In its report on the immigration system, launched last November for filling gaps in the labour force, the Migration Advisory Committee recommended minimum pay levels for skilled migrant workers should be raised to avoid undercutting EU workers.
It also said jobs should be advertised for twice as long in the UK before employers and agencies are allowed to look for candidates abroad, raising the minimum threshold from two to four weeks; and argued in favour of strengthening arrangements for intra-company transfers.
"Our advice to the government is that the labour market could be helped by requiring higher standards from skilled workers outside of the EU before we allow them to work," Chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, Professor David Metcalf, said, who concluded that overall, the system is “working well”.
However, he sounded a cautionary note in the foreword to the report, warning that “any positive narrative surrounding immigration will be undermined unless it can be demonstrated that immigrants are not displacing or undercutting UK workers”.
The immigration debate in Britain has intensified as the UK jobs markets experienced a strong recessionary squeeze in 2009.
"Selective immigration that favours skilled workers, as the PBS (points based system) does, is vital to ensure that the UK continues to be a good place to do business or invest. However, it is important that British workers are not displaced," Metcalf concluded.
The MAC’s findings recommended the PBS be altered to prioritise those with a masters’ degree, and also argued for a minimum earning requirement for skilled migrant workers outside of the EU of £20,000 (EUR 23.200), while workers without qualifications should earn at least £32,000 (EUR 37.000). These guidelines reflect, to a large extent, the European Commission’s original proposal for a European “Blue Card” for economic migrants, which suggested that the gross salary for a Blue Card holder must be at least three times the minimum wage in the member state concerned.
This recommendation is likely to prove contentious both in the UK and EU, reviving the debate on whether the level of income that a third-country national will receive in the EU is a sufficiently valid criterion for deciding on the person's value and benefits to the host society.
Tories deride ‘out of control’ immigration system
UK Home Office Minister Lord West responded to the report by arguing that “the Government's points based system has proven itself to be a powerful and flexible tool in meeting the needs of the British workforce and business in these changing economic times”.
However, the Conservative opposition’s Immigration Spokesman Damian Green countered that “the one big gap in the Points Based System is that there is no overall limit on how many permits can be issued in any one year.
"This is why the public has a lack of confidence in the immigration system, which people regard as being out of control”. "This is why the public has a lack of confidence in the immigration system, which people regard as being out of control," Conservative immigration spokesman Damian Green said.
"A Conservative Government would introduce an annual limit, so that Britain can continue to attract those who will help our economy without putting too much pressure on our essential public services," he concluded.