Indian industry and students’ groups in the UK have widely welcomed the new points-based visa system unveiled by Home Secretary Priti Patel on Wednesday to attract the “brightest and the best” from around the globe.
The new post-Brexit policy is pitched as a “firm and fair” mechanism that will treat all migrants equally as the free movement of people from within the European Union (EU) comes to an end from January 1 next year.
The magic number of points required to apply under the new system will be 70, accrued in increments of 20 or 10 based on professional skills, English language proficiency, a job offer from an approved sponsor and salary levels between 20,480 pounds and 25,600 pounds or above.
Some of the categories will fall under tradable points, such as salary levels and jobs that fall within the shortage occupation list, giving applicants some options to make up a total of 70.
“We welcome the Home Office’s proposed new system, which rightly recognises that immigration to the UK should be based on skills, salaries and knowledge of the English language,” said Jim Bligh, Chair of the Confederation of Indian Industry’s (CII) UK-India Business Forum (IBF).
“For business, it’s essential that the system retains flexibility for employers, particularly those bringing in highly-skilled workers on short-term assignments to support UK plc’s growth and transformation. It will also be important to ensure salary thresholds are not a deterrent to finding staff with the right specialist skills from around the world,” he said.
The tradable aspect of the salary threshold is likely to prove beneficial for Indian professionals, who already make up the largest chunk of skilled worker visas issued by the UK to nationals outside the EU.
Baroness Usha Prashar, Chairperson of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), UK, said the changes meet a long-standing business demand.
She said: “Majority of the Indian businesses in the UK require skilled manpower. The new point-based immigration system coupled with the lower salary threshold is a positive move. This has been a long-standing demand of FICCI members.
“The new system will benefit not just qualified professionals from India but also large number of Indian students in the UK universities.” Student visa routes will also be points-based and bring EU citizens into the same remit as other international students from next year, at the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, 2020. A Graduate route announced by the government earlier had brought back a two-year post-study work visa route for overseas students, to allow eligible students to work, or crucially look for work, in any career or position of their choice, for two years after completing their studies from later this year.
The National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU), which actively lobbied the government on a fairer visa regime that offers international students the chance to gain some work experience at the end of their degrees, believes the new changes are a step in the right direction.
“We welcome the points-based system. It feels like a good step towards creating a fair immigration system that meets the need of the British economy but also creates an environment that welcomes talent, particularly scientific talent,” said Sanam Arora, founder and chairperson of NISAU UK.
“Genuine Indian applicants with demonstrable skills should considerably benefit. As always though, the proof lies in the pudding and we await clarity over the coming months on details, and also particularly on how the Graduate route fits into the overall points-based system,” she said.
The latest announcement follows British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s constant references to moving towards an Australian-style points-based visa system once the UK is free of EU immigration rules as a non-member of the economic bloc. The new regime effectively clamps down on low-skilled workers, aimed at cutting down overall numbers coming into the country – a central pledge of the ruling Conservative Party government.
“For too long, distorted by European free movement rights, the immigration system has been failing to meet the needs of the British people. Failing to deliver benefits across the UK and failing the highly-skilled migrants from around the world who want to come to the UK and make a contribution to our economy and society,” notes the Home Office in its policy statement, which will take the form of a new Immigration Bill to be passed by Parliament.
“We are ending free movement and will introduce an Immigration Bill to bring in a firm and fair points-based system that will attract the high-skilled workers we need to contribute to our economy, our communities and our public services. We intend to create a high wage, high-skill, high productivity economy,” the Home Office said. The Opposition parties remain critical of the new system, with shadow home secretary Diane Abbott warning that the government did not “appear to have thought through what the effects of this policy will be on the economy as a whole and what message it sends to migrants already living and working here”.