On 19 February 2020, the Johnson government released the details of the “points-based” immigration system that would operate once the Brexit transitional period comes to an end on 31 December 2020. The policy statement on the points-based system is underpinned by two basic principles. First, going forward, migrants from within the European Economic Area (EEA) would be treated the same as those from other regions. Second, the government would prioritise the entry of “high-skilled” migrants, and even then, only with a job offer in place. It proposes to do this by expanding the existing “Tier-2 visa” route, which currently allows migrants from non-EEA countries to work in the UK. This has alarmed employers, who have asked how certain jobs can be filled in the absence of mobile (often skilled) European labour. The government’s response has been that the vast pools of “economically inactive” people can be trained to fill these labour market shortages. We doubt the adequacy of this narrative because of a factor that the policy statement mentions only once and briefly, namely Mode 4 trade obligations under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Characterised as a form of trade in services, and therefore receiving only cursory attention during debates about migration, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) service schedule commitments can enable the temporary movement of workers on more exploitative terms. We suggest that this inconspicuous route might allow the government to placate business demands for workers (particularly low-skilled labour) whilst still upholding the façade of an immigration system that only permits high-skilled immigration.
|Specialist publication||Institute of Employment Rights blog|
|Publication status||Published - 17 Mar 2020|