Immigration and the future of work
By Samar Shams

Trends in work mean immigration policies must change to help businesses access talent.

Post-Brexit immigration policies should be designed to accommodate various forms of flexible working. Flexible working’s importance in talent attraction and retention has been recognised for several years. The availability of flexible working is important to the majority of employees and this view is increasing. Workers’ interest in flexible working is likely to continue to increase, with 92% of people born between 1980 and 2000 “identifying flexibility as a top priority when selecting a workplace”. Further, there was a 10% increase in flexible working within the higher income bracket in 2017, meaning that ‘the brightest and the best’, at least as reflected by income, are increasingly working on a flexible basis.

Meanwhile the current immigration framework does not deal well with various forms of flexible working including part-time working, remote working and annualised hours.

Part-time work is the most common form of flexible working in the UK. However, salary thresholds for sponsored workers cannot be pro-rated for part time work, which might limit UK employers’ ability to attract skilled migrants who value the benefits of part-time work. The prohibition on pro-rating salary thresholds may also comprise indirect discrimination against women; as there are more women in part-time roles than men.

Remote working and even modern workplace floor plans pose further problems. It is more and more difficult for sponsors to comply with the duty to inform the Home Office of migrants’ job location changes. The skilled worker sponsorship system dictates that compliance officers should find particular migrants at a particular address whenever they might visit a sponsor’s business premises. Even if the sponsored migrant worker is at the office, rather than working from home or any WIFI-equipped café, they might be working from the hip new breakout space, or at one of the anonymous spots along an immense communal desk space.

The immigration system does not accommodate annualised hours well either. For example, where a student is allowed to work 20 hours a week during term time, that working allowance cannot be spread over more than one week.

In the policy paper on the future relationship with the EU, published 12 July 2018, the Government expresses interest in discussing with the EU ‘temporary mobility’ for self-employed professionals and employees providing services. This seemingly innocuous language could reflect a serious flaw in the UK’s overall immigration strategy – its failure to recognise the significance of the rise of the self-employed in the UK labour force. The implication is that self-employed persons will not be eligible for settlement in the UK.

Self-employment is increasing, growing from a 13% share of all UK employment in 2008 to a 14.9% share in 2016. According to the Office for National Statistics, the growth of self-employment is a structural feature of the UK labour market. Although research suggests that there is no benefit to the Government promoting self-employment, failing to accommodate self-employed workers could damage the UK’s competitiveness. Employers are increasingly trying to attract contractors for reasons of cost-efficiencies and agility. The immigration framework should therefore include settlement opportunities for self-employed migrants.

The new start-up visa expected to launch in Spring 2019 is likely to address to some extent the need to accommodate self-employed migrants. However, details are not known. The Government’s announcement about the start-up visa indicated that it would replace the Graduate Entrepreneur route, opening it up to applicants who are not recent graduates. Graduate Entrepreneur status can only be held for a maximum of two years, so migrants must switch to another visa in order to eventually be eligible for settlement. It is likely that migrants in the new start-up visa will similarly be treated as temporary migrants.

It is worth noting that no investment is required under the Graduate Entrepreneur route that the start-up visa proposes to replace. Rather, successful applicants are sponsored by an educational institution or a consortium of private companies and charities in partnership with the Department for International Trade. Regardless of the possible characteristics of the new start-up visa, it is unlikely to accommodate self-employment to the extent demanded by the changing labour force.

Brexit may or may not happen and it may or may not be good for the UK. One thing we can be certain of is that the prospect of Brexit provides an opportunity to shape immigration policies that work for the future.

If you require any professional advice on this matter, please do call us today where one of our Immigration Solicitors would be delighted to take your call 01483 411533!