‘Fatal flaw’ to omit self-employed from Britain’s new immigration policy

Freelancers who want to come to the UK to work after Brexit will be left navigating the fault-lines of the nation’s immigration system, as no route specific to the self-employed will exist.

Such is the implied alert from both business and creative groups, issued after the government explicitly ruled out any dedicated visa for overseas self-employed workers from 2021.

In fact, in a new policy statement on the UK’s points-based immigration system, the Home Office says: “We will not be creating a dedicated route for self-employed people.”

'Heavy reliance on freelancers'

The statement represents a defeat for the Creative Industries Federation, as it wanted to see a new freelance-friendly visa (two in total; one for EU workers and one for non-EU workers).

Instead, the policy paper says that freelancers – workers whom “several professions” have a “heavy reliance on”, will “continue to be able to enter the UK under the Innovator route”.

Andy Chamberlain, of The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed, believes that such a route is unsuitable at best, prohibitive at worst.

“[As] the government has explicitly said it will not create a dedicated route for self-employed people…freelancers must filter themselves through other tortuous routes, such as the ‘innovation visa’, which requires for a ‘new idea’ and £50,000 in funds,” he said.

'With few exceptions'

Those other routes are to be outlined around the points-based system’s three central features – a salary threshold of £25,600 (down from £30,000), spoken English, and a job offer.

Without these three, EU freelancers and any other non-UK-resident who wishes to enter the UK for work will be disallowed, “with few exceptions,” staffing body the REC points out.

One such exception is that the salary threshold could be lower – £20,480, but only if the candidate earns enough points, games industry group TIGA observes, and 70 points equates to entry.

'Unsuitable for freelancers'

Yet Caroline Norbury, chief executive of the Creative Industries Federation, believes that salary, as an entry criteria, ill-befits freelance working even if the threshold is tweak-able.

“The proposed salary threshold is particularly unsuitable for international freelancers working long-term in the UK,” she begins.

“One in three workers in the creative industries is a freelancer, compared to the national average of one in seven. 

“These individuals would still have to earn at least £25,600 each year despite the natural income fluctuations expected from working across multiple projects."

'High-value creatives excluded'

She added that the creative industries’ concern about Britain’s immigration framework post-December 2020, which were tabled to the Migration Advisory Committee, “have not been addressed.”

The federation reflected: “Although [the system] is theoretically ‘points-based’, the reality is that it will be impossible to accrue enough points with a salary below £25,600 -- without a PhD -- unless the role is on the shortage occupation list; a list which excludes many highly-valued creative professions.”

And pre-dominantly, self-employed professions too. “There does not seem to be any explicit provision for the skilled contractors that drive innovation in the UK," says Mr Chamberlain, IPSE’s deputy director of policy.

'Fatal flaw to exclude the self-employed'

He added: “This is a fatal flaw: the government must urgently rethink its approach and set up a dedicated self-employed route. Otherwise, it risks not only hampering the flexible labour market in the UK, but also prompting the EU to take a similarly draconian approach to British contractors.”

In its analysis of the policy document, law firm Bates Wells did not highlight the absence of any provision for self-employed freelancers -- although it did seem to refer to it. It said:

“Although there are some concessions here to increase employers’ access to visas for overseas workers, they do not completely fill the gap that will be left by free movement and employers in some sectors will be disappointed.

“Roles can still be filled by EU migrants already in the UK (or who arrive before the end of the transition period), as well as by Youth Mobility migrants and dependants of Skilled Workers”.

'Consider all the options'

The firm’s immigration adviser Ross Kennedy summed up the consensus that, in the absence of any dedicated help for international independent workers, the incoming system will need assessing by candidates and engagers, as a whole for any potentially supportive provisions.

In an online update, the adviser recommended: “EU citizens looking to move to the UK from 2021 should consider all the options available”.


25th February 2020

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