“Non-EU and EU citizens will now be treated equally and be subject to the same set of rules,” explains UK-based solicitor Deepak Bhattarai. A point-based immigration system favouring skilled workers will require both EU and non-EU applicants to obtain at least 70 points, which depends on different criteria including job offers that meets salary threshold, English proficiency, education background, minimum salary and whether or not the occupation is in the Shortage Occupational List (SOL), which lists jobs facing a shortage and where it is ‘sensible’ to fill those with migrant workers.
Now, the threshold salaries for skilled workers, including chefs, has been slightly reduced, and the point-based system has been made more flexible so the UK government can revise the criteria based on labour market requirements.
Chefs have been included in the SOL which rewards additional points to the applicant, but many restaurants find the salary threshold is too high, especially with the pandemic crisis. “The incentive in the near future will be to mobilise workers who are already in the UK,” says Thapaliya.
Easier immigration rules to recruit non-EU staff was one of the reasons why many in the South Asian Britons voted for the Leave option. But the inaction post-referendum has left the ‘curry industry’ that employs over 100,000 people, feeling misled by pro-Leave politicians. Hiring both EU and non-EU staff is now more difficult.
“Businesses will continue to lobby with the government to further reduce the salary threshold. But there is a lot of uncertainty regarding immigration at present both because of Brexit and Covid,” Thapaliya adds
Things are different in the medical sector, where there is an acute shortage of health workers and there are opportunities for nurses, including from Nepal. Both Covid-19 and the end of free movement have further amplified the demand for health workers, including from outside the EU. Britain has introduced a fast-track entry system with certain waivers including reduced fees for doctors and nurses, while visas for current healthcare workers was automatically extended for one year.
Nirmala Simkhada has been working in the UK for the last 12 years and has seen a demographic shift among her colleagues. She says, “Many of my friends from Eastern European countries like Romania and Bulgaria are returning to their countries because of the Brexit uncertainty, added paperwork, lack of access to the same benefits as British nationals.”
Rising wages in their own countries and the fall in the value of the British pound after Brexit also mean that staying on in Britain is no longer as attractive as it used to be. Simkhada thinks newcomers from EU countries will also drop because of added complications like the new requirement to take IELTS language tests just as non-EU migrants have to.
As a result, the proportion of health workers in Britain from the Philippines and India are on the rise. The share of European joiners to the National Health Service (NHS) since 2015/16 has decreased from 10.9% to 7.2% while non-EU/EEA nationals have increased from 8.7% to 14.5%. Some 22,000 EU nationals have reportedly quit the NHS since 2016, of which 8,800 were nurses.
This could be an opportunity for Nepal, which can offer skilled migration in the global labour market, especially in the health sector. “We have many unemployed nurses in Nepal as the health sector has not been able to absorb all graduates, so emigration is a financially safe alternate,” says Bikash Simkhada of the Nepali Nursing Association in the UK.
He says English proficiency is a major obstacle, and Nepal’s nursing curriculum could be further strengthened to address geriatric care and other issues, and Nepal must prepare with better policies and partnerships with destination countries.
But there are concerns about the impact of an exodus of health-workers on the health systems of developing countries. There are currently 1,988 Nepali nurses registered with the NHS in the UK. With the added demand for healthcare workers from the UK and elsewhere, Nepal will see a depletion of its own nursing workforce.