The election of a majority Conservative government in May 2015 included a manifesto commitment to reduce net migration from the ‘hundreds of thousands’ to the ‘tens of thousands.’

As part of this policy David Cameron announced that this would include a crackdown on non-EU skilled workers coming into the UK under Tier 2 of the points based system.

He told MP’s that:

“In the past it has been frankly too easy for some businesses to bring in workers from overseas rather than to take the long term decision to train our workforce here at home”

As part of this policy, the Government has asked the Migration Advisory Committee to consider:

  • Restricting work visas to “genuine skills shortages and specialists”
  • Putting a time limit on how long a sector can claim to have a skills shortage
  • The introduction of a new “skills levy” on businesses who recruit non-EU workers
  • Preventing dependants from having the automatic right to work
  • Increasing the salary thresholds to stop businesses using foreign workers to undercut wages

In addition to the above proposed changes, for the first time since the Government introduced a cap in 2011 on the number of non-EU skilled workers, the number of applications from employers exceeded the monthly allocation in the month of June. This has resulted in applications for positions paying less than £46,000 being refused.

Graduate schemes, lawyers, financiers, teachers, accountants, engineers, architects and public service workers are among those affected by the cap being exceeded, with the largest group being nurses as reported in the press earlier this week, whose salaries in the main are below £46,000.

Given that employers will be required to re-apply in July, it is entirely possible that the minimum salary threshold could rise to £75,000 thus preventing all but the highest paid migrants entering the UK.

Whilst up-skilling British workers is an admirable policy objective, this cannot be achieved overnight. Consequently, closing the door to the brightest and the best can only damage the UK economy. With increased globalisation, Britain has to compete for global talent against countries that are increasingly making it easier for them to work, study and migrate.  It is entirely possible that global firms will decide to move out of the UK as they find it increasingly difficult to hire the people that they need, with a detrimental knock on effect on British workers that the policy was aimed to assist in the first place.

Furthermore, in April 2016, non-EU skilled migrants who apply for permanent residency must earn a minimum salary of £35,000 in order to remain the UK. It is clear that this will impact on vital public services.

If the Government choose to press ahead with the policy of reducing the number of skilled migrants, there will in all likelihood be unintended consequences on productivity, employment levels and public services.