The UK government have announced a limit of 21,700 on the number of skilled workers approved to work in the UK from outside of the European Economic Area. This is following recommendations from the Migration Advisory Commission to the coalition government on 18th November concerning how they can fulfil their promise of driving net migration down from current levels of 196,000, to ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015. Net migration includes EU citizens, who have a right under freedom of movement laws to enter the UK. This leaves only non-EU migrants, over 50 per cent of who are students.
The issue of immigration, though increasingly scrutinized over the past ten years, has recently intensified. Questions are being asked about the growing population, illegal immigration and, more recently, the migration of skilled workers. The population is set to swell to 77m by 2051, ten million more than as estimated at the start of Labour’s government and largely due to migration.
Skilled workers account for 20 per cent of non-EU immigrants. The basis for their rights to work in Britain is currently a points scheme similar to that of Australia, in that the more desirable the skill the worker has, the more likely they are to be given the right to work.
In driving down net migration, businesses are set to lose out. Companies are aware of this and have successfully lobbied for a lift on the cap for intra-company transfers. As a result, the cap will not include employees transferred by their companies from another country providing they are earning over £40,000 a year (a special level of £24,000 was also set for IT workers).
The cap of 21,700 added to last years intra company transfers figure of 22000, leaves a total cap of 43,700, in line with the Migration Advisory Commissions recommendations. This leaves skilled workers down by 15 per cent from last years figures of 50,000. Whilst this is less than was first suggested by Cable, it is a blow for sectors that need such workers to succeed in the current Economic climate. The cuts in visa allocations will result in a key source of recruitment being lost by businesses, which could be a key factor in long term economic growth, since a well trained workforce is vital in fostering a strong and growing economy.
Further restrictions include reducing the amount of time a non-EU migrant can spend working in the UK after they have graduated. This may potentially prevent UK businesses from reaping the benefits of well-educated individuals who received their education from within the UK.
Universities will be affected as well. Under the new proposals foreign academics may struggle to obtain a visa and a right to work within the UK. This will result in academic institutions around the country suffering from a smaller pool of quality staff. A reduction in their access to educated staff members is likely to be a severe blow to the quality of teaching offered to students, and to the standard of UK academic research. Joseph Akkinagbe, UMSU International Officer agrees: “If you look at the international research awards which were won in the UK, 33 per cent were won by people born outside the UK and a further 33% were won from people born outside the EU. Teaching has become globalised we should be getting the best talent, not just students but the best talent to come and teach our students.”
The reduction in work-based visas offered would only amount to 20 per cent of the government targets, with the remainder having to come from cuts to student and family migration. Universities are to be hit again under this proposal; since many institutions are reliant on the higher fees they are able to charge non-EU students for their economic survival. Akkinagbe ponders the effect this could have on the globally competitive international student market: “Because of the cap you could have less people granted visas and this could create a global impression of the UK being unwelcome to international students.”
The impending increase in tuition fees is also of some relevance. These may reduce the number of home grown skilled workers available in decades time. Courses such as engineering, architecture and medicine all involve lengthy study and these skills may become scarce and prompt a higher need for foreign workers. With fewer skilled workers offered the chance to work in the UK, and less chance for young people to develop those skills, the workforce of the future may be very unskilled leaving a negative impact on the economy.
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