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Britain rejects thousands of immigrant workers with tech skills

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Author: Roland Moore-Colyer

THE UK SEEMINGLY RECKONS it’s flush with tech specialists as thousands of skilled immigrant workers have been rejected British visas.

According to the latest figures from the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), skilled workers were refused visas due to the cap on immigration for people getting granted Tier 2 visas (the visa for skilled workers).

In total, 6,080 Tier 2 visas were refused, with 3,500 applicants sporting engineering, IT, tech, STEM teaching, and medical skills. The current Tier 2 visa cap sits at 20,700 and has been at that level since 2011.

The Tory MPs we’ve been exposed over the past few years have been touting the idea that UK skills can come from homegrown talent, despite businesses and tech firms moaning that there’s not a large enough pool of people with techy smarts to meet their demand for skills.

And it looks like the Home Office is towing the Tory government’s line, noting “it is important that our immigration system works in the national interest, ensuring that employers look first to the UK resident labour market before recruiting from overseas”.

However, the process of sponsoring a non-British citizen for a Tier 2 visa requires companies to check that there’s not an equivalent homegrown Brit available for the job before looking overseas, so the Home Office’s line is arguably moot.

CaSE noted that the Tier 2 visa caps are not in the national interest, either, as they prevent the flow of skilled workers into Britain and thus cause infrastructure projects, research, and teaching to stall due to the lack of skills available to meet the demand.

“Across the country, businesses and public services are being blocked at the last hurdle from recruiting the people they need, including in health, engineering and tech, due to the visa cap. This leaves employers frustrated and the public poorly served,” said CaSE executive director Dr Sarah Main.

“The cap is beginning to cause damage and it needs to be addressed quickly. In the immediate term, shortage and PhD level roles should be made exempt from the cap. This would be in line with the priority already afforded to these roles and would create the headroom for other vital roles.”

“In the long term, an immigration system for a Global Britain that supports research and innovation should not feature a cap on the international specialists we want to attract.”

Given the vote for Brexit arguably being motivated in part by anti-immigration views, we’re not entirely convinced that the government will be in any hurry to relax its rules even for Tier 2 visa applicants.

That being said, the Science and Technology Committee has noted it intends to develop its own proposals for the government with the goal of introducing changes to immigration and visa rules relating to scientists.

“It was disappointing that the government doesn’t see the need to secure an early science pact, and assumes that scientists are happy to just wait and see what’s in the Immigration Bill next year. We’re going to roll up our sleeves now and set out our proposals for an immigration system that works for the science and innovation sector,” said the Committee’s chair Norman Lamb MP.

“Today’s revelation that more than 1,600 IT specialists and engineers offered jobs in the UK were denied visas between December and March sends the message that the UK is not interested in welcoming science talent at the moment. The government needs to work quickly to correct that impression.”

A session will be held 19 June to discuss the submission and evidence collected by the Committee. So we’ll have to wait and see if Britain will end up with a more welcoming attitude towards skilled immigrants or if the powers to be are happy to keep the UK’s tech skills gap open.


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