The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its 2022 annual report, which examines net migration in the 12 months to June 2022.
MAC is an independent body that provides evidence-based advice to government on migration-related issues. The Committee is required to produce an annual report to inform Parliament and the public about its work and to make recommendations on all aspects of the immigration system. This is the third annual report that MAC has produced since the new framework was introduced in 2020.
In the report, MAC acknowledges the persistent labor shortage and unprecedented levels of vacancies in the current labor market, and that it expects employers to source more from overseas to address this shortage. However, the committee cautions the government against opening new low-wage visa pathways, as this could expose migrants to exploitation and effectively remove freedom of movement (FoM) in certain sectors.
Below are some key points from the 2022 Annual Report.
UK immigration in 2022
Net migration reached 504,000 in the 12 months to June 2022, up 331,000 from a year earlier. This is the highest rate since records began, but after 2 years when net migration was lower than in recent years.
A combination of factors contributed to the increase, the report said, stating: “This increase over the past 12 months has been driven by a number of factors, including Hong Kong’s new British National (Oceanic) (BNO) route and the Ukraine sponsorship scheme, the recovery of worker visas from the pandemic, an increase in the number of students and their dependents, and the introduction of the Skilled Worker route by the NHS use”.
Despite the recent increase, the MAC says it is unlikely that net migration will remain this high in the long term and that the peak in migration driven by the new visa schemes is likely to be followed by a decline in applications and a gradual outflow.
In addition, work routes are deliberately designed to be flexible in terms of numbers depending on the state of the economy. Given the high level of vacancies, it is not surprising that employers are increasing overseas recruitment to address shortages.
MAC predicts a decline in work visa applications if the labor market weakens, as is expected in the coming months. However, he warns the government not to focus too much on net migration numbers, particularly as a significant proportion of the increase is the result of targeted government policies.
Exploitation of migrants in the labor market
This year’s report focuses heavily on the exploitation of migrants in the labor market. MAC recognizes that there are several ways in which the immigration system can make migrants more vulnerable to labor market exploitation.
For example, paying a significant immigration fee can increase a migrant’s risk of exploitation. MAC pointed to the evidence that migrants from the so-called They remain in “debt slavery” and are forced to stay at work, even if it is exploitative.
Low English is also a factor, as it can affect migrants’ ability to access information about their rights and report exploitation. This is especially true for work routes such as seasonal worker visas, where applicants are not required to prove their English language skills in order to apply. MAC has historically opposed reducing English language requirements where they exist, in part because it makes migrants more vulnerable to exploitation.
MAC suggests that tying migrant workers to a particular job may be problematic for low-wage jobs, where the risk of low pay or labor exploitation is higher. Historically, this is one of the reasons why the MAC generally did not support occupation- or sector-specific visas.
MAC therefore believes that the Government should resist calls to open new visa pathways without strong economic justification and effectively scrap the end of FoM on a sectoral basis.
Exploitation risk is the main reason for this recommendation. The report states: “Low-wage worker routes have significant unintended consequences and we are not convinced that the government will be in a position to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers whose visas link them to low-wage jobs.”
Social care of adults
In April, MAC published a review of the adult social care sector, which made 19 recommendations relating to data, workforce strategy, pay and conditions and immigration policy for social care.
One such recommendation was to set a minimum rate of pay for care workers that is higher than the statutory minimum wage. It is suggested that this should initially be set at £1 an hour above the National Living Wage, but a more substantial premium would be needed to properly address the social care recruitment and retention crisis. The MAC also recommends removing the immigration skills levy for health and care worker visas and granting care workers permanent status on this visa.
However, in its 2022 annual report, MAC reveals that the social care crisis has worsened since the review was published, but the government has yet to respond to MAC’s recommendations: “We are very disappointed that the government has not responded to any of our recommendations within 8 months of receiving our commissioned report.
The committee warns that current conditions in the social care sector are unsustainable and that persistent underfunding by successive governments underlies almost all of the workforce problems in the sector.
Rural visa pilot
A chapter of the 2022 report examines geographical variation in the use of the UK’s immigration system and considers the role migration can play in addressing demographic challenges.
Geographical analysis shows that migrants are mainly based in urban areas of the UK and that there is considerable geographical variation in how skilled worker visas are used. London uses the route more than any other part of the UK and more than the MAC would predict based on observable characteristics of different areas such as firm size, occupation or sector composition. Scotland, Northern Ireland and North East England use less per route than would be predicted from the same factors.
MAC believes that migration can contribute to solving some of the demographic challenges, but only as part of a much broader strategy. MAC had previously recommended a rural visa pilot to fully assess the impact this route could have in addressing some of the problems caused by rural depopulation.
This recommendation is repeated in the latest report, which states: “Ultimately, we believe it is in the UK’s interest to pilot and evaluate a rural visa targeting areas facing depopulation and that such a pilot is in line with the Government’s commitment to upscaling across all parts of the UK.”
Shortage occupational list
In August 2022, the Home Office directed the MAC to review the Shortage Occupation List (SOL). The SOL shows occupations where UK employers face a shortage of suitable labor in the resident market, and the occupations on the list are subject to more favorable immigration arrangements, allowing employers to access a wider pool of suitably qualified workers more quickly. The MAC regularly reviews the SOL and advises the Home Office on which roles are in short supply and should meet the list.
However, the latest review is currently on hold at the request of the Home Office pending clarification from the government on migration policy. MAC will continue to press the government to take a decision on this commission as soon as possible.