Allow visa-free travel for skilled workers for up to half a year, say MPs

20 Jul 2018 By Emily Burt

Proposals also call for Tier 2 rule rethink to avoid salaries being used as ‘proxy for skill’

Skilled workers should be allowed 180 days of visa-free travel to the UK after Brexit, with the possibility of a longer-term stay under certain permits, a parliamentary select committee argued yesterday. 

Closely following the publication of a government white paper last week, which outlined the future relationship between the UK and EU, the science and technology committee proposed an immigration policy to facilitate better mobility for highly skilled EEA workers after Brexit. 

Recommendations included establishing visa-free and permit-free work in the UK for up to 180 days for skilled EEA workers, on the basis that scientific and technical research in particular relies on workers being able to “collaborate face-to-face, and to make use of equipment, for relatively short periods”. 

The report added that applying similar measures to non-EEA countries in the future would have “clear advantages”. 

The report additionally called on the government to remove the cap on Tier 2 (General) visas for all skilled workers. The cap, which was scrapped for NHS workers at the beginning of July, was breached repeatedly in the first six months of 2018

Alongside reducing the costs associated with Tier 2 visa applications, the MPs said the existing immigration framework should be redesigned to make sure it does not rely on salary “as a proxy for skill”. 

“If the UK wishes to remain open and attractive to the brightest and best global talent following Brexit, it requires an immigration system that allows researchers, technicians, students and innovative entrepreneurs to arrive and work in the UK without facing a burdensome and daunting process,” said Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk and chair of the science and technology committee.

Although he thought the report contained “very little to disagree with”, Gerwyn Davies, senior labour market analyst at the CIPD, added: “More broadly, there are important lessons that we can draw on from the recent EU settlement scheme, that, if applied to non-EU citizens, could ease the administrative and cost burden on employers.” 

However, speaking to People Management, Karen Kaur, immigration analyst at law firm Migrate UK, said she “could not imagine” the government approving the measure for a single sector. 

“The biochemical industry is losing EU nationals and staff because they don’t want to go through a rigorous post-Brexit visa process – but other sectors including engineering and IT have also been hit hard, especially as they are still subject to the Tier 2 visa cap,” she said. 

The government last week announced the UK would seek a reciprocal arrangement for worker mobility in the aftermath of Brexit, but Kaur stressed future immigration policies must account for low-skilled and high-skilled jobs. 

“Lower skilled jobs and smaller companies… cannot afford to retain individuals by hiking up salaries or providing incentives, and a lot of companies are being hit by the immigration skills charge, which they can't afford,” she said. 

“Industries such as hospitality and service are then going to have to recruit and train people in the UK, which is what the government wants, but it will take time to train someone to the level at which our existing workforce currently stands. 

“In the meantime these industries are likely to suffer.” 

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