Government VISA announcement – UK businesses ‘understandably concerned’

20 Feb 2020

For many UK employers, the clock may now be ticking to recruit and retain EU labour from abroad to meet current and future demand for people to fill lower skilled/lower roles before the end of the year (when current transitional free movement arrangements are set to end). For certain sectors, such as social care and hospitality, this may in fact be critical to their long term viability.

The warning signs for lower skilled/lower paid work have been there for a while. Even during Theresa May’s premiership I recall Home Office officials speaking of the Government’s desire to “wean” British business off its reliance on foreign labour to fill these roles. 

Many organisations will be understandably concerned. There is no apparent route from 2021 for ‘demand driven’ recruitment of foreign nationals in to roles than do not require A-level qualifications or higher, and with a historically low unemployment rate of just 3.8% (published 18th February) it is hard to see how the domestic labour work force can bridge the skills gap. 

The policy statement refers to the 3.2 million applications made by EEA nationals under the EU settlement scheme (enabling them to stay beyond 2021) as providing “flexibility to meet labour market demands” but the vast majority of those are likely to already be in work in the UK.

Good news for some?

For some businesses the proposals will actually be positive news in terms of recruitment options. The (effectively) A-level skill requirement is lower than the current rules (which require roles to be at ‘graduate level’ or above), and the headline minimum pay threshold is reducing from £30,000 to £25,600. This coupled, with a removal (which is technically referred to as a suspension) of the cap on overall numbers and the requirement to carry out an advertising process to show it is necessary to recruit from abroad, will actually open up the system to many. 

What about the Australian-style points based system (PBS)?

Absent from the policy statement is any mention of the system being “Australian-style”. This makes sense, in that the proposed system goes nowhere near as far in terms of its scope. In the Australian system, economic migrants can enter and settle without a job offer, if they can show enough points from a variety of different options (e.g. abilities, qualifications, age etc.). The Government’s proposals mandate a job offer, and the ability to “trade points” is limited to reducing the minimum pay threshold slightly for those who can show they are highly skilled or coming to fill a “shortage occupation”. 

If you would like to discuss the recent Government VISA announcement in more detail or have any general enquiries in realtion to business immigration, please contact Adam Williams, by phone or by email.

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