· Features

Hot topic: skilled workers migration cap

After the government’s immigration cap for non-EU skilled workers was hit for the first time in June there have been proposals to raise the qualifying salary thresholds for migrants, to introduce a time limit on declared skill shortage areas and to create a skills levy on visas to boost funding for apprenticeships. Is this good news for British workers? Or is it bad news for the UK skills shortage?

This month has seen a number of announcements in relation to immigration. They are all aimed at reducing net migration figures, [but leave] many concerned as to how these new proposals will affect the availability of skills.

In early June David Cameron confirmed that the Migration Advisory Committee would consider new measures to reduce the demand for migrant labour. These would include: proposals to cut non-EEA work migration and give British people the skills they need; a funding boost to UK apprenticeships through a new Tier 2 visa levy; a rise on the minimum salary thresholds for migrant workers; and reforms to skills shortage criteria.

The allocation of restricted Tier 2 visas, which allow entry of skilled non-EU migrant workers into the UK, was reached in June.

This has led to many businesses raising concerns, especially those outside of London that struggle to find skilled workers.

If the cap for allocation of restricted Tier 2 visas is reached again soon, there is a risk to the UK economy. Some firms may be forced to move overseas and others will be unable to operate.

For businesses it is important that the criteria for allocating Tier 2 visas is reviewed to iron out any inequalities in the system. It may be that the Shortage Occupation List will need to be increased and other measures, such as prioritising shortages in key worker sectors, put in place.

In terms of the government’s other proposals; while up-skilling the domestic workforce is positive, there are concerns that the long-term view could negatively affect the economy and companies today.

For employers and businesses, it’s important there is a public shift in thinking around a migrant workforce, particularly the association of lower labour costs. The emphasis must be around finding people with the skills needed by employers, coupled with strengthening the domestic workforce.

Simon Kenny is head of immigration at law firm Moore Blatch