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Relaxed immigration rules could benefit UK labour market

Prime minister Liz Truss is expected to loosen UK immigration rules in an attempt to boost the economy amid fears of a recession.

As reported by The Guardian, Truss is set to expand the government’s shortage occupation list to help businesses plug skills gaps by recruiting workers from overseas more easily.

Work visa applications for roles such as scientists, engineers and software developers will be subject to a less strict criteria.

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Tony Wilson, director at the Institute for Employment Studies, said that greater overseas recruitment could be a huge benefit to to the UK workforce.

He told HR magazine: “The prospect of relaxing immigration rules could end up being a much bigger deal for the labour market than anything announced in the budget last week.

"Since the Brexit referendum, the rate of growth in non-UK born workers has fallen by about a third, and there’s no question that this is contributing to the labour shortages and recruitment challenges that firms are facing now."

The costs involved in recruiting for some sectors however, he added, is likely to be a setback.

He said: "The reality is that making changes to shortage lists is unlikely to do much for shortages in low-paid work in areas like hospitality and social care, because of the costs involved, which can run into thousands of pounds in visa fees and health surcharges."

Neil Morrison, group HR director of water company Severn Trent, said the proposal is a welcome move.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “High-quality labour is critical for business to be able to deliver the growth agenda that the government has set out and the economy needs. Being able to attract some of that from overseas through an effective immigration system is essential in addition to continued investment in skills in the UK workforce.

"The government's proposals should be broadly welcomed, particularly for some of the areas that have seen difficulty in attracting either the skills or the volume of labour needed to deliver their operations, but it should be seen as an addition to a long-term commitment to investing in the skills of the UK workforce."

Pathways for foreign workers to move to the UK include the Global Talent Visa which eliminates the need for workers to have a job offer before moving, a fast track system for skilled workers, a graduate visa for international students, and a Global Business Mobility Visa.

The UK labour market has other issues to consider, Wilson added.

He said: "We also need to recognise that there are other reasons why firms are struggling too, most notably because so many people with health conditions and older people have left the labour force since the pandemic. So relying on higher immigration can’t be a substitute for investing in help for people who have left work and want to work to get back in.”

Victoria Short, UK CEO of recruiter Randstad, said the healthcare industry could be the biggest beneficiary of any changes.

She told HR magazine: We have seen several sectors impacted hugely by the UK's talent shortage. Most notably, nursing vacancies have hit over 100,000, social care vacancies have increased to 150,000 and hospitality vacancies have topped 150,000.

"Brexit hasn't helped the talent shortage in the UK, but it is true that talent scarcity is a global issue with these sectors seeing a talent deficit across many other European countries too. This talent will take time to come through however, and in the interim the UK would benefit from a loosening of the immigration rules to help our frontline services especially."