Employment and Immigration Law Update - Promises, promises...


26 November 2019

With the Election campaign now in full swing, we take a quick look at the various parties’ policies on immigration, all with the proviso that manifestos will be issued this week and nothing is yet fully agreed.

1. Conservatives

The Conservative party has vowed to reduce or at least control immigration, but has moved away from the previously stated intention to reduce migration to the ‘tens of thousands’.

The main thrust of their policy is the end of free movement from the EU and the introduction of a points based system to encourage skilled and qualified workers to the UK. There has been particular emphasis on ensuring those coming to the UK have a job offer. Furthermore EU citizens would be brought in line with other foreign nationals with a prohibition on the ability to claim public funds until they have achieved settled status or Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.

Under the Tory proposals, the immigration health surcharge - the payment charged to migrants to use the NHS - would apply to all migrants, both EU and non-EU, and would be raised from £400 to £625 a year.

Meanwhile they have promised to introduce a new “fast track” NHS visa, to ensure the NHS is able to source doctors and nurses once EU free movement comes to an end post-Brexit. The decision process itself will be fast tracked so a decision is made within two weeks. A priority visa service is already available for such applications and currently costs an additional £220. It remains unclear from the reports as to whether applicants applying under this new route will be exempt from paying this fee, for the new fast track which will apparently give a decision in under two weeks. The proposed visa will cost £464, which is exactly half the current fee. Those applying through this way will be able to repay the immigration health surcharge in instalments via their salary once in the UK, instead of paying it all upfront with their visa application.

2. Labour

The Labour Party has stated an intention to re-negotiate a Brexit Deal and has indicated that free movement of EU nationals may remain an option in one form or another.

Labour has pledged to implement a declaratory system, granting EU nationals the automatic right to continue living and working in the UK. The settled status scheme would then become optional. Assuming free movement does end, this could however create problems when assessing who is deemed to have these rights and who is a new arrival and so does not have them. Those problems may be reduced if Labour follows through on its promise to end the “hostile environment” for example by removing the obligation on landlords to carry out right to rent checks.

Labour has also pledged to end the £18,600 minimum income threshold for family visas, restore the overseas domestic worker visa and give asylum seekers the right to work and access public services.

3. Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have vowed to stop Brexit. If this were to happen, free movement from the EU would therefore continue. Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson has described immigration as a “mutual good thing” and her party would oppose all of the changes to benefits and NHS charges being talked about by the Conservatives. They have agreed a “Remain Alliance” with the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, with a view to trying to return as many pro-remain MPs to Parliament as possible.

They also plan to scrap the “hostile environment” and the minimum income requirement for family visas. They would repeal the immigration exemption in the Data Protection Act and limit how information is shared for the purposes of immigration enforcement.

The Liberal Democrats have also suggested reducing the remit of the Home Office. Responsibility for policy on work permits would move to the Department for Business, with the Department for Education taking on responsibility for student policy. They also envisage creating a new arms-length, non-political agency to  process visa applications.

The costs for children to register as British citizens (£1,012) is currently subject to challenge in the courts. The Liberal Democrat policy is to reduce that fee to reflect the cost of administration and remove any profit element.

4. Green Party

The Green Party support a second referendum and would campaign to remain in the EU. Their manifesto states they have plans for “reducing migration in the long term, by correcting imbalances caused by labour-market inequalities across Europe. EU policies hold the key to this, including an EU-wide minimum income guarantee, EU-wide minimum wages, and fiscal transfers via the Euro.”

6. Plaid Cymru

Plaid Cymru supports a second referendum and would campaign to remain in the EU.

6. SNP

Also opposed to Brexit, the SNP is keen to attract migration to Scotland. The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has said Scotland needs to maintain a healthy level of inward migration to avoid a long-term decline in the working age population and the negative impact this would have on taxpayer funded public services.

7. Brexit Party

The Brexit Party obviously wishes to pursue Brexit and has promised a cap on permanent immigration of 50,000 a year. Nigel Farage has however conceded that temporary work permits may also be needed to fill vacancies where there are “genuine shortages”.

This article is from the November 2019 issue of Employment and Immigration Law Update, our monthly newsletter for HR professionals. To download the latest issue, please visit the newsletter section of our website. For more details regarding any of the matters covered in this update, please contact Clare Hedges or Janice Leggett in our Immigration Team. Law covered as at November 2019.