EEA migration in the UK

19 September 2018

The Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) has published its final report on the current and likely future patterns of EEA migration and the impacts of that migration to provide an evidence base for the design of a new migration system in 2021.

Proposals include changes to the Tier 2 visa system - removing the cap, widening the range of jobs permitted, and reducing bureaucracy. The proposals mean that the change would be less for medium-skilled workers than low-skilled workers and less still for high-skilled workers. For non-EEA workers, the Tier 2 proposals would make it easier to hire migrants into high and medium-skilled jobs but make no change for lower-skilled.



In July 2017, the Home Secretary commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to report on the current and likely future patterns of EEA migration and the impacts of that migration. The intention is to provide an evidence base for the design of a new migration system after the end of the implementation period in 2021.

In July 2017, the Committee published a briefing paper outlining the patterns of EEA migration and some of the key issues. In March 2018, the Committee published an Interim Update summarising, in a critical way, the 417 responses to the call for evidence.

And most recently the Committee has published a final report, focusing on its assessment of the impact of EEA migration and its recommendations for the UK’s post-Brexit work immigration system. A wide range of impacts have been discussed:

  • Wages and unemployment
  • Productivity
  • Innovation
  • Training
  • Consumer prices
  • House prices
  • Public finances
  • Allocation of public resources
  • Public services
  • Crime
  • Subjective well-being.

While the Committee believe that EEA migration has had impacts, many of them seem to be small in magnitude when set against other changes. The small overall impacts mean that EEA migration as a whole has had neither the large negative effects claimed by some nor the clear benefits claimed by others. There are ways in which migration policy could be changed to increase the benefits and reduce the costs and the policy recommendations made in this report focus on what the Committee believe these changes should be.

  • If immigration is not to be part of the negotiations with the EU (MAC not recommending this) and the UK is deciding its future migration system in isolation, it recommends moving to a system in which all migration is managed with no preferential access to EU citizens

This would mean ending free movement which would not make the UK unusual – for example, Canada has an open, welcoming approach to migration but no free movement agreement with any other country. The problem with free movement is that it leaves migration to the UK solely up to migrants, and UK residents have no control over the level and mix of migration. With free movement, there can be no guarantee that migration is in the interests of UK residents but this does not mean that free movement is guaranteed to cause problems – that likely depends on the level and mix of the migration flows that result.

The Committee does not express a view on whether immigration should be part of the EU negotiations.


The recommendations relate only to work migration, though leaving the EU also requires consideration of family and student migration. The existing Tier 2 (General) scheme can provide a useful template but the Committee does recommend changes to it:

  • The cap should be abolished – it creates uncertainty among employers and it makes little sense for a migrant to be perceived as of value one day and not the next which is what inevitably happens when the cap binds

  • The scheme be extended to workers in medium-skilled jobs recognising that harmful skills shortages might otherwise occur

  • The existing salary thresholds should remain unchanged


For lower-skilled workers, the Committee do not see the need for a work-related scheme with the possible exception of a seasonal agricultural workers scheme; as that labour market is totally distinct from the labour market for resident workers. This does not mean there would be no supply of low-skilled migrant workers – most of the existing stock would remain and there would likely be a continued flow through family migration or the existing youth mobility scheme.

If there is to be low-skilled work route the Committee do not think it should be based around sectors - an extended youth mobility scheme would be preferable, as is suggested in the government White Paper published in July.


The Committee is seriously concerned about social care but this sector needs a policy wider than just migration policy to fix its many problems. This is one illustration of a more general point that the impacts of migration often depend on other government policies and should not be seen in isolation from the wider context.

Although the restrictions suggested are not intended to affect high-skilled migration, there is a danger that this becomes collateral damage as the system tries to restrict other types of migration. The report recommends that the government does what it can to reduce the bureaucratic burden of the system and engages in a more systematic way with users of the system to ensure it is fit for purpose.


“There is no way to change the migration system without creating winners and losers. But we believe the UK should focus on enabling higher-skilled migration coupled with a more restrictive policy on lower-skilled migration in the design of its post-Brexit system.”


The full report is available - EEA migration in the UK: Final report.