Tue | Jul 14, 2020

Jamaica, no problem - New UK job migration rules not expected to hit locals hard

Published:Thursday | February 20, 2020 | 12:00 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer -
Asif Ahmad
Asif Ahmad
Jennifer Housen

Jamaicans and other English-speaking Caribbean people with specific high-value skills may benefit from a windfall of job opportunities in the United Kingdom as the Boris Johnson administration announced a policy shift that is likely to limit employment for European Union migrants in the post-Brexit era.

The threshold for foreign nationals will be lowered from degree to A'Levels, and only the cream of the crop among highly skilled will be allowed in without having already landed a job.

Come 2021, work-hungry migrants to the UK will have to prequalify for a job paying more than £25,000 per year and be speakers of English.

This comes less than a month after UK exited the European Union (EU) on January 31, 2020.

Private-sector groups have bristled at the Tory policy, which they believe will disrupt the labour sector by driving away low-wage immigrants who sop up jobs many Britons avoid, helping to suppress inflation.

Attorney-at-law John Bassie believes that Britain's decision to leave the EU was fuelled partly by the belief that “large-scale immigration had driven down wages and caused a hike in joblessness among British-born workers”.

He noted, however, that the UK already had low unemployment.

British High Commissioner to Jamaica, Asif Ahmad, said the single global immigration system to be introduced “prioritises the skills people have to offer and how they will contribute to the UK’s economy”.

Ahmad said that employers were expected to adjust to a higher-wage and -skill economy.

UK immigration-law expert Jennifer Housen said that the recruitment of Jamaicans to Britain has largely been in the fields of nursing and teaching.

She said that job migrants to Britain in the modern age have generally not been low-skilled.

“When it comes to low-skilled jobs, we have not been a player - we never had any dogs in that fight ... . Now, because they are not part of the EU, those low-skilled workers can come from anywhere in the world, which is why I say, for Jamaica, it’s actually not bad us,” Housen said.

The new policy declares that foreign nationals must have a job offer with a salary threshold of £25,600.

Housen maintained that Jamaican nurses and teachers will not be affected by the lower threshold for the care industry, for which the salary floor is £20,480.

“If a hospital says we really need triage nurses but we can’t pay more than £20,000, they can get an exemption because it is a short-skilled area,” she said.

The British High Commission in Jamaica said it could not immediately provide data for the number of Jamaicans who emigrate to the UK each year or the main jobs for which there is high take-up.

Jamaica does not have an overseas employment programme agreement with the UK as it does with Canada and the United States.

“When the European Union was enlarged in 2007, when they included Romania and Bulgaria, one of the agreements that the UK had to come to was that they wouldn’t take persons outside of the EU for those low-skilled jobs but they would reserve them for the Romanians and the Bulgarians,” Housen, a barrister-at-law in England and Wales and an attorney-at-law in the United States and Jamaica, told The Gleaner yesterday.

The door will effectively be closed to self-employed migrants, which was a profitable route for tradespeople from Romania, Bulgaria and Poland.

The new policy will retain the right of artists, entertainers, sports persons and musicians to enter for performances, competitions and auditions.

The policy also speaks to a point-based system that resembles Australia's. A total of 70 points is required to for eligibility to apply.

Ahmad explained that if the job is in an area where there is a staff shortage, as designated by the Migration Advisory Committee, 20 extra points can be earned to help the applicant reach the 70-point threshold.

"The government is also offering a fast-track visa scheme for foreign doctors and nurses to work in the NHS (National Health Service) as part of the immigration overhaul.

"Applicants coming to work in the NHS will receive preferential treatment with extra points under the points-based system, and no cap on numbers entering through the NHS route," Ahmad added.