From education to employment

Changes to the immigration system means we need to spend more on skills

The UK’s future skills-based immigration system. The Home Secretary published the future skills-based immigration system white paper today (19 Dec) setting out the government’s plans to introduce a new single immigration system, ending free movement. 

Leaving the EU will end free movement and ensure full control of the border, with a new single immigration system based on skills and talent.

Julian Gravatt100x100Julian Gravatt, Deputy Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said:

“The government plans that most of these changes will come into effect in 2021 or later. The plans will require changes to how government, employers and individuals approach skills issues.

“The paper suggests new controls on migration next decade. Over the last ten years, government has cut spending on further education by 30% while employers have got by without enough attention to training. The government’s immigration plans suggest there needs to be a major change of direction.”

“We note the plans to review the Skills Charge but we have seen no evidence that the money collected so far (estimated to be £100 million a year) has been transferred to DFE to spend on skills.

“We have concerns that a salary threshold will make it harder to recruit staff for the post 16 teaching roles that the UK will need in the 2020s to educate rising numbers of young adults and retrain older workers.

“We welcome the plan to reintroduce an easier route to work visas for those studying in universities at Bachelor degree level but we call on the Home Office to extend these rules to those taking higher level qualifications (at Level 4 and 5) in colleges. We will also continue to press the Home Office to allow international students at government regulated colleges to work part-time.

“We will welcome continued engagement with Government to ensure that there is appropriate planning for the end of freedom of movement and the number of EU students who choose to study in the UK.”

Neil Carberry100x100Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said:

“A white paper on plans for the immigration system is long overdue. Control needs to be matched with ensuring people can come to contribute with ease. Securing the well-established economic benefits of immigration requires moving on from ill-informed targets and sloganeering.

“Investors worldwide want to know Britain will be open for business – a safe place to create jobs and base international teams. Firms in the UK want to know that shortages that can’t be filled by local employment and training can be addressed – and not just for higher paid roles.

“There are a few pieces of good news today – like a short-term visa for lower-paid roles that can be applied for from the UK, and the acknowledgement that the system needs to be simpler, especially for smaller firms. It was also good to hear the Home Secretary emphasise the importance of the new system working for the flexible labour market. And it was good to see less emphasis on the unworkable net migration target.

“But firms will be dismayed by any proposals that require job roles to be on a government-approved list before they can get a visa. Because of this, the way the Resident Labour Market Test is replaced is vital – no list will be able to keep pace with changing demand from employers.”

On skills shortages:

“Our data shows that candidate availability is declining each month. Recruiters have found it particularly difficult to supply staff in several sectors since well before the referendum, including health and social care, hospitality and food and drink. 42 per cent of employers said they had not been able to find enough workers to fill all their seasonal or temporary vacancies.”

On the cost of migration to firms and the need for a simpler system:

“The cost of Tier 2 (non-EU workers) visas is already a barrier to mobility and a major cost to employers looking to hire the staff they need to compete and grow. A new system must be radically simplified – we have one of the most expensive visa systems in the world. If a worker were to work for a company for five years with a partner and three children, government fees could cost them or their employer up to £16,069.  SMEs in particular will be hugely impacted if the current system is extended to EU workers.”

Ensuring workers are protected:

“On top of all of this we mustn’t forget that the increase in complexity and cost to immigration these new rules create increases the risks of poor practice. Making sure visas are linked to individuals not companies – especially for lower paid roles – will help protect migrant workers.”

Alistair Jarvis100x100Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UKsaid:

“International staff and students, both EU and non-EU, make a vital contribution to the UK higher education sector. The ability to recruit international staff at a broad range of skill levels and students at all levels of study, with minimal barriers, is vital to the continued success of our universities.

“There are over 83,000 international staff working in UK universities. The reforms to the Tier 2 system are a step in the right direction, but need to go further. Removal of the cap on numbers of highly skilled workers is welcome acknowledgement that EU and non-EU university staff make a major contribution to the success of universities. Their contribution is vital to post-Brexit Britain.

“Any decision to maintain the salary threshold at £30,000 however would have serious implications for technicians and language assistants in particular, who are vitally important to teaching and research. 63% of European Economic Area (EEA) nationals working as technicians at UK universities earn below £30,000, in vital areas such as biosciences and clinical medicine EEA nationals make up over a quarter of the technical workforce.

“There are 135,000 EU students in UK universities. We welcome the recognition of the benefits that international graduates make to the country through the introduction of post-study work for a period of up to one year for PhD students and 6 months for others, but unless we allow all graduates to stay and work for two years the UK will continue to lag behind our global competitors in our offer to international students.

“Under these proposals EU students will also now require a study visa, placing an additional burden on students and universities.

Nick Hillman100x100Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

“The migration white paper puts new obstacles in the way of international students as well as researchers and other staff. Ministers have made great play of their commitment to exclude students from any migration limits. But that is a reannouncement of the existing position. It is clear students will stay in the published data and new restrictions are being placed on students from other European countries.

“Buried away at the back of the white paper itself is a list of nine areas where European students will find it harder to study and work in the UK. Almost unbelievably, this list doesn’t cover the two biggest potential new barriers – higher fees and an end to student loan entitlement.

“We have previously shown that the expected increase in fees for students from other European countries and an end to their fee loan entitlement could cut the number of incoming European students by more than half.”

Catherine McGuinness, the City of London Corporation’s Policy Chair said:

“The long-awaited Immigration White Paper provides welcome clarity on the government’s vision for delivering a skills-based system. The decision to scrap the cap on the number of skilled workers who can enter the UK is a positive signal that Global Britain is open to global talent.

“Access to highly-skilled talent is a critical issue for the financial and related professional services industry. More than four in ten people working in the City of London are from outside the UK, with a third of wider financial and professional services employment accounted for by people born overseas.

“It is vital that firms of all sizes – from fast-growing fintech firms and creatives to more established international institutions – across London and the UK can employ the people they need at all skill levels. This means developing local talent as well as attracting international skills where required.

“The City of London Corporation published a report last month outlining recommendations to streamline the visa application process and make it more user friendly. Alongside changes to policy, these steps can help to deliver a more efficient UK immigration system for applicants and businesses.”

Josh Hardie, CBI Deputy Director-General, said:

“A new immigration system must command public confidence and support the economy. These proposals would achieve neither.

“The proposals outlined in the White Paper don’t meet the UK’s needs and would be a sucker punch for many firms right across the country, particularly in sectors such as construction and healthcare. The Government’s own analysis suggests people and regions will be poorer as a result of them.

“The Government cannot indulge in selective hearing. It tunes in to business evidence on a disastrous Brexit no deal, but tunes out from the economic damage of draconian blocks on access to vital overseas workers.

“The facts are clear. Brexit is cutting off the ability to recruit and retain staff for 9 out of 10 firms. Despite firms spending over £45 billion in training each year, staff shortages are already biting. Hospitals, housebuilders and retailers are all struggling to find the people they need at salaries well below £30,000.

“These proposals must change. And when a new system that will work is agreed, the UK must be given time to adapt. This means at least two years to implement the changes after the rules are finalised.

“Further consultation is needed to get this right for the whole of the UK, otherwise calls for devolved and regional immigration policies will only grow louder.”

On the Government’s proposal for lower-skilled visas, Josh said:

“All skill levels matter to the UK economy. A temporary 12-month route for overseas workers earning under £30,000 would encourage firms to hire a different person each year. That needlessly increases costs and discourages migrants from integrating into local communicates – a key social concern. It’s not good for the public or business.”

On administrative burdens, Josh said:

“The ambition to streamline the visa system absolutely must be delivered on. Business needs to see concrete proposals and a commitment to implement simplifications at the same time as any new controls.”

On the timings of a new system, Josh said:

“The Government must not introduce a new system in 2021 that isn’t workable until 2025. Any new approach will be a major change to the labour market, and firms must have time to adapt.”

On migration linked to trade, Josh said:

“To secure the best trade deals around the world, the UK must be willing to put migration and labour market access on the negotiating table – starting with the EU, our most significant trading partner. Failing to recognise this will hamper efforts to secure the UK the best trade terms possible.”

The white paper lists nine areas where there will be greater obstacles for European Economic Area students coming to the UK (pages 154-155):

  • Application for visa and payment of visa fee
  • Course level
  • Study pattern
  • Institutions on the list of registered sponsors
  • Proof of funds
  • Dependants
  • Employment rights
  • English language requirements
  • Post study work rights

In January 2017, HEPI, Kaplan International Pathways and London Economics jointly produced the report “The determinants of international demand for UK higher education” showing that harmonising the rules for EU and non-EU students could reduce enrolments from other EU countries by 57%.

Ita Sheehy, Senior Education Advisor at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR):

“Stories of immigrant doctors or teachers who are taxi drivers bring to light how much potential is being wasted the world over. Some migrants and refugees find the procedures for getting their qualifications recognized so complex that they cannot find work at all.

“Imagine how much better society could be if these people were in jobs that matched their skills”.

The new system includes:

  • a skilled workers route open to all nationalities
  • lowering of the skills threshold on the skilled workers route to include medium-skilled workers
  • no cap on numbers on the skilled workers route, meaning that business will be able to hire any suitable qualified migrant
  • the abolition of the resident labour market test
  • a new time limited route for temporary short-term workers of all skill levels, including seasonal low-skilled workers
  • an extension to the post-study period for international students


The UK’s future skills-based immigration system (print-ready version)

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The UK’s future skills-based immigration system white paper (accessible version)

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