Leading immigration law firm Penningtons Manches LLP and Tech London Advocates (TLA) urge the Government to keep the door open to skilled migrants as long as there is a serious skills shortage – particularly in the technology and digital economy. 

In July 2015, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) called for evidence from businesses, individuals, public bodies, legal representatives or any affected organisation to provide them with feedback or information on the potential effects of the government’s proposed changes to the Tier 2 visa category.

The political context of the MAC review is the UK government's aim to reduce the level of net migration – the number of migrants coming to the UK less those emigrating overseas. There is a perception that employers are overly reliant on non-EU workers.

The Tier 2 visa category is used for employers to sponsor new hires who are non-EEA nationals in skilled roles and for transferring existing overseas workers to the UK. Currently, the requirements of the visa category are that the role must be skilled at NQF level 6 (some exceptions), have a salary that is at or above the minimum appropriate rate, and be a genuine vacancy that cannot be filled by a resident worker.

The Penningtons Manches and TLA response to the MAC review included the findings of a survey of the views of organisations with a Tier 2 (General) and/or Tier 2 (ICT) licences across a wide range of industry sectors. 

Key findings included:

  • 90% of respondents thought that the imposition of any restrictions on Tier 2 migrants would have a negative impact on the UK economy.
  • 87% of respondents recruit migrants because of UK skill shortages – particularly those in the tech/IT/digital and life sciences sectors.
  • 83% thought that reducing the number of Tier 2 migrants allowed into the country would restrict their organisation’s growth.
  • Almost half (47%) of respondents need to employ migrants in occupations that are not currently on the Shortage Occupation List – in particular, academic research, digital tech, ICT/telecoms, and health and care roles.
  • More than half (56%) of respondents said it was likely that they would move their operations overseas if the Tier 2 ICT route became too restrictive.
  • Three quarters (74%) of respondents agreed that the Tier 2 points based system worked well for them as an organisation but that the cap was a problem. 

Pat Saini, head of immigration at Penningtons Manches and Chair of TLA’s Talent and Immigration Working Group, said: “The survey findings strongly support our view that to significantly reduce economic migration to the UK will have drastic consequences for the UK economy. Tier 2 migrants should not be confused with general migration. These are highly-skilled people who are particularly needed by the tech sector to maintain the UK’s ability to stay on the global playing field. 

“We urge MAC to recommend that the Government exercises caution when considering any changes which could restrict UK businesses from accessing and employing the talent they need to grow.