Employers that recruit from overseas will be anxiously looking for clues as to how the UK’s revamped government will affect them. And while there are unlikely to be any immediate significant changes to visa and immigration policy, we should expect to see alterations to the system in the coming months.
New prime minister Liz Truss gave an indication of what might lie ahead in a piece she wrote in The Telegraph last month. She explained her desire to make the UK economy more “competitive, dynamic and productive” and voiced frustration that businesses “feel like they are wading through treacle” when they try to get things done.
“I will unleash Britain’s potential by going for growth and removing the obstacles holding our country back,” she wrote, while explaining her aim to generate innovation and start-ups.
The UK’s new points-based system provides a step towards meeting these aims by allowing in skilled workers from abroad while strictly controlling unskilled workers. Recent figures show that visas for skilled workers are at an all-time high. However, there are still an estimated 1.3 million vacancies in the country, and businesses across the spectrum, from hospitality to IT, continue to fill roles, hampering productivity and further expansion.
Truss and her ministers will need to look at this national shortage of personnel in a much more nuanced way to understand where the issues are and to tweak immigration policy where necessary to help businesses thrive. This can be done by two methods.
First, additional roles can be added to the shortage occupation list, to make it easier for migrant workers to fill them. This would only apply to skilled roles, although recently thresholds have been lowered to include such roles as carers, fishmongers and poultry dressers. For lower-skilled roles where there are serious shortages of labour, a system of temporary visas could be introduced, such as for seasonal farm workers, HGV drivers and meat processing workers.
Second, to make the UK globally competitive, Truss also needs to look at the visa application process. Delays and confusion in the system can mean businesses miss out on skilled workers from abroad who move to countries with less bureaucratic systems. Indeed, some of the latest changes to the immigration system have complicated the system further. The ‘global business mobility’ routes, for example, were set up to replace the popular ‘sole representative’ visa. The feedback has been that these new routes are overly complicated and bureaucratic. The sole representative visa was a simple and popular way workers from overseas businesses could come to the UK and set up branches and subsidiaries of their parent companies. This was scrapped, but the replacement needs to be simplified if Truss is serious about making the UK an attractive place for entrepreneurs and investors.
Finally, she must look at what competitor nations are doing to successfully lure skilled workers and make sure the UK is ahead of the game. For example, it is reported that the German government is working on a new law that will enable skilled foreign workers to gain citizenship there after only three years. “Germany must be an immigration country that is also attractive in the international competition for skilled workers,” declares the policy mission statement.
Settlement is a huge motivating factor for skilled migrants. Relocating to a new country is a profound undertaking and not something taken lightly. Citizenship is one of the prime considerations when migrants decide which country to relocate to. The German government obviously understands this. In the UK, the quickest a migrant worker on a skilled worker visa can gain British citizenship is six years. If Truss wants the UK to remain an attractive option for the brightest and best around the world, she should reduce the time to citizenship to remain competitive with both Germany and other European nations that may follow suit.
Yash Dubal is a UK visa expert at A Y & J Solicitors