The House of Commons of the British Parliament passed a bill on migration rules for the after-Brexit era at the second reading. This is the first step towards a new migration system that the Boris Johnson’s government promises to upbuild by 2021.

Potential immigrants are supposed will be entitled to a residence permit and employment only if they gain certain points, which will be awarded based on the objective criteria – area of expertise, qualifications, education and age.

The governing Conservative Party, which took the lead in introducing the bill, has an absolute majority in parliament.

One of the promoters of the immigration bill, Home Secretary Priti Patel said before the vote that with implementing such a bill potential migrants from different countries, including European ones, will be granted equal treatment.

Until the end of this year, when Britain is intending to leave the EU not only on papers, but in every way, EU citizens can come to the country and settle in without any restrictions, no visas required.

The Patel’s opponent, Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds claimed the bill would aggravate the economic inequality in the UK.

The new system is setting the bottom line of wages for qualified migrants in the amount of GBP 25,600 a year, he noted. Thus, many workers in the medical, transport and other sectors who earn much less will get a signal that the country does not need them, Thomas-Simmonds said.

New rules

The bill in the nutshell is not introducing a new migration system – it only puts a legal basis for the abolition of European rules and the introduction of the new system.

The Boris Johnson’s government told a while ago what the new immigration rules are.

Firstly, beginning from 2021 the requirements will become equal for migrants from all countries, except for special agreements the UK has. Exceptions are made for Ireland and some of the British Commonwealth countries.

 “Pass” points

From January 1, 2021, EU citizens and migrants from other countries will be eligible to settle in the UK only if they score 70 points in accordance with the criteria developed by the government.

There are nine of them. Three of them are mandatory with no exceptions to migrants, and they give a total of 50 points.

So they are an offer of employment from a company or organization registered and operating in the UK (20 points), corresponding qualifications (20 points) and English proficiency at the required level (10 points).

The remaining six criteria are subject to an applicant’s individual choice. So you can chose to comply only with some of them, the main objective is to get 70 points. There are criteria regarding minimum salary, shortage occupations and degrees obtained.

The minimum required wage rate for a migrant is proposed to be set at GBP 25,600 per year (approximately USD 31,200 / RUB 2.26 million at the current exchange rate). The UK average wage last year was about GBP 29,000.

If the inviting employer can guarantee GBP 25,000 or more per year, the migrant is granted 20 points, and the required 70 points are covered.

However, if a migrant comes to work in the area which is currently understaffed in the United Kingdom, they get 20 points as well, and in this case the minimum wage rate requirement can be omitted (but it cannot be less than GBP 20,480 per year).

A list of these shortage occupations will be established and regularly updated by an independent Migration Advisory Committee. For example, nursing staff in the National Health System will be listed there.

 “The measure will provide immediate temporary relief for shortage areas, making it easier to recruit migrants. However, we expect employers to take other measures to address shortages /… / We need to shift the focus of our economy away from a reliance on cheap labour from Europe and instead concentrate on investment in technology and automation”, the government explained in the statement published before the coronavirus arrived in Europe.

In addition to the list of shortage occupations, Britain intends to introduce special quotas for seasonal workers who come to harvest vegetables and fruits.

According to initial plans of the government, immigrants with enough points will be able to bring their families along. This being said, they will become eligible to enjoy all social benefits only after five years of permanent residence in Great Britain.

As for entering the UK for traveling purposes or for short visits of family members or friends, nothing will change for non-EU countries. Starting from 2021 EU citizens will be able to enter the UK only for a period of up to six months.

No longer in the single market

The new immigration rules, however, do not apply to foreigners who already live and work in Britain.

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill repeals the effect of European laws on free movement in the UK.

Leaving the EU means leaving the “single market”, within the borders of which people, as well as goods, services and finances, move freely.

The bill was submitted to the House of Commons on March 5. After being passed at the second reading, it will have to go through specialized parliamentary committees, then a final vote will be held in the lower house of the British parliament.

Point-based system

The Boris Johnson’s government claims the adopted bill to be the beginning of the immigration system reform. According to the government’s plan, it will set up a point-based system that will allow regulating the labour migration in certain economic areas. Similar systems exist in Australia and Canada.

Priti Patel had previously stated that such a system would be «more honest.»

 “Our new points-based system is firmer, fairer, and simpler. It will attract the people we need to drive our economy forward and lay the foundation for a high wage, high skill, high productivity economy”, she talked about the new immigration system.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson emphasized that qualifications in the new system will be more important than the country from which the migrant comes. “By putting people before passports we will be able to attract the best talent from around the world, wherever they may be,” he explained.

The government plans the new system to make its debut in the UK from January 2021, that is when the country actually – and not just on papers – leaves the EU.

The opposition is criticizing the bill. Shadow Home Secretary and Labour MP Nick Thomas-Symonds said it is an insult to frontline healthcare and social workers who are now fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

“I believe the government’s plan to rush through this immigration legislation is an insult to our incredible NHS staff and care workers,” he wrote in an open letter to Patel.

 “It is, frankly, rank hypocrisy from the government towards EU nationals – over 180,000 in England and Wales alone – who are currently working in our NHS and in the care sector, for ministers to stand and clap for them on a Thursday night, and then tell them that they are not welcome in the UK on a Monday”, he wrote.