Flexible visas could address regional skills shortages

The government could attempt to limit Brexit's damage to the economy by adopting 'regional visas'

Regional Visas – A unique immigration solution?, a report from PwC and the City of London Corporation, looks at how a flexible regional visa system could help businesses address local skills shortages and potentially better integrate migrants into the community.

The report sets out two possible models for regional systems, with the Home Office retaining overall control in each case.

Under the first model, regional visas would be governed jointly by local authorities and business needs. A business would submit a case to the local authority, evidencing that it had tried to recruit locally and nationally. If the local authority concluded there was a skills deficit it would then provide a recommendation to UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI).

The second model recommends a system governed by UKVI. It could resurrect its specialist hub casework teams, and use in-house industry experts combined with regional knowledge to judge the merits of cases put forward by businesses. It would approve a set number of regional visas and allocate them to the relevant employers.

Policy chairman at the City of London Corporation Mark Boleat said that the Brexit vote could be seen as an opportunity. “Migration has always been a key element of a thriving and strong UK economy," he said. "What the Brexit vote has done is give us an opportunity to re-look at our visa system and propose a model that is tailored for our regions and flexible for businesses. This is not a London solution to a national problem, but actually something that can support growth outside of the capital across a wide variety of sectors.

“Local businesses are best placed to know the employment needs in their area, so they should be playing the lead role in filling job vacancies internationally and addressing local skills shortages.”

Julia Onslow-Cole, global head of immigration at PwC, said the proposed visa systems could help employers remain competitive in a global economy.

“A regional visa could be an innovative approach to enable employers to balance local labour demand and availability with overseas labour sources," she said. "Such a nuanced immigration system could help the UK meet its business and economic requirements post-Brexit.

“International businesses will still require access to the brightest and best candidates to remain competitive globally. The regional visa system is a mechanism to specifically address skills shortages and as such it will not impede or discourage international placements.

“While for most multinationals the benefits of migration are clear, a regional visa could allow these benefits to be more keenly felt across the UK as skills shortages are identified and filled with migrants, helping the growth of that particular region."