On the 24th of March 2021, the Home Office released their official plan moving forwards on how to deal with immigration and border control in the UK. Part of the statement issued on the government website addresses the well-known fact that free movement between the EU and the UK ended on 31 December 2020 as a result of the Brexit referendum, and that new immigration policies have been brought in to match this decision.
For example, a point’s based system was brought in to attempt to limit those coming to the UK to people who have desirable attributes in the eyes of the government. These attributes are mainly down to what jobs those people will fill, or if they have valuable knowledge or in some cases strong family ties to the UK. The Home Office statement also details how stronger measures are being put in place to keep people with criminal histories out of the UK.
There will also be more developments into the digitisation of border controls including the introduction of Electronic Travel Authorisation and e-visas.
Of course, your opinion on much of this is likely to depend in some capacity on whether you voted to leave or remain in the EU, but nevertheless, these are the immigration rules that will be in place for the foreseeable future.
This article will go into detail on what the latest Home Office plan means for the future immigration situation into the UK, drawing from the information announced on the 24 May 2021.
Points based system:
The Home Office have described the points based system as Fairer, Firmer, and Skills-led. We are sure that to many it will certainly feel firmer, but whether it is fairer will be a more debateable topic. The idea is to focus predominantly on what the applicant will bring to the UK, and match their attributes up against the objective desires of the UK, which have been set by the Home Office. This system is nationwide covering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Essential factors will be having a job offer from a Home Office licenced sponsor, meeting a required skill level of RQF 3 or above (A Level and equivalent), and being able to reach English language requirements. Tradable points come in the form of filling a role on the Shortage Occupation List, or having a PhD in a relevant subject to the job they are going for.
The system is part of what the Home Office is calling its Build Back Stronger agenda, by which the main focus is training the domestic workforce within the UK, but allowing the ‘best and brightest’ from different countries to come and work here as well.
The logic here is clear. These rules will help to vet applicants and ensure that only those with particular attributes can come to the UK to work. To many people this will be a practical and agreeable way of handling immigration, but on the other hand some may be against the potential limitations that this stricter system will harbour. We will have to wait and see if the benefits outweigh the negatives.
Improvements on Sponsorship system?
Due to the sponsorship aspect being a core part of the points based system, the Home Office announced some improvements for sponsoring companies. These include:
- Reducing the amount of time it takes to sponsor an individual by up to eight weeks.
- Removing the resident labour market test and suspending the cap on numbers.
- Making the sponsor licence application fully paperless, and re-designing the sponsor guidance, making the system simpler, more streamlined and accessible.
In theory, these are all positive moves. However, it has often been the case in the past that sponsorship applications are delayed, causing great inconvenience to applicants. We hope that the system is indeed as smooth as the announcement implies.
Suspending the cap on the number of applicants is good, but the skill surcharge fees and health surcharge fees are increased and hence the total costs for skilled worker visas. It will mean that more people will be deterred from applying for it.
Moving further into the digital world:
The selling point of the New Plan for Immigration is the rolling out of new technology, which will supposedly bolster the border control and visa systems within the UK.
At the borders, new technology called Border Crossing BX will be used and is said to improve the quality and timeliness of information available at the primary control points (PCP) for Border Force officers. This technology has been successfully piloted and is being rolled out nationally.
The Border Crossing BX technology is due to be in place from Summer 2021, and one of its uses will be to quickly check if someone has applied for or been granted status under the EU Settlement Scheme.
Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA):
The UK has taken some influence from the US in that visitors and transit passengers who do not currently need a visa for short stays, or who do not already have an immigration status prior to travelling, will be required to obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation as an additional security measure. This will apply to everyone, apart from British and Irish citizens and those with British citizenship in the Crown Dependencies or British Overseas Territories.
This is likely to cause split opinions, as it is essentially another hoop for people to jump through in order to come to the UK – but the added security will be seen as a positive by some.
It is indeed the case now that the majority of applications from individuals seeking to work or study in (and for visa nationals to visit) the UK are now made online. This is positive for many reasons, one being that it is better for the environment. Further, it should reduce production costs and improve border security by greatly limiting the possibility of forgery or theft of documentation.
The Home Office has stated that the digital visa will allow them to know precisely when a migrant is in or out of the UK and the precise figure of migrants in this country. The information it contains will be shared between different governmental departments, so that they will know the relevant person’s immigration status immediately and their right to work, rent or access to NHS service.
We do believe that the E-visa system will help improve the accuracy of the Home Office’s immigration data; but we are also aware of the growing competencies of online crime and forgery. The Home Office will need to be vigilant of any potential leaks or hacks into their system by implementing strong cyber-security across the entire framework.
What does the future bring?
In their announcement, the Home Office continue to describe how they will focus on digitising the immigration system, making sure it runs smoothly and efficiently via the use of data and cutting edge technology.
The overarching principles are stated as such:
- Transform the customer experience through a simplified and streamlined system based on individual needs.
- Maximise the benefits of having full control of our borders and being better able to know who is coming to the UK and leaving, and driving up compliance against terms of admission.
- Use data and enhanced digital systems, building on the success of the EUSS, to underpin this transformation.
We feel positive about this aspect of the announcement, because an end to end digital immigration system, if implemented properly, will be secure and environmentally friendly. It will allow those who have been granted status to be clearly identified, meeting no resistance at the borders.
The only concerns we have are potential delays in inputting the correct information, meaning someone’s status is not uploaded, or a visa application is not handled as quickly as it should be. A completely digitised system is unlikely to leave any room for debate on such issues, and so it is vitally important that the correct information is entered into the system when it should be.
Universal Permission to Travel:
In what appears to be similar to the Electronic Travel Authorisation we mentioned above, the Home Office announcement explains that as part of a phased programme leading to 2025, a Universal Permission to Travel requirement will be introduced. It will require everyone wishing to travel to the UK (except British and Irish citizens) to seek permission in advance of travel. The Home Office claim that it will facilitate the passage of legitimate travellers, keep a wider range of threats away from the UK and allow Border Force officers to focus on persons of interest.
It appears that this is another security based focus, as the report states that universal permissions to travel, data and advanced risk analytics will allow Border Force Officers to focus on people who pose the greatest risk, with this examination likely to take place after the individual has been through the automated checks. It will allow the Border Force to focus mainly on those who pose the greatest threat from crossing UK borders.
Like Electronic Travel Authorisation, such measure is likely to be applicable to visa-free nationals only, as visa nationals will need to apply for entry clearance as before, which will place themselves under the Home Office’s scrutiny.
What do we think?
There are aspects of this new guidance that we support, such as the improved digitisation of the immigration system, and the extra support available to sponsors. However, only time will tell if these changes will work in a wider sense, as there will now be greater limitations on who is able to come to the UK, and even those just coming to visit will have more hoops to jump through in the future.
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