An urgent review of business immigration rules has been called for after the UK-wide cap on the number of foreign workers was breached for a fourth month in a row.
Jamie Kerr, an immigration law specialist and partner with legal firm Thorntons, which has its HQ in Dundee, described the current system as “madness” and said it was denying firms access to staff from overseas.
Currently, the rules allow a total of 20,700 workers from overseas to be employer-sponsored for UK visas each year. That figure is broken down into monthly allocations and, if breached, the Home Office then uses a points-scoring mechanism based on salary to decide on applications.
The salary cut-off was recently raised to £60,000 – more than double the average wage in Scotland – meaning many firms cannot afford to recruit from the international talent pool.
The effect is that overseas candidates who meet all of the other eligibility criteria for a work-sponsored visa are being denied their request simply on the grounds of earnings alone.
“The Home Office’s insistence on keeping its restrictive immigration cap is madness,” Mr Kerr said.
“It is damaging to so many successful businesses across the country and it’s quite frankly anti-business.
“Given the current challenges around Brexit, it is important that the Government supports businesses to innovate, grow and create jobs.
“But its obsession on capping employer visas at a wholly arbitrary number means that businesses are being starved of the international talent they need to grow.
“The demand that companies pay salaries for overseas workers that are more than double the UK’s average wage is, for most businesses, simply unaffordable.”
The immigration cap was hit for the first time in two years in December 2017 and has now been breached four times.
Mr Kerr said an urgent review of the current rules was required in order to address the situation and ensure UK companies were able to recruit successfully to support their growth needs.
“The cap is creating chaos for companies,” he said.
“They cannot effectively plan recruitment or expansion as they don’t know if the cap next month will be breached again or what the threshold will be.
“Scotland and the English regions are being hit hardest by these rules and the cap needs to be scrapped or urgently re-thought because it is now damaging the country’s economic interests.”