The thorny topic of immigration in the UK…
In the run-up to Christmas, it was widely speculated that the UK government would look at ways to tweak immigration policy to make it easier to recruit migrant workers to help plug the UK’s skills gap.
However, from a political perspective, the collision of three very different aspects of migration makes major policy changes highly sensitive and risky.
- Relaxing rules to make it easier for EU workers to enter the UK labour market runs the risk of ‘undoing Brexit’
- People traffickers exploiting desperate migrants using small boats to cross the Channel, up 60% in 2022 to nearly 46,000
- Net migration in excess of 500,000 in the 12 months to June 2022 placing pressure on resources and infrastructure
The first two Tory governments of 2022 proved disastrous, characterised by scandal, infighting, and prioritising self-interest above the needs of the country. This damaged the esteem of the UK around the world. The need to rehabilitate the image of Conservative rule is essential if the Tories are to have any hope of re-election.
Making migration easier runs the risk of further distancing the Conservative government from many of the voters who gave it such a strong mandate at the last general election.
But relaxing the rules to make migrant worker recruitment easier is precisely what some leaders and observers of the recruitment sector believe is needed to pave the way out of recession and help rebuild economic success.
Relaxing immigration controls in a targeted way
With in excess of 1.2 million vacancies currently open, the ONS says skills shortages are continuing to escalate. The worst affected sectors are in care, science, engineering and hospitality. Some of the skills shortages can be attributed to post-Covid physical and mental health problems and record NHS treatment waiting times, rendering many unable to work.
Utilising overseas workers is an obvious way forward and it is already done selectively, targeting and assisting those that have the skills and abilities to contribute to economic recovery. Tweaking these existing schemes and initiatives to reduce the barriers to entry could further boost migrant worker recruitment in the UK.
- High Potential Individuals – High-skilled immigration is facilitated via the existing High Potential Individuals (HPIs) scheme. This enables ‘high-potential individuals’ to enter the UK without a job offer, unlike many other immigration routes into the UK. Eligibility includes applicants who have graduated from ‘a top global university’. Tweaking this to make the UK more attractive would help to attract the brightest and best from other nations in the Anglosphere competing for skills globally.
- Graduate visa – A Graduate visa gives the holder permission to stay in the UK for at least 2 years after successfully completing a course in the UK as a Student visa holder. This allows them to seek work in the UK at any level and continue living in the UK with partners and children, where eligible.
- Health and Care Worker visa – The Health and Care Worker visa is open to qualified doctors, nurses and allied health professionals of all nationalities (except British and Irish) who have been trained to a recognised standard. The route can lead to settlement after 5 years and applicants can be joined by dependent partners and children. The best way of boosting the attractiveness, of what is already one of the most relaxed schemes, is to boost the rates of pay for healthcare workers that are currently striking in the UK.
- Skills charge – The Immigration Skills Charge (ISC) is a fee payable by an employer when they sponsor workers under the Skilled Worker or the Senior or Specialist visas. The ISC must be paid when the sponsor issues the Certificate of Sponsorship. Failure to pay the ISC fee of between £364 – £1,000 per year, per worker, results in refusal of the worker’s visa application. Reducing direct employer costs here may be one way to boost migrant worker recruitment here.
- Immigration Health Surcharge – The Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS) is a fee levied on the majority of UK visa applications. The IHS is on top of other Home Office immigration fees and designed to land in a different government pocket. Also known as the NHS surcharge, it essentially adds £624 per year per person to the cost of a UK visa, or £470 a year for children, students and Youth Mobility visas. With the financing of health and social care one of the most pressing matters facing the UK, reducing charges to make the UK more attractive may be difficult to justify.
- Seasonal workers – The current Seasonal Worker visa scheme is in place until 2024. The quota based scheme has seen numbers increase every year since 2019. In 2022, there were 40,000 visas available in total, and for 2023 this is set at 45,000 and may be reviewed to allow up to 55,000. One way to tweak this scheme to boost worker numbers is to expand it to include other sectors to provide them with quotas of workers.
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