-based system] is, forgive the pun, pointless and could be eliminated”.
Instead, the committee recommended a mixed system, with a minimum salary threshold for those people coming to the UK with a job offer, and a points-based system for those coming to the UK without a pre-arranged job.
It recommended an overall annual cap on those admitted under the Tier 1 (exceptional talent) visa, a “monthly draw” from a pool of migrants interested in coming to the UK and then those with the highest number of points would be invited to apply for the visa.
MAC said the points should be given “for characteristics that the government wants to attract through this route and for whom other routes are not suitable”, which may include qualifications “with a rigorous process to assess the quality of qualifications”; age; extra points for having studied in the UK; and more points for those in “priority areas” like STEM and creative skills.
For Tier 2 visas, which requires meeting a settlement income threshold, MAC found it “impossible to evaluate the current system” and recommended a pause to any planned changes until the paths to settlement can be reviewed.
The committee found the relevant salary threshold should apply across the UK and there should be “a separate pilot visa for ‘remote’ areas of the UK, part of which could be lower salary thresholds for migrants into those areas”.
Overall, the committee said the £30k salary level “was felt to be too high for certain sectors where respondents said employees were highly skilled but not highly paid or where salaries as a whole were kept low”, and this meant employers found it difficult to fill vacancies.
However, the committee found there was “a possible case for Northern Ireland” to recommend a different salary threshold, “but future consideration could be given to this special case, especially if Northern Ireland’s position with respect to the EU single market and customs union is different from the rest of the UK”.
The Scottish Chamber of Commerce (SCC) also labelled the report as “disappointing”, as the recommendations did not take account of regional differences in salary.
“We believe this risks limiting access to skills for companies in Scotland,” SCC chief executive Liz Cameron said. “Employers in Scotland need a migration system that suits regional wage levels and is responsive to Scotland’s unique demographic challenges. Our members have consistently raised concerns that a one-size-fits-all approach across the UK will not meet business and economic needs.
“Scottish companies are investing more in homegrown skills, but they will continue to need access to migrant skills at all levels for the foreseeable future.
“At a time of critical skills shortages, the UK government needs to send signals around the world that the UK is open for business. Furthermore, we will ensure our members are also fully consulted on the proposed Scottish visa by the Scottish Government.”
She said businesses wanted to see the Scottish and UK Governments “working seriously and closely together on these and future recommendations”.