As part of its push to cut the net immigration numbers, the Government has recently turned its attentions to considering new restrictions on UK businesses hiring and transferring highly skilled non-EU nationals under the Tier 2 sponsorship regime. However, UK businesses view the Tier 2 visa scheme as vital to accessing a global skilled labour pool and to maintaining their competitiveness. The Tier 2 scheme needs to be more flexible, not more restrictive, otherwise the UK's economy will suffer.

These were some of the conclusions we made in our report submitted to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) in response to their consultation, incorporating the findings from a wider survey and interviews with over 30 of our Tier 2 sponsor clients from sectors spanning legal, oil & gas, engineering, pharmaceutical, digital & creative, architectural and financial services.

The concerns of business leaders regarding local skills shortages have been widely reported. Our clients have made it clear that being able to access global skills, whether to fill long term roles where the skills are simply not in the UK or to transfer their key overseas staff to work on projects, is vital to their growth plans and their ability to compete globally. and It is time for the government to embrace Tier 2 and international skilled migrants rather than putting obstacles in their way. The numbers coming in under Tier 2 are small fry in the scheme of our overall immigration intake yet the economic benefits of this small pool of very high skilled people are clear.

Non-EU skilled migrant labour accounts for a fraction of our incoming immigration (approximately 7.5%) according to Office for National Statistics figures. Companies who use such labour include:

  • An engineering firm which relies on global talent because the UK produces insufficient numbers of home grown skilled engineers
  • An architecture firm which needs international individuals with country knowledge or language skills to service their many contracts and projects in China and elsewhere in Asia
  • A law firm which uses the Tier 2 scheme to bring in foreign (mostly US) qualified lawyers to advise UK based clients on non-English jurisdiction matters
  • A finance organisation which cut back on graduate recruitment during the recession and is now suffering a skills shortage at a certain level

In fact 75% of the companies we surveyed indicated a restriction of the Tier 2 migration scheme would "highly" or "severely" impact their business. A client in the oil & gas industry even called for that sector to be treated as a special case and exempt from any limit on Tier 2 visas so fearful are they of the potential impact on business prospects.

One proposal the Government asked the MAC to look at is to restrict the Tier 2 route to highly specialised or shortage occupations. Tier 2 is already limited to NQF6 graduate level roles and clients were concerned that trying to define who was a specialist or what skills were in shortage would be unworkable. It would also affect firms' ability to train recent migrant graduates and for international firms to move junior staff around its global office network for career development. 

Furthermore, our clients are concerned that the shortage occupation list would be slow to respond to industry needs and in particular to the fast changing nature of the digital & creative sectors and global market changes such as in the oil & gas sectors in particular.

Many businesses in the UK operate in a global arena for talent and for their clients. International mobility is critical for them at both a high flyer senior and more junior staff level. Restricting the Tier 2 scheme will hinder firms' ability to carry out client work and expand in the UK, so adversely affecting the UK economy in terms of lost tax revenue and job creation for resident workers. It would also act as a clear disincentive for businesses wishing to invest and develop their corporate presence in the UK.

With regard to the Government proposal to introduce an Immigration Skills Charge (ISC), payable by employers who sponsor migrant workers under Tier 2 and which would go towards apprenticeships and local upskilling schemes, we have called for a balanced and fair approach.

We recommend that this should take into account the significant commitment and investment some employers have already made to apprenticeships, internships, social mobility programmes and graduate schemes available to resident workers. In addition, employers should not have to pay both the Apprenticeships Levy (due to be rolled out in 2017) and the ISC-one should be offset against the other.

The MAC has significant competing pressures to weigh. On the one hand, the government has set ambitious immigration targets for political and public opinion reasons. On the other hand the message from businesses is clear - internationally skilled migrants are vital to a thriving UK economy. We can only hope the MAC makes a sensible judgment call on this Tier 2 issue.

Kingsley Napley's submission to the MAC also deals with the issue of dependents of Tier 2 migrants and minimum salary levels. The MAC is due to publish its final proposals regarding the Tier 2 migrant scheme by the end of the year.

Our response to the MAC can be found HERE.

Further information

Should you be affected or have any questions about the issues raised in this blog, please contact Nicolas Rollason or a member of our immigration team.