Government reforms Tier 2 visa to protect NHS and schools

8 Mar 2019 By Lauren R Brown

Reform of £30,000 salary threshold widely praised, but experts say pay for vital high-skilled roles must be raised

The government has announced more professions will be exempt from the Tier 2 visa salary threshold, following concerns the initial £30,000 limit would lead to a post-Brexit staffing crisis in schools and hospitals.

From 30 March 2019, non-EEA citizens coming to the UK to work as nurses, paramedics, medical radiographers and secondary school teachers for STEM subjects and Mandarin, will only need to meet the lower rate of £20,800.

The change comes in response to concerns that individuals in these vital, high-skilled but low-paid jobs would not meet the salary threshold needed to enter the UK to work, at a time when concerns over Brexit have caused EU migration to fall to its lowest point in a decade. 

The longer-term visa regime affecting all migrants, which will be implemented after the Brexit transition period ends in December 2020, has still to be decided. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, EU migrants would be allowed to enter the country and apply for temporary leave to remain.

Immigration minister Caroline Nokes (pictured above) said the exemptions were introduced “so that the NHS and schools can continue to attract and hire experienced teachers, nurses and paramedics from overseas”. 

Other professions not on the list will continue to be affected by the original threshold.

The list of exemptions has been broadly welcomed. However, critics said the move would not be enough to allay broader concerns over long-term talent shortages, and did nothing to address the low rates of pay in certain critical roles.

Tim Thomas, director of labour market and skills at Make UK, the manufacturers’ organisation, said an overwhelming majority of manufacturing employees in “vital” non-graduate roles would not meet the threshold, and added this was “even more alarming” when regional variations in skill were taken into consideration.

Thomas said: “As a minimum, government must reduce the rate below the planned level and offer a phased approach to any salary threshold introduction to allow businesses to adapt and train a different cohort of employees.

“As yet, the UK does not have the homegrown talent and expertise needed to fill what will soon become vacant job roles.” 

Chris Russell, REC policy adviser, agreed the extension was needed but added: “There are currently skills shortages across the UK economy, with staff availability declining month on month since 2013. To respond to this, the UK needs an evidence based immigration system which meets the needs of the economy and adapts to an evolving jobs market.”  

Experts also pointed out that the short-term measure failed to address wider issues of pay. 

Gerwyn Davies, CIPD senior labour market analyst, said: “The existing public spending constraints simply give many public sector employers little room to raise salaries for such workers.

“However, the long-term aspiration should be to raise salaries to a level that equates with the relatively high level of skill that is required to perform many of these roles that do not require an exemption.” 

Jonathan Beech, managing director of Migrate UK, also welcomed the reforms but agreed that in the long-term, wages needed to rise to match the skill level of the roles outlined in the reform.

“This is great news for filling much-needed vacancies, however, celebrations will be on hold for now as there is a review expected on the rates of pay shown in Appendix J of the Home Office’s immigration rules,” he added, referring to the government list that outlines the skill level and appropriate salary rate required for a tier 2 visa. 

Two new visas for individuals starting businesses in the UK were also announced as part of the immigration reforms package. The start-up visa route will be open to those starting a business for the first time in the UK, while the innovator visa route will be for more experienced business people who have funds to invest in their business.

A two-year scheme, which will allow up to 20 nurses from Jamaica to come to the UK to gain vital experience in NHS hospitals as part of an exchange scheme, has also been announced. 

Nokes said: “This government remains committed to bringing net migration down to sustainable levels, but also recognises the need to attract people who bring benefits to the UK and enable employers to have access to the skills they need.”

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