Immigration law revamp will hit more than just NHS

This week’s furore surrounding the impact of changes to immigration laws, particularly the potential effect on the NHS, wasn’t surprising, writes Elaine McIlroy

The new immigration law revamp will hit more than just the NHS. Picture: Greg Macvean

More surprising perhaps was that the uproar hadn’t happened sooner. These changes were announced in 2011 – and they affect all businesses and organisations, albeit with some “shortage occupations” exempted.

The changes will come into effect on 6 April 2016, after which many migrant workers who had planned to stay in the UK will have to leave. The changes will primarily hit employers who rely heavily on migrant and lower paid workers – which is why the impact on the public sector is potentially so high, but all businesses need to be aware.

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A new minimum salary requirement will apply to those who wish to settle in the UK. Employees will need to earn £35,000 (or a higher “going rate” for the job) if they want to settle after having worked in the UK for at least five years. If they don’t qualify, they will generally need to leave the UK once they have spent six years working under a Tier 2 work visa, with no return for 12 months.

Employers are starting to fully appreciate the implications. Many consider the changes unfair – especially if they have spent years investing and training staff.

In 2012, the previous government commented that settlement ought to be a right reserved for only the “brightest and the best”. This policy is therefore a deliberate attempt to pick and choose who should be able to stay in the UK in the longer term.

The implications for certain sectors of the economy could be serious. While the Royal College of Nursing made front page news with the anticipated “chaos” in the NHS, which would lose thousands of nurses, other public and private sector roles will be in the same position. The education and IT sectors will also be impacted – and yet we know that these sectors have difficultly recruiting.

There’s no doubt these changes will hurt some, particularly in Scotland which has a large public sector and a small business backbone, but they are coming. The policy of reducing the reliance on migrant workers appears to be top of the UK government’s agenda, and we hope that equally strong policies on narrowing the skills gaps and training follow.

• Elaine McIlroy, employment partner at Weightmans (Scotland) LLP