Boris Johnson’s current popularity with his own party is largely owing to the fact that he is seen to be the candidate most likely to win a general election against the leader of the opposition Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, who is Labour’s most socialist leader in decades. Therefore, Johnson is likely to become the new Conservative leader and prime minister of the UK.
What does this mean for UK immigration?
Johnson is content to leave the EU in October 2019 even with no deal agreed on transitional arrangements or the future relationship between the UK and the EU. This is likely to cause a vote of no confidence in the government initiated by the opposition parties and sections of Johnson’s own Conservative party, which only holds a very small majority in the UK parliament. With an upsurge in support for the new Brexit party and for Liberal Democrats who are firmly against leaving the EU, we are likely to once again see the UK divided in half along leave/remain lines.
Regardless of whether or not the UK agrees to a transitional deal with the EU in October this year, the plan for UK immigration is largely set, and while proposals provide less opportunity for migration from the EU, opportunities will widen for those from outside the EU, in particular from countries such as Canada and the U.S.
What changes are being proposed?
The headline change of policy is that EU nationals will not receive preferential treatment under a new immigration system planned to commence from January 1, 2021. This means that EU nationals will be considered in the same immigration system as non-EU nationals and that there will be no concessions made within these visa routes for EU nationals on account of nationality.
However, in order to accommodate more applicants, the Home Office is proposing making the following adjustments to the current immigration system for skilled workers, which will significantly lower the barrier to entry for applicants from the U.S.:
- There will no longer be an annual cap on the number of applications. The visa route for skilled workers will be unlimited.
- There will be no resident labour testing requirement for positions. At present, there are stringent requirements regarding demonstrating there is no suitable UK worker for a position being offered to a U.S. national. These requirements will be removed.
- The qualifying skill level for a job will lower. At present, U.S. nationals can only be sponsored for positions that are graduate level or above. From 2021, lower skilled positions will also qualify, which will increase the roles that qualify for a visa twofold.
- A two-year working holiday maker visa that is currently open to nationals of Australia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Taiwan could be made open to other countries pending reciprocal agreements, potentially including the U.S. This would allow people aged 18–30 to travel to the UK for two years with no need for a job offer.
- The current sponsorship process will be reviewed with a view to making it more straightforward and less bureaucratic given the expected significant increase in companies needing to sponsor workers.
Over the last 14 years, the immigration of workers from the U.S. has increased steadily from 4% to nearly 10% of total work visas. Not only does this look likely to rise, but with the above changes proposed, this looks to be 10 to 15% of a much higher number in the next five years.
Oliver O’Sullivan is an immigration specialist working for UK law firm Gateley Plc. Oliver advises companies and entrepreneurs on the immigration requirements relevant to them establishing new businesses and offices in the UK.