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Cutting Tier 2 migrant visas will bite UK businesses

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Despite calls from the Government to reduce the number of Tier 2 non-EU skilled migrants, UK businesses view that visa scheme as vital to access a global skilled labour pool and to maintaining their competitiveness, according to a Kingsley Napley report submitted to the Migration Advisory Committee.

The Tier 2 scheme needs to be more flexible, not more restrictive, otherwise our economy will suffer, the report argues.  Kingsley Napley interviewed over 30 Tier 2 sponsor clients and conducted a wider survey in compiling its submission from sectors spanning legal, oil & gas, engineering, pharmaceutical, digital & creative, architectural and financial services. “The concerns of business leaders regarding a local skills shortage have been widely reported. Many global businesses have the chance to base themselves here or abroad. It is time for the government to embrace Tier 2 and international skilled migrants rather than putting obstacles in their way. The numbers are small fry in the scheme of our immigration intake yet the economic benefits of this small pool of very high skilled people are clear,” Nick Rollason, head of immigration at Kingsley Napley, comments.

Non-EU skilled migrant labour accounts for a fraction of our incoming immigration (approximately 7.5 percent) according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures. Companies who use such labour include: An engineering firm which relies on global talent because the UK produces insufficient numbers of home grown skilled engineers; An architecture firm which needs international individuals with country knowledge or language skills to service their many contracts and projects in China and elsewhere in Asia; A law firm which uses the Tier 2 scheme to bring in foreign (mostly US) qualified lawyers to advise UK based clients on non-English jurisdiction matters; A finance organisation which cut back on graduate recruitment during the recession and is now suffering a skills shortage at a certain level.

In fact 75 percent of the companies Kingsley Napley surveyed indicated a restriction of the Tier 2 migration scheme would “highly” or “severely” impact their business. A client in the oil & gas industry even called for that sector to be treated as a special case and exempt from any limit on Tier 2 visas so fearful are they of the potential impact on business prospects. One proposal the MAC is apparently considering is to restrict the Tier 2 route to highly specialised or shortage occupations. That would affect firms' ability to train recent migrant graduates and for international firms to move junior staff around its global office network for career development, the report says. Furthermore Kingsley Napley is concerned the shortage occupation list would be slow to respond to industry needs and recommends an expanded shortage occupation list in the digital & creative sector and oil & gas sectors in particular, as well as provision for encouraging overseas junior talent in a different scheme.

“Many businesses in the UK operate in a global arena for talent and for their clients. International mobility is critical for them at both a high flyer director and more junior staff level. Restricting the Tier 2 scheme will hinder firms' ability to carry out client work and expand in the UK, so adversely affecting the UK economy in terms of lost tax revenue and job creation for resident workers”, Nick Rollason adds. With regard to the Government proposal to introduce an Immigration Skills Charge (ISC), payable by employers who sponsor migrant workers under Tier 2 and which would go towards apprenticeships and local upskilling schemes, Kingsley Napley called for a balanced and fair approach. “This should take into account the significant commitment and investment some employers have already made to apprenticeships, internships, social mobility programmes and graduate schemes available to resident workers.  In addition, employers should not have to pay both the Apprenticeships Levy (due to be rolled out in 2017) and the ISC-one should be offset against the other,” Nick Rollason says.

Nick Rollason concludes: “The MAC has significant competing pressures to weigh. On the one hand, the government has set ambitious immigration targets for political and public opinion reasons. On the other hand the message from businesses is clear – internationally skilled migrants are vital to a thriving UK economy.  We can only hope the MAC makes a sensible judgment call on this Tier 2 issue. ” Kingsley Napley's submission to the MAC also deals with the issue of dependents of Tier 2 migrants and minimum salary levels. The MAC is due to publish its final proposals regarding the Tier 2 migrant scheme by the end of the year.


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