The Home Office is set to publish its Immigration White Paper today - after months of delays - which will detail the government’s plans for a post-Brexit system for acquiring skilled workers.
There has been grave concern from the technology industry about the impact ending free movement of people from across the EU will have on filling jobs in the UK tech sector.
In addition to hiring from the EU, another mechanism that is frequently used by the technology industry is something called a Tier 2 visa, which allows companies to hire skilled workers from outside the European Economic Area.
However, the Tier 2 visa currently has an annual limit of 20,700, and for the first time in years the cap is consistently being reached.
It was recently revealed that non-EU doctors and nurses would be removed from the cap limit, freeing up space for other industries. However, it was argued by those in industry that more should be done.
However, today the government will reveal in its Immigration White Paper that as of 2021 that cap will be removed - a positive step for those hiring to fill tech positions. Whilst freedom of movement from the EU will end, if Theresa May’s Brexit deal goes ahead, those with the right skills will still be able to apply and work in the UK.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said:
"It will be a single, skills-based immigration system built around the talent and expertise people can bring, rather than where they come from - maximising the benefits of immigration and demonstrating the UK is open for business."
However, one point that hasn’t been clarified, which may still be of concern, is that there will be a consultation on the current minimum salary of £30,000 for skilled migrants seeking the five-year visa.
This has proven to be a contentious issue, as some have argued that highly skilled people could still be low paid (for example, researchers, artists, etc.). Campaigners argue that the minimum wage should be scrapped.
For example, MP for East Surrey, Sam Gyimah tweeted:
The best innovation and creativity comes from our talented people working with the best from around. This is why we punch above our weight in science, tech & innovation. Many of these people have other options, so we risk sacrificing a huge competitive advantage with this policy.
— Sam Gyimah MP (@SamGyimah) December 19, 2018
However, the scrapping of the cap on the Tier 2 Visa will come as welcome news to some. For example, prominent figures within the technology community recently gave evidence to a House of Lords EU Internal Market Sub-Committee, urging urgent action.
Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, a a private sector led coalition of over 5,700 expert individuals from the tech sector and broader community, said that one of the things that the government can do right now is improve foreign workers’ access to visas and skilling up the nation in terms of digital skills.Shaw told the Committee:
“Things on my wish list that could be addressed now – we need to immediately look at the Tier-2 cap. 20,700 Tier-2 visas is simply not enough. I think we can do things like third party sponsorship of Tier-2 visas, so that we ensure that Tier-2 level is getting the right inflow of talent.”
However, Shaw also noted that during his travels around the world, he’s noticed that some of the talent that was planning to come to the UK to work, is “now thinking twice”. He said:
“Because of what I’d describe as the soft power message, what is coming out of the UK in terms of Brexit. We have to project a message about the openness we have here, that we really want to create a global Britain. We are going to have to change that message, because I’m worried and I’ve already seen people not wanting to come here because of that message.
“If we don’t fill these jobs, these businesses will struggle. The start-ups won’t become scale ups, the scale ups won’t become midsize companies, we will have fewer larger organisations. We need to solve this problem now.”
Antony Walker, deputy-CEO of technology trade association, techUK, highlighted to the committee at the time that non-UK talent plays a “really important and significant role” in the digital sector. He said that talent currently employed in the sector from the EU is about 7-8%, but added that the net contribution has significantly increase in recent years as the sector has grown. Walker added that these are “highly skilled and talented people”, where 78% are educated to degree level, earning between £45,000 and £80,000. Walker said:
“It’s very, very important. These people play an important role. The sector is growing, so it needs more skills. And the economy is digitising, so the economy as a whole needs more digital skills. So there’s an increasing scarcity and the domestic talent pipeline can’t meet that demand.
“We are concerned we don’t want to see a cliff edge when the UK leaves the EU, so in the transition period we would like a situation where citizens coming into the UK would have the same rights to claim settled status through that transition period.
“And then in time we have to develop a new migration system. And what we are absolutely clear about is that the existing Tier-2 system is not fit for purpose and is not able to cope with the change of status, in terms of losing free movement.”
A step in the right direction. However, these are all ideas in the sky given that we still don’t know what Brexit means in reality - or even if it’s going to go ahead. This time we may will be in a very different position to what we are now.