British industry is voicing concerns over the Government’s proposal to introduce a cap on the number of skilled non-European nationals entering the UK to work.
The Government’s rationale is to reduce net migration to tens of thousands and tackle unlimited migration, which, it says, places unacceptable pressure on public services, housing and school places.
The Government’s aim is to demonstrate to the public and frequently hostile press that immigration is under control.
In an area that receives little accurate debate, it should be noted that skilled non-EU nationals who come to the UK to work are not entitled to claim benefits for themselves (or their families) and are not entitled to free housing.
From experience, they often take out private medical insurance and send their children to private schools.
The Government’s stated aim of reducing migration contradicts with their wish to continue to attract the brightest and best people to the UK. It fails to recognise that by imposing restrictions and uncertainty against the best and brightest in the world coming to the UK (and the businesses and services that want to employ them) we will not attract talent but instead lose out to our global competitors.
If a UK business wants to employ a non-EU national, it must register first with the Home Office as a sponsor. They will then be allocated certificates to sponsor non-EU skilled workers.
At my firm we have acted for clients who have been granted hundreds of certificates and also a business which has registered to obtain one certificate to make a strategic hire of an “A” star in their sector. This system was working for employers.
However, July 2010 saw the Government without notice reduce allocations of all existing employers. Consequently, for example, a client with 300 plus allocations saw a reduction to 50. Anyone who wants to register as a new sponsor since the interim limit was introduced will find that they will be given no allocation of certificates with little hope of being able to request an allocation on an exceptional basis.
I advised a niche sector client – one of three in their market in the UK – who had offered a high level post to a leading operations director in their sector based in Australia.
They decided not to pursue the recruitment because of the uncertainty caused by the interim limit and are instead considering transferring operations to Australia. The impact to the UK economy is stark – jobs may be lost to Australia.
There is also uncertainty as to how the cap will work when introduced in April 2011. Will certificates be on a first come first served basis until the annual cap is reached? It is unclear whether the annual quota will be broken down on a monthly or quarterly basis.
It is suggested that a panel of senior UK border Agency managers will have power as to how the allocation of certificates will be distributed in a particular month/quarter.
This begs the question how this panel will deal with competing interests between, for example, a hospital that wants to bring over a leading neurosurgeon and a design company which wants to bring over a leading designer from say, Japan, to fulfill a contract it has secured with a Japanese client.
What happens to the loser in this round? Are they allowed to enter the subsequent month/quarter’s lottery? There are many unanswered questions.
Businesses often plan their recruitment months if not years ahead. We act for Blue Chip retailers who look to recruit trainee pharmacists and trainee opticians while their potential recruits are at university. Because of the lack of interest in studying these subjects amongst UK students, a large proportion of their recruits are international students.
In particular, where small and medium businesses operate, the requirement to recruit foreign nationals can be business critical; that is, they cannot afford to wait to have their foreign talent stuck in a quota queue system.
Moreover, if a UK hospital or university wanted to recruit a leading foreign specialist doctor or academic, that talented person will have other options around the globe other than the UK.
The Government has faced widespread and significant opposition against the cap. It will be better served allowing the current system to bed in further which has sufficient checks to ensure that the system is not being abused.
Currently, a business needs to illustrate that they have tested the resident labour market through advertising before allocating a certificate of sponsorship to a non EU national.
It could take a generation before the resident work force is in a position to fill the gap in the market that necessitates the UK’s current dependency on foreign migrants.
In the meantime, UK immigration policy must encourage businesses which are attracting the best minds, investors and multi nationals globally to ensure that our key sectors remain world class and competitive.
A leading world specialist will inevitably attract the best team around him and this can only benefit the UK in up-skilling its resident workforce.
Instead, the UK’s attractiveness is being hampered, particularly because of foreign press picking up on the hostility towards immigration in the UK press.
The Government still can be forgiven for saying that it got it wrong and that they will not impose the cap.