Who Benefits From The U.K.'s Immigration System Overhaul?
NOEL KING, HOST:
The United Kingdom is changing its immigration system. Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the changes last week. Here she is.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRITI PATEL: At this defining moment in our country's history, I have a particular responsibility when it comes to taking back control. It is to end the free movement of people once and for all.
KING: Kate Andrews is the economics correspondent for The Spectator. She's been following this. Hi, Kate.
KATE ANDREWS: Hi there.
KING: So end the free movement of people once and for all. That sounds very serious. What is this new policy, exactly?
ANDREWS: It means that EU migrants who formerly would have been able to move to the U.K. under freedom of movement and essentially work anywhere and live anywhere indefinitely will now be pushed on to the non-EU system. The U.K. has already had a system for non-EU migrants, which allows them to come and work but under much stricter circumstances. It's employer-led, which means that for most people, you need a job offer to be able to come.
Now, what the government has done is they've actually relaxed and loosened some of those restrictions. They've lowered the salary threshold from 30,000 pounds down to 25,600 pounds, which means that now the salary is actually below the average in the U.K., which will make it easier for, say, Americans to come work in the U.K. But the big surprise is that there is no longer a pathway for low-skilled migrants to directly come to work in the U.K. They'd have to come through some kind of loophole usually connected to a family member.
KING: What kind of jobs were low-skilled migrants doing in the U.K.?
ANDREWS: Some vital work, including in the social care sector - looking after the elderly. A lot of the hospitality work done here in the U.K. in restaurants and bars and cafes would have been done predominantly by EU migrants who came here under freedom of movement. It's estimated by one of the advisory committees here in the U.K. that roughly 70% of the migrants who would have been coming from the EU no longer have a pathway in. So the British government is taking a gamble. They're looking for British companies to hire more internally.
But, of course, employment in the U.K. is actually very high at the moment, and unemployment is very low. So it's not obvious that those workers are ripe and ready here in the U.K. to take up those jobs. But they're hoping that, potentially, this will lead to higher salaries here in the U.K. for some of that low-skilled work. But it's also possible that come early next year in January when these measures come into place, there will be serious vacancies in areas that are considered vital.
KING: Are businesses freaking out about this?
ANDREWS: Business is not happy, particularly big business. There's been a lot of pushback so far. But frankly, the U.K. government so far doesn't look like it's budging. They think that this policy will be very popular with the electorate who, during the Brexit campaign anyway, once the U.K. decided to vote to leave the European Union - they felt a lot of that sentiment was caught up with immigration. I do think, however, if it did seem like there were really serious problems in, say, social care, where people felt like their grandparents, say, they just didn't have the labor needed to look after them, there could potentially be changes. But we won't see that for a while.
So I think the big takeaway is that if you're coming from a place like America, actually, the system's just gotten a bit easier. And it's slightly easier now to come to the U.K. But if you're certainly coming from the European Union, it's gotten a lot stricter. And if you're a low-skilled migrant, it's really hard to see your way in.
KING: The British government says that this will be ready by January of 2021, which gives businesses some time to prepare. Do you think that's likely to happen?
ANDREWS: I think it is likely to happen. I think the U.K. government's committed to pushing forward with this. But they may have to make some exceptions to the rule, as I said, in particular sectors if those vacancies can't be filled.
KING: Kate Andrews, economics correspondent for The Spectator. Thanks, Kate.
ANDREWS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF STORMZ KILL IT'S "GHOST DREAMER (INSTRUMENTAL)")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.