Government to cut reliance on foreign workers
Earlier this year, the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) put forward a series of recommendations on reducing economic migration from outside Europe and on restricting skilled work visas to genuine skills shortages and specialist experts.
Accepting the recommendations, the Government has announced reforms to the skilled worker visa system with the aim of protecting job opportunities for UK residents and reducing UK businesses’ reliance on foreign workers.
In particular, it stressed that the changes to the Tier 2 visa are designed to stop businesses using foreign workers to undercut wages.
Immigration minister James Brokenshire explained: “This balanced package of changes has been designed to ensure our immigration system continues to work in the national interest, ensuring that employers look first to the UK resident labour market before recruiting from overseas.”
The reforms include an increase in the minimum salary threshold for experienced workers using Tier 2, to £25,000 in autumn 2016 and £30,000 in April 2017. However, selected occupations such as nurses, paramedics and some teachers will be exempt from this rise until July 2019.
In a written statement to the House of Commons, Mr Brokenshire said: “The MAC strongly supported the introduction of the Immigration Skills Charge to incentivise employers to reduce their reliance on migrant workers and to invest in training and up-skilling UK workers. The charge will be levied on Tier 2 employers at a rate of £1000 per Certificate of Sponsorship per year.”
A reduced rate of £364 will apply to small and charitable sponsors, as defined by Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Regulations.
Business unhappy with changes
The Government’s response to the review carried by the MAC has not been well-received by leading business groups.
Basically, ministers have accepted the Committee’s recommendations with the aim of reducing the numbers of economic migrants from outside Europe and forcing UK employers to use more local workers — even if they have to train them first.
However, according to Neil Carberry, Director for Employment and Skills policy at the CBI, what businesses did not want further visa price increases, especially a skills charge, as this will prevent from accessing the talent they need to expand.
“Further costly restrictions on temporary transfers of firms’ own staff to carry out projects in the UK also make little sense,” he went on.
Marcus Mason, Head of Business, Education and Skills at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), was similarly unimpressed, describing the measures which the Government plans to introduce as bad news for business and damaging to the UK’s reputation as a global business hub.
Tim Thomas, of Employment and Skills Policy at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, completed the trio of business groups criticising the decision to accept the MAC proposals.
He echoed the BCC in arguing that employers are already investing heavily in training the UK workforce but warned that they must also be allowed the flexibility to recruit “the best person for the job” from across the globe.
The EEF is particularly irritated by the “immigration skills charge”, set at £1000 per employee per year, arguing that the new UK-wide apprenticeship levy makes any proposal for an additional skills charge redundant.