At the end of last year, the new points-based immigration system came into effect and whilst the most explicit changes around Brexit and ending EU free movement are clear, the government’s intended outcomes are still obscure. Statements around the government’s aims with the system have been conflicting, but there is the underlying message that they are seeking to continue reducing the number of immigrants to the UK while declaring publicly that the country’s migration routes have been simplified. The most desirable route to access the UK continues to be the Skilled Worker visa, but one look at the 200+ pages of new employer sponsorship guidance and it is obvious that accessing this route is anything but simple and extremely expensive and administratively burdensome for sponsors, making it an undesirable route for many businesses in the UK.
The new points-based system re-emphasises the narrative that our sector has long pushed-back against – that some immigrants are good and others bad, that some are worthy and valuable, and others are not. Moreover, even someone once considered a “good” immigrant is no longer good enough anymore. This is evidenced in the replacement of the Entrepreneur visa with the ‘Start-up’ and ‘Innovator’ visas, which are much more competitive and now available in significantly lower quantities. Meeting “good character” requirements is based on subjective Home Office discretionary judgements and increasingly difficult. It is unclear how “good character requirements” will continue to be held over migrants wanting to settle in the UK, even when they have been given some form of leave to remain.
That all aside, let’s break down a few of the common beliefs around one of the government’s primary Brexit claims, that this points-based system allows us to ‘take back control’ of our borders:
Example 1: The UK’s previous Tier 1 visa route seemingly provided a long-term settlement route so that the UK could retain those that bring their ‘talents.’ Yet, our research with the Highly-Skilled Migrant Group (HSMG) has demonstrated that even individuals that chose to come to the UK and were welcomed on Tier 1 visas for their talents, with the expectation that this was a long-term route to settlement, have been denied indefinite leave to remain (ILR). HSMG applications for ILR were made on a points-based application. These individuals and their families have, however, now been criminalised and deemed ‘undesirable’ for historical self-employment tax discrepancies 6-10 years ago. (87% of the remaining HSMs enlisted help from an accountant for their tax returns with ‘discrepancies’; 83% of which were their first ever tax returns in the UK.) Over 90% studied in the UK and hold a postgraduate degree, including MBAs. The fact that HSMs had to apply for ILR through a points-based application, that included more points for higher salaries etc., also seemingly punishes those who have faced work-based limitations due to their country of origin, immigration status and skin colour. They are no longer deemed “good” and ‘valuable’.
MRN successfully intervened on behalf of a number of migrants and their families in the March 2019 Balajigari case after the Tier 1 General visa scheme for Highly Skilled Migrants closed in April 2015. However, 65+ remaining individuals and their families’ cases have fallen through the cracks. Over half of those without leave still also have no right to work or access public funding etc., meaning businesses have lost key workers who they are keen to bring back and HSMs are being pushed into destitution.
All remaining HSMs without ILR are people of colour, originating from 6 South Asian and African countries. All of these countries are in the Commonwealth. All HSMs have also been in the UK for 10+ years and over 75% have children under the age of 10. Is it a coincidence that all the HSMG are people of colour? We think not. Will the new points-based system benefit all migrants in the long-term or only those who are white? You can bet that we will be exploring and challenging the ways that the new point-based system further increases racial disparity in 2021. In sum, the prospect of something like this happening to anyone else is certainly enough to deter those classed as ‘highly-skilled’ from wanting to work in the UK, just as the UK emerges post-Brexit and post-Covid onto the world stage
Example 2: Take Tier 4 international students. Throughout Covid-19, they’ve had their visas curtailed due to being unable to pay their fees during the crisis and have been left in destitution. The way international students are perceived merely as ‘cash cows’ is having an impact, as seen in the latest QS rankings that shows that nearly three-quarters of UK universities slipped in ranking. Further, research by the British Council predicted that 14,000 fewer international students will enrol in September, resulting in £460m losses for universities.
Thus, if anything, it seems more likely that ‘skilled’ migration will fall.
For instance, take the more than ever-relevant example of healthcare. Over the years, we, alongside many other organisations, have described the unfairness of the double tax on migrants through the immigration health surcharge (IHS). Because migrants are seen as a ‘drain’ to the public health system, they are required to pay an IHS.
With the new points-based system, the IHS is to increase to £624/applicant, despite the fact that migrants use the NHS less frequently than non-migrants. By indicating that migrants do not contribute enough financially for the NHS care they receive, the surcharge falls into a false narrative that suggests that migrants are to fault for pressures on the NHS. Research provided by the Health Foundation suggests that this is far from true. This is all despite the fact that migrants already pay into the system in multiple ways, such as in VAT, taxes, and National Insurance. Restrictions placed on migrants through the hostile environment, and enabled through the points-based system, increases structurally-embedded racism. There is also a Immigration Skills Charge of £364 (small company) and £1000 per year of sponsorship that an employer has to pay for any migrant they wish to sponsor. To sponsor a migrant for 5 years for example, with a family will cost thousands of pounds in these disbursements alone, again making the route unattractive to businesses in the UK.
We can say confidently that stricter immigration policy has never been about supporting survivors of exploitation. Foreign survivors are not accommodated in safe houses, are being denied access to basic services, are detained, and are not being screened as potential victims of trafficking while held in detention. Introducing a stricter, points-based system has never been about preventing human rights abuses.
We are interested in further researching the effects of the new points-based system. If you’ve got a tip-off, or are interested in sharing your experience, get in touch at: [email protected].