As Paddington Bear prepares to make his Hollywood feature-film debut this December, the Employment Law Worldview Blog takes a ‘paws’ to ponder on the polite, accident-prone bear from Peru, dubbed “the UK’s most lovable immigrant”. Had Paddington Bear arrived at our shores today, would he still be taken in and welcomed as warmly as he once was? Perhaps Henry and Mary Brown and the twins might have read a few of our more populist newspaper headlines online and resolutely decided to send our much loved bear elsewhere?

Firstly, let’s pretend, for the sake of argument, that Paddington wasn’t in fact (ahem) an illegal immigrant to the UK.  Let’s say that this time he wants to do it properly: i.e. with a valid visa.  Let’s also assume that Paddington is still starting out in life so a) he doesn’t have £1 million to invest in the UK to be eligible for a Tier 1 Investor visa; and b) with ‘Brand Paddington’ still just a glimmer in his brown eyes at this stage, he is not interested in applying for a Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa, plus he doesn’t have the required £200k in funds  to invest in his own, or another’s business in the UK, having, say, spent the lot in a frenzied marmalade binge back in Peru. 

Let’s also say, for the sake of argument, that Paddington has his beady eye on taking a degree level qualification in the UK and then seeking to build his future career here. In the past he could have relied upon the Tier 1 Post Study Work (PSW) route, which provided non-EEA graduates from UK universities with two year visas enabling them to take up employment in the UK and gain valuable work experience here.  However, in a measure by the Government designed to curb net migration, this closed to new applicants in April 2012. The result? – university applications from essential wealth-bringing international students are in decline and our universities are suffering. In the meantime, the international ‘brightest and best’ that the Government insists the UK is still attracting are in fact applying to study  in countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia (countries which still maintain post study work visa options, not coincidently).  Does this mean that Paddington Bear is stuffed?

Other measures designed to cut net migration include the closure of the Tier 1 (General) category in April 2011. Had Paddington got his degree elsewhere, for example, and worked a bit before deciding to come to the UK, this category could have afforded him the ability to work in the UK in any capacity, even setting up his own business, before being eligible for permanent residency at the end of the 5-year period (provided he had earned a sufficient income here and basically made a success of things). Not any more, also closed.  The only option for employment in the UK for non-EEA nationals is currently through sponsorship under Tier 2.

It is well-known that the Government will fail to to achieve its target of reducing net migration to ‘tens of thousands’. Conversely, so serious (according to some) have been the negative effects of the closure of the PSW category on the UK that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration (APPG) is currently conducting a public call for evidence into the closure of this category and the impact UK universities, businesses and the economy (http://www.appgmigration.org.uk/content/parliamentary-inquiry-closure-post-study-work-psw-route).

We been active in our commentary on this area the past – see previous  posts on our Employment Law World View blog on 3 February  (http://www.employmentlawworldview.com/is-britain-kicking-out-bright-foreigners/) and 16 May 2014 (http://www.employmentlawworldview.com/dyson-exposes-vacuum-in-home-offices-position-on-visas-for-non-eu-graduates/). Current Government policy on curbing immigration and the effect on UK plc has been the subject of consistent media attention, most recently in a serious of articles in the Financial Times based on a report undertaken for it by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford.   This focused on the effects of policy changes and the economy on highly skilled migration to the UK from 2007-2013. (http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/reports/highly-skilled-migration-uk-2007-2013).  

According to the report Government curbs on highly skilled migrants have “shrunk the pool of international talent available to business” and employers are now having to look elsewhere from within the EU to fill skilled jobs that they are unable to fill from within the UK.  All we have domestically is Winnie the Pooh, by his own admission a bear of Very Little Brain.  

Sponsorship of non-EEA nationals under Tier 2 remains an option, but so complicated and onerous are the compliance duties forced onto Tier 2 sponsors that this is inhibiting their ability and desire to recruit from outside of the EU. A recent Evening Standard article quotes a leading recruitment consultancy firm as saying, “small businesses would rather leave a role vacant than get it wrong” (http://www.standard.co.uk/comment/james-ashton-we-need-clever-migrants-to-boost-the-uk-economy/).  

Statistics remain persuasive that Government immigration policy, such as the closure of the PSW category has been and remains, detrimental to businesses and the UK economy. Whilst skills shortages remain from within the UK, curbs on migration will not help. Employers are forced to look elsewhere, and the only place left is from within other countries from within the EU and this is a smaller pool than the pool of international talent. As the Evening Standard article states, issues with UK education and the production of home-grown talent “will take generations to fix” and “pulling up the drawbridge until we do so will not help the British economy”. Suitably bright and qualified immigrants, such as those coming to the UK for higher level education, rather than  ‘steal’ jobs from UK residents will in fact generate wealth and create jobs if they are encouraged to remain in the UK after studying here.  A Paddington hard stare for the Government would seem quite in order.  

So in light of the above, what if our dear Paddington started thinking twice about the UK now? What if Aunt Lucy foresaw a better future for him in the USA?  Instead of the marmalade-eating, wellington boot-clad, politest of bears we all know and love, Paddington could instead be sat comfortably on a small fortune in Silicon Valley,  30 million book sales under his duffle coat, missing only marmalade and Portobello Road market.  

What a sad thought for us all here.  How less richer and deeper our cultural history, not to mention his contribution to the UK economy through book sales, tourism, stuffed toys and marmalade sales. Talent invariably goes on to equal success. Talent comes in all shapes and sizes, and some of the world’s most successful people – and brown bears – come from the most inauspicious of backgrounds.  We should remain firmly welcoming to the migrants of this world (not illegal, but who doesn’t love Paddington Bear?).