Immigration rules must change to ease worker crisis

The UK points-based immigration system, effective from 1 January this year, must change to ease worker crisis, a new report urges.

The Impact of the New Immigration Rules on Employers in the UK, published by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Migration, examines the impact of the new system as it coincides with the end of free movement for EU citizens and sets out a series of recommendations urging for immediate reform.

Produced in partnership with immigration law firm Fragomen, it cites "a tale of two immigration systems". On one hand it highlights the benefits of the points system, which prioritises people entering the UK based on their skills, for employers that are used to the sponsorship system and now find a wider talent pool accessible to them. 

However, for employers that traditionally relied on free movement rather than the bureaucracy of sponsorship, the system has become confusing, inaccessible and prohibitively expensive, the report finds.

Recruiting overseas workers:

Time to prepare for the 2021 Immigration System

What are the new immigration routes employers should be aware of?

Immigration bill barring EU nationals accused of hypocrisy

It put forward seven key recommendations starting with the need to reduce the administrative burden and legal complexity of sponsor licences, to increase accessibility for micro, small and medium-sized businesses. 

Most respondents (70%) said recruitment was harder under the new rules, while 40% said it was much harder. Of those without a sponsor licence nearly 50% cited legal complexity and cost as the reason. 

Secondly, to consider allowing sponsored work permits to be issued for perceived low-skilled roles in instances where there are likely to be acute shortages and to adjust the minimum salary level for those roles accordingly.

It states that vocational qualifications should be better-recognised, and that academic qualifications are not necessarily an adequate representation of skill-level.

Other recommendations include:

  • Including other nationalities under Tier 5 Youth Mobility through reciprocal arrangements with relevant countries
  • Considering additional sector-specific, short-term work permits similar to the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, for other sectors with an acute labour shortage
  • Improving access to UK-based migrant labour by upgrading guidance and providing training and support around Right to Work checks
  • Reducing the overall cost of a visa application for roles on the shortage occupation list or small businesses with a low turnover
  • And the formation of a cross-Whitehall skills strategy for sectors particularly impacted by an acute skills shortage, ensuring that immigration rules are considered as part of wider context for skills and success in key industries, particularly hospitality and the care sector.

Jon Dawson, group director of people at Lore Group told HR Magazine: “Within the hospitality industry, given the labour shortages organisations are facing, any short-term migration regime that opens the opportunity to bring in talent to meet the needs of the economy would be welcomed." 

He added: “UK Hospitality, the authoritative voice representing the broad hospitality sector, has been very proactive in putting forward to government recommendations such as a post-COVID recovery visa for EU citizens to help address the labour shortage the industry is facing as business returns to the sector.”   

Tim Farron MP, a vice-chair of the APPG on Migration, said: “We are calling on the government to urgently implement the recommendations of the report. Of course, the domestic workforce needs to be supported to develop the skills required as the economy adapts, to ensure that unemployment is as low as possible. 

“But this does not happen overnight and gaps in the workforce will still emerge. In the short-term, to prevent shortages and higher prices, the government needs to make modifications to the immigration rules.”

The inquiry had contributions from nearly 100 organisations throughout the UK, varying from turnovers under £600,000 to more than £50 million, and from employee numbers in single digits, up to more than 250.