New restrictions on employing skilled overseas workers could see many Westcountry employers deterred from hiring the people they really need because the application process appears too onerous.The warning follows the introduction of the Government’s new points-based immigration system, billed as the biggest shake-up in immigration for 45 years, which places much more onus on employers to ensure their staff are employed legally.
It is replacing more than 80 existing routes to work and study in the UK with five separate tiers. Tier one, for highly skilled workers, is already in place and tier two, for skilled workers, comes into force in November.
The biggest change is that businesses wanting to employ skilled foreign workers from outside Europe and sponsor their entry into the UK must apply for a licence from the UK Border Agency (UKBA), and to qualify they must meet a number of criteria.
Employers with migrant staff whose permits expire after November must also apply for a licence and comply with the new points-based system.
And as a condition of keeping their licence, sponsors will need to alert the UKBA if migrants do not comply with their immigration conditions, for example if they disappear or do not turn up for their job or course.
Judith Hockin, head of the business immigration team at regional law firm Stephens Scown, which has offices in Exeter, Truro and St Austell, said more and more employers were coming to her for advice because the new regulations appear so complicated.
She said: “The Government’s own television campaign for the new system shows a runner having to clear various hurdles before being admitted to the UK, except this is more of a steeplechase than a sprint and it’s employers who are having to do all the running.
“The aim is to ensure that only those workers with skills that we really need are admitted to the UK. But in practice it’s a deterrent for many employers because the process appears so onerous, and that could lead to the unnecessary de-skilling of companies and institutions including universities and the health service, or the off-shoring of certain industries like IT support.
“We have been helping employers through the whole process, from applying for a sponsor licence to liaising directly with the UKBA when arranging to employ people from overseas because if an application is refused or delayed it could have a significant impact on their business.”
Earlier this month the independent Migration Advisory Committee, which advises the Government, published a draft list of skilled UK jobs likely to be open to workers from outside the EU as part of tier two of the point-based system.
The list includes skilled nurses and consultants, some engineering jobs, maths and English teachers, but excludes most skilled construction workers, midwives, social workers and IT technicians, prompting fears that some companies could move functions like their IT departments outside the UK.
The final ‘shortage list’ will be published in October, and tier two of the point-based system for skilled workers comes into force on November 24.