The Points System that Doesn’t add up: COVID-19 highlights the flaws in the UK’s Brexit immigration policy

June 11, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

COVID-19 exposes the reality of the UK’s Brexit immigration policy.

What does this mean?

In February 2019, the UK government laid out a “policy statement” outlining a post-Brexit EU immigration system. Based on the Australian model, the new points-based system is anticipated to come into force in January 2021, with the aim of creating a “high-skill, high productivity economy”. The new guidelines could see those with a job offer with a salary of less than £25,560 being denied entry into the country, unless the government deems there to be a shortage in the particular sector.

The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the value of our key workers, many of whom were labelled “low-skilled” by Home Secretary Priti Patel just a few weeks ago during an interview with BBC Breakfast. Since immigrants account for 20% of “key workers,” under post-Brexit immigration rules many of these same workers would be denied a visa.

What's the big picture effect?

On the one hand, a recession generated by the pandemic arguably reduces the need for immigration. More domestic unemployment should, in theory, open up job opportunities to British citizens who have been made redundant due to the pandemic and predicted recession. However, Romanian fruit pickers are being flown in after failed appeals to recruit British workers, suggesting that Britons are not so keen to take on low-paid jobs. 

COVID-19 has already seen government U-turns on two migrant policies: the extension of the NHS bereavement scheme to include low-paid health and care staff, and the waiving of NHS fees charged to migrant workers on the coronavirus frontline. Questions have therefore been raised as to whether COVID-19 will force the Home Office to rethink its post-Brexit immigration strategy. 

As it stands, some EU citizens are reportedly experiencing difficulties registering their status before the deadline under the EU Settlement Scheme (a scheme launched in 2019 to process the registration of EU citizens residing in the UK prior to Brexit). Whilst most EU citizens are able to apply online, some of those required to attend in person are prevented by the current situation.

Supposing that the new points-based system is given the green light next year, law firms may need to assist UK employers with applying for the licences necessary in order to recruit skilled EU workers from the start of 2021. Businesses may also require law firms to advise on filing applications to extend or change the status of migrant employees unable to depart due to COVID-19. 

Initially, the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy appeared to be a fair way of recruiting EU immigrants. Unfortunately, it has taken a pandemic to make us realise that the new point-based system excludes the very members of society whom we rely on most: our key workers.

Report written by Mimosa Canneti

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