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Plan to scrap NHS Tier 2 visa caps will help all sectors, say migration experts

14 Jun 2018 By Emily Burt

Up to 8,000 extra skilled migrants each year expected across high-demand professions, as home secretary signals new approach

British businesses will be able to collectively recruit an additional 8,000 skilled migrants each year to work in professions including IT, engineering and teaching, according to reports that suggest Sajid Javid will unveil a major relaxing of Britain’s Tier 2 immigration system. 

The home secretary is expected to announce that the Tier 2 visa cap will no longer apply to non-EU doctors and nurses looking to work in Britain, after hinting that he would review policies around migration at the beginning of this month. 

It is thought the move, first reported by The Telegraph, will free up the immigration cap in other professions by an estimated 40 per cent, amid increasing concerns about the ability of the NHS and key industries to recruit sufficient talent. 

Professionals dealing with the practicalities of the visa regime saw the news as an important step. Jonathan Beech, managing director of Migrate UK, welcomed the “timely response” of the announcement. 

“A lot of industry bodies have lobbied for this, so it’s a very good response to have at this point in time. It might just be a sticking plaster, and we will need to wait three or four months to see if the situation eases, but at least it gives a good chance for individuals and workers coming to the UK,” he told People Management

Gerwyn Davies, labour market adviser at the CIPD, was equally positive. “The limit on Tier 2 visas has inflated the salary threshold for recruiting non-EU workers beyond the reach of many employers, so we are very pleased with this announcement,” he said. 

“This intervention could not be more timely given the continued strong demand for workers and falling net migration.” 

The Tier 2 skilled visa cap has been breached repeatedly over the last six months, with more than 2,300 applications from doctors reported to have been turned down between November 2017 and April. Experts have suggested that an inability to recruit sufficient EU nationals in the wake of the Brexit vote has increased demand for non-EU migrants among businesses, which has in turn raised the salary requirements applied to visa applications.

Speaking to People Management, Sophie Barrett-Brown, senior partner and head of the UK practice at Laura Devine Solicitors, said the effectiveness of the measure would depend on how bold Javid was prepared to be. 

“The cap itself is a problem, in that it prevents people from getting visas. But with breaches  every month for the last six months, there has been a compound issue, because each month people who did not succeed previously are reapplying,” she said. 

“The way [Javid] chooses to alleviate the pain in the health sector may have positive or negative implications for other professions – that compounding problem will not go away if they just prioritise doctors over other occupations. There are still likely to be pain points because of the backlog of people in other sectors who have not been able to apply.” 

The cap has seen a knock-on impact in sectors beyond the NHS, with more than 1,600 IT specialists and engineers offered jobs in the UK being denied visas between December and March

“Relaxing the cap won’t solve the problem in the long or medium term, but it’s a big sigh of relief in the short term, and hopefully tomorrow we will find out when it will be implemented – probably from the next monthly cycle,” Beech said. 

Experts have additionally called on Javid to consider restructuring the Tier 2 system so that it is no longer centred on salary. The demand for Tier 2 visas means most migrants must currently earn a salary of around £55,000 to be eligible for one. “A successful migration system should focus on people’s contribution to the UK economy and society, not numbers,” Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, said. 

“Until our immigration system is reformed to reflect this, including scrapping the net migration target, businesses will continue to struggle to get the people they need to create jobs and growth.”

Davies said the government could do more to relieve the “substantial” cost to employers of recruiting non-EU workers. “If the current trends continue, the tightening labour market will exercise a closer grip on some employers’ ability to get any suitable candidate for the job, let alone the best one,” he said. 

“We believe therefore that the government could go a stage further by reducing the substantial cost burden on employers that recruit non-EU workers, which includes a health surcharge and skills levy, among other costs, that are significantly higher than in most countries.” 

When contacted by People Management, the Home Office said it was against policy to comment on leaked documents. 

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